In my experience as an Employment Counsellor, I’ve come to note that those who make good, positive first impressions don’t mind for a minute accepting that other people form opinions of them spanning the first 30 seconds to a minute when they meet. Equally, those who tend to make poor first impressions feel that its entirely unfair that others judge them in such a short time. Well, honestly, whether you like or dislike it when others form first impressions in such short timelines, the reality is, that’s…well…reality.
It’s not just employers and interviewers that form these quick first impressions, and quite frankly, as a species, humans have done it for centuries. It’s survival 101 you know; this innate ability we have to quickly take in whatever sensory information that’s available to us and then in mere seconds, assimilate all that data and form an immediate impression that then guides if or how we interact with others.
Walking on a sidewalk we look ahead and see a stranger approaching us. Based on extremely limited information, we might continue on with a smile and nod as we pass, or we might see a swagger in their walk, a scowl on their face, see their eyes set on us and with all this we choose to duck into a store or cross the street. We judged the situation to be uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worse, and best to be safe and not sorry. Were our actions justified?
Similarly in a subway if every time we look up we notice a person looking at us with a smile and fleeting eyes that look away and we see them bite their lips, we might interpret this as a shy, embarrassed, “you caught me looking at you, and I’d like to meet you but I’m too shy to start a conversation” look. Maybe we’re right and maybe we’re not; maybe we introduce ourselves on the off-chance they are interested in us, or maybe we bury our heads in a book because we might be wrong.
It’s in these everyday interactions with others that we form impressions of others while they of course are doing the same thing with respect to us. The data we take in might include someone’s choice of clothing, it’s cleanliness, their grooming, body odour or fragrance/cologne, their height, weight, shape, health of their teeth, colour of their eyes, posture etc. All in mere seconds mind you – our brains process all this data and we form opinions from which we judge them to be safe to approach, intimidating and to be avoided, etc.
In a job interview situation, take heart! For starters, always remember that this first meeting you’re about to have with some company representative is one you know is going to happen. In fact, you’ve got the time and place as two knowns, so it’s not going to catch you off guard. If you ask the right questions when offered the interview, you also know how many will be interviewing you, their names and their titles. This information can be of comfort, especially if you use social media to look them up and get a visual on their appearance and read their bios in advance of meeting them face-to-face.
You have the further advantage of choosing your outfit for this first encounter, deciding which clothing will be likely to make the best impression on them; be it formal, business casual, etc. The things in your control continue as you can make sure your hair is clean and brushed, your deodorant working, your teeth brushed and a swig of mouthwash will ensure any lingering offensive smells are absent. You can shine your shoes, choose your accessories with care as well.
In addition, when you arrive is in your control. Sure you might run into unexpected delays – that’s why their called unexpected! – but, you can almost guarantee your arrival time will be appreciated by leaving early and planning your route. A dry run on another day will likely give you a good measure of the time you’ll need.
Whether you bow, shake hands or not, smile or not, maintain eye contact or not when actually meeting during the first 2 seconds; again in your control. Even the way you sit or pace back and forth in reception, your posture as you wait and then your body language as you get up to introduce yourself to the interviewer(s); all this within your control and therefore up to you to choose how you wish to act.
These first few seconds are critical as those you meet form first impressions of you just as you are of them. The thing is though that you might be feeling so much pressure on yourself to do well and get a job offer that in the moment you aren’t thinking a great deal about them – being so worried about yourself and what you’re communicating.
Positive or negative, that first impression is the initial point from which all further interaction either reinforces or works to change one’s first impression. The more you put some effort into ensuring the first two minutes shows you as you’d like, the more you can feel confident done your best to get off on a good note. A poor start and you’ll feel the pressure to alter their view of you.
First impressions; vitally important and worth paying attention to. Oh and on the subway? Just go up and introduce yourself!