First Impressions Matter

According to humorist Will Rogers, “you never get a second chance, to make a first impression.”  That is never more true than in the interview process.  Candidates want to ensure they make the best possible first impression.

Why Does It Matter So Much?

Interviewers will form an impression of you in the first thirty seconds of the interview.  In their minds, they are trying to answer two questions:  “Do I like you and want to work with you?”  And “Are you good at what you do?”

Do I Like You?

The interviewer is making quick assessments of your warmth.  They register some quick initial impressions of you and spend the rest of the interview confirming or denying their impressions.  They want to know:  “Are you someone that fits well with the team?”  “Would they want to work with you?”  “How do you interact with people?”  How do you convey all this in your interview?  You start with a smile and a confident handshake.  As you start the interview you are attentive and make good eye contact.  If the interviewer tries to engage you in small talk, you respond.  Demonstrate your passion for the work you do with your answers to their questions and the stories you share to answer their behavioral questions.  Remember as you wrap up the interview to say think you and to express your genuine interest in the opportunity.  They may also ask the receptionist at the front desk or the administrative assistant who walks you from one office to another for their impressions as well.  Your interview begins the minute you open their front door.

Are You Good At What You Do?

The interviewer is also trying to evaluate your competence for this particular position.  They want to know how well you performed in your last position and how you plan to translate those skills to meet their needs.  Be prepared to share stories of how you solved problems or handled challenging situations.   Reading the job description will help you focus on what is important to the employer.  Use appropriate language to describe your work and share results where possible.  “What impact did your work have?”  “How did the company benefit from having you in this role?”  “How do you stay current in your field?”  “How do you handle challenges, deadlines, etc.?”  “How did you achieve both accuracy and timeliness in your work?”  While demonstrating your competence to do the job, you want them to start to envision you in their role as a successful contributor.

Remember, it is not just what you say that leaves a lasting impression.  Your content is influenced by how you say it and how you behave.  Don’t forget to smile and maintain eye contact.  Also watch the tone of your answers to ensure you are making the best possible first impression.


Top 10 Interview Mistakes

To ace your next interview you want to avoid these top ten mistakes.

  • Arrive Late – It is critical that you arrive for an interview a few minutes early. If you don’t know where you are going, do a dry run in advance.  Allow time for traffic jams and parking issues.  Demonstrate your interest in the opportunity and your professionalism by arriving a few minutes early.  Being timely also demonstrates your preparation.  Use the few minutes you have in the lobby to gain your composure and focus.  In a true emergency, if you are running late, call ahead to let them know and give them an expected arrival time.
  • Dress Inappropriately – First impressions matter. Demonstrate your interest by showing up in a professional business suit and polished shoes.  Avoid anything flashy or distracting.  Leave noisy jewelry and strong fragrances at home.  Err on the side of being conservative.
  • Ask No Questions – Your inability to ask the interviewer questions leads them to believe you are unprepared and uninterested. Have insightful questions prepared in advance to ask your interviewers.  Clearly demonstrate your interest and preparation.
  • Demonstrate Lack of Preparation – Never ask, “So, what does your company do?” Do your homework and research the company, the industry and the competition.  Prepare questions in advance.  This demonstrates your interest and your professionalism.  It helps interviewers take you seriously as a candidate.
  • Share No Examples of Your Experience—Don’t just talk about your project management skills, share an example of how your applied those skills and the resulting benefit to the company. Briefly describe the situation, how you approached the problem and the results of your actions.  Always be prepared to support your claims with examples.  Have specific examples prepared in advance that you can share when needed during an interview.
  • Have No Response to Questions – Employers are looking to see how you think on your feet. You need to be prepared to answer any question.  Review lists of commonly asked interview questions and be prepared to answer them.  If it is an unusual question, you can always clarify the question to give you a moment to think.  Have an answer and be prepared to justify or explain it.  With a case question, they are more interested in seeing how you think than in a specific answer.
  • Say “um” or “like” Incessantly—Communication skills are an important part of any job so demonstrate your ability to communicate throughout your interview. Avoid the repetitive fillers such as “um” or “like” which can be very distracting in an interview.   You want the interviewer to remember you for your answers and your experience not how many times you said “um.”  Take a breath and compose your answer without fillers.
  • Fail to Make and Maintain Eye Contact – The lack of eye contact leaves the interviewer feeling the candidate is not trustworthy or confident. Establish and maintain eye contact to convey your interest and confidence.
  • Focus on What You Want – This is not all about you. Focus on how you meet the needs of the business and how you can make a difference for the company.  They really don’t care about your specific wants.  Think about what matters to them and your interview will be more successful.
  • Fail to Say Thank You and Ask for the Job—Don’t lose the job because you fail to end the interview by thanking the interviewers for their time and expressing your strong interest in the opportunity. Let them know you are interested, don’t assume they figured it out.  Send a handwritten thank you note within 24 hours to differentiate yourself from the competition.

If you avoid these common interview pitfalls, you should be able to ace the interview and land the job.

Suits on Campus

As I crossed campus this morning I was struck by how many of the students I passed were in business suits.  I must admit they look so professional and smart in their suits.  Our students are in suits when they have interviews, employer panels in class, employer information sessions on campus, executive luncheons and other activities with our employer partners.  They certainly look like the business professionals they aspire to be.

Dressing professionally demonstrates to the employers that the students know how to present themselves in a professional manner and that they are taking their interaction with the employers very seriously.  Whether the employer works at a company where suits are required every day is not relevant.  Demonstrating their ability to dress appropriately when needed is an important trait to employers.

Dressing for success is an opportunity to promote your personal brand with the employers and demonstrate your interest in the employer.  Making a positive first impression often goes a long way towards being remembered by the employer.

While I still see students in their jeans and tee shirts, it is exciting to be part of an MBA program where suits are such a regular sight on campus.  We are preparing students to be successful in their careers not just in the classes they take but in the employer interactions they experience as well.  While they are taking classes, they are also building a strong foundation for their professional network.

Success in Your New Job

Congratulations, you’ve landed a new job.  You may think the hard work is behind you now that you’ve landed your exciting new role but don’t rest on your laurels.  You need to prepare yourself for the success.  The first three months on the job can set the tone for long term success.

Here are some suggestions to make the most of those critical first three months:

  • Positive First Impression – While you obviously made a positive impression in the interview, you need to set the right tone as you start your new job.  If possible ask what material you can review prior to day one.  It eases your transition but also shows your interest.  Arrive on time and professionally dressed.  Be prepared to take notes.  Show your delight in being there and your willingness to learn.  Greet everyone with a smile and a firm handshake.
  • Build Relationships – While the work you do each day may bring you satisfaction and challenge, you don’t work in a vacuum.  From day one, pay attention to the relationships since they will be critical to your long term success.  It will be much easier later to get the information you need if you build strong working relationships throughout your functional area and across the organization.  Show interest in what other people do.  Ask how long they have worked for the organization.  Show appreciation when they share information and insights.  You do not have to be best friends with those you work with each day but it can significant enhance your work experience and your future career plans to build strong relationships.
  • Clarify and Confirm Expectations – You sold yourself throughout the interview process.  Be careful as you start the job that you don’t set yourself up for failure by over-promising.  It is normal to be eager to deliver results and prove your value but over-promising leaves everyone disappointed and frustrated.  Assume that it will take longer than you think to accomplish your early tasks since you don’t know how things get done or who to contact for information.  You do not have all your relationships established so you’ll be building them as you go with your first projects.  Be sure that you and your manager both share the same expectations.
  • Observe – You can gain significant insights in to the culture of an organization by observing others.  Notice how people dress and always dress for the next position you aspire to.  Notice if people take lunch as a group or eat at their desk.  Pay attention to communication styles.  If your boss prefers email use that but if they prefer a face to face conversation that ‘s what you need to do.   Don’t be the last to arrive in the morning or the first to leave in the evening.  Be a keen observer in your early weeks on the job to support your assimilation into the organization.
  • Listen – Particularly in the early weeks on the job, it is critical to listen more than talk.  Learn from the colleagues who have been there about what works, what doesn’t and why they do things the way they do.  Don’t be quick to judge.  There may be changes needed over time but don’t cause people to shut down early in your tenure because they feel threatened.  Show a willingness to learn the organization and build relationships to ensure your future success.
  • Admit Mistakes –  It is likely you will make a mistake or two in those early months as you settle in.  Be quick to claim responsibility.  Own your mistakes and learn from them.  Demonstrate from the outset that you won’t fall into the trap of the blame game.  If you or your team make an error, admit it and learn from it.  This will go far in building your credibility.
  • Seek Feedback – During those first few months on the job, seek regular feedback from your manager and your peers.  Learn what is going well and what needs further fine tuning.  The sooner you understand the culture and expectations, the more quickly you can reach full productivity.  Show that you are listening to the feedback by implementing changes.

The reality is that once you have the job, you do continue to sell yourself just in a different way than you did during the interview process.  You earn credibility and respect by learning the organization, building relationships and listening to others.  If you make these critical investments early on, you significantly increase your likelihood of success in the long term.


Making a Great Impression in Your New Job Search

Starting a new job is the perfect time to make a good impression.  You want the employer to be confident that they made the right decision in hiring you for the position.  The first hundred days in a new job can be one of the most critical times of your career.  Here are some recommendations based on feedback from our employers. Click here to learn more about making a great impression in your new job!