Awkward Or Weak First Impression? Relax!


Are you an Employment or Job Coach? At some point you’ve likely said to those you’re supporting, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If you’re in the regular practice of saying this to those you help, please stop. You’re unknowingly doing more harm than good; much more harm. I grant your intentions are nothing but well-intended, but your words have the potential to have dire consequences; you’re setting those you work with up to fail.

I used to buy in to the extreme importance of making an excellent first impression myself, whether it was at a job interview or starting a new job with a lot of people to meet and get to know. Like you, my intentions were always good. So I’d pass along the typical advice for making a good impression. Have a firm but not overpowering handshake, make direct eye contact, smile, be aware of your body language, etc. Like I’ve said, all well-intended and pretty standard advice.

Those I work with confess to being nervous when I’m coaching them for some upcoming meeting. Typically it’s a job interview or meeting someone who they believe might be in a position to advance their employment possibilities. They may be quite comfortable and self-assured in many situations, but as the butterflies in their stomachs begin to take flight seconds before and into a first meeting, so too in many cases does their growing anxiety. And in 2019, a LOT of people have anxiety, so it’s incumbent on us to respond to this.

All it takes is a slight stumble in that first meeting; a pregnant pause in replying to a question they’ve been asked, sweating excessively, arriving 2 minutes later than planned for, incorrectly pronouncing the name of the interviewer and feeling an overcoming urge to apologize; it’s then that it hits them. They suddenly remember the wise advice you gave them as you sent them off brimming with confidence; “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So what are they now thinking? “Ah great! What’s the point of even continuing then? I’ve already blown it! I might as well just apologize for wasting their time and try better somewhere else.”

The thing is, you aren’t there to help ground them, tell them they can re-group and still save the interview. If you were a fly on the wall and you had the power to freeze time, you could stop the moment you picked up on their facial expression that they are in distress and you could coach them through this momentary attack of low self-confidence, then unfreeze time and they’d perform better. But you lack these special powers and you’re not there. You can’t see what those you help actually look like, you can’t observe first-hand their performance, and so all you have to go on when you assess how things went and how to improve is their own recollection of events. And, surprisingly, this person you’re helping who was actually there, may be not all that aware of how things went wrong and how they looked, because their mind was on performing well.

Take heart though. I’m offering up something I feel is a better message to send that they may find far more helpful. It’s the last impression rather than the first, that is the most significant. The way I see and understand things now is that the first impression covers the first 30 seconds or so of an encounter. A face-to-face meeting or interview may go anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, and so there’s all that time beyond the first 30 seconds to either confirm or change that first impression.

Now I’m not suggesting we dismiss the value of first impressions. No, I still extol the importance of making as good a first impression as possible. However, it’s the last impression people remember more. You know the saying, “What have you done for me lately”? It means that although you may have performed well in the past (possibly an early or first impression), it’s recent performance that matters more at this moment, (the lasting impression).

This advice gives a person reason to hope when things don’t get off to a perfect start. There’s lots of time to ‘save’ a first meeting. In fact, actually saying, “Gee I’m sorry, let me start again” may be the reboot someone needs to launch an answer with confidence instead of bumbling along and fretting over a miscue. If the whole point of a job interview is to market oneself to the needs of an employer, you unknowingly put a massive amount of pressure on those you support when you send the message that those first 30 seconds will make or break the opportunity.

So instead of rehearsing some elevator pitch to the extreme, what will they say to leave a lasting, positive impression? Based on what they heard as they listened, what opportunity can they pick up on and what will they say that shows enthusiasm for wanting to be a part of the solution?

First impressions are important but the last impression is more important as the final impression is entire summation of the time together. If it started well, excellent; keep it going. However if it started awkwardly, relax, breathe deeply and concentrate on the remaining time together rather than worrying about how things started, which is beyond your control.

 

Interviews: The Key Fundamental


We’re living in a world that’s become increasingly sophisticated; (feel free to substitute the word complicated for sophisticated if you wish).

While progress is often a good thing, it can completely intimidate some, leaving them far behind when it comes to interviewing. All these new interview formats and techniques have interviewees feeling overly stressed, resulting in many not interviewing at their best. Few people love interviews and so it’s easy to understand few take the time to improve their interviewing skills. After all, if you don’t like interviews, it’s not likely you’ll invest time voluntarily participating in the experience.

For you then, here’s the key to a successful experience; for no matter how complicated things seem to be, this one fundamental will help you reduce your stress levels and compete better. What is it?

See the interview for what it is. An interview is a conversation between two or more people. That’s it. You have conversations – and therefore interviews – many times during the day. Those are not high stress interactions. You’ll notice that although I’ve intentionally omitted the word, ‘job’ to this point, you’ve probably inserted it as you’ve read along. Thus you read, “See the job interview for what it is.”

A job interview is at its heart just conversation between two or more people where the agreed upon subject is an opportunity. Indulge me by re-reading that again. A job interview is a conversation between two or more people where the agreed upon subject is an opportunity. I’d remind you that this opportunity is not solely for the person applying for the job, but also for the organization conducting the job interviews.

If you are fearful and intimidated by the job application process; if you wish you could bypass the job interview and just get hired, it’s likely you perceive the interview very differently than those who embrace them. Yes, it’s likely you see the job interview as this unpleasant experience you must endure where the job interviewer judges you and decides your fate, most often rejecting you personally. If so, is it any wonder that even the subject of job interviews gets your stomach churning and you view them as a necessary evil to be avoided at all costs? No wonder there are people right now who hate their jobs but refuse to quit because it will mean choosing to put themselves through more job interviews!

Seriously, it’s just a conversation about an opportunity. In a conversation, participants contribute to the discussion; not always equally if you think about it, but both sides do contribute. A job interview is no different. The employer represented by the interviewer or interviewers, wants to learn about you, what motivates you, what you might bring and contribute to their organization. They ask about your experience, education and skills in order to flesh out as best they can who you are and most importantly how you align with what they know to be their needs.

You however? You’ve got a stake in this too. Your after information on perhaps the working conditions, the culture of the organization, the management style of the person you’d be reporting to, the autonomy the position demands, the benefits of working with the company, how they view the consumers of their goods and services. You’re likely to want to know the expectations they have, and in short whether this move would be a good fit for you for the foreseeable future. Hence, they’ve got questions and so should you.

Now think please of the first time you meet people. Back to the beginning when you two introduce yourselves. If the person you are meeting looks stressed and clearly uncomfortable, it’s probable that you’re first impression isn’t favourable and you’ll remove yourself early, ceasing to invest more time with them. You’ve sized that person up pretty quickly based on the limited information you gathered and you excused yourself.

Those who interview job applicants do exactly the same thing. Hence, it’s extremely important to make that all important good first impression. Get past the first 30 seconds with a smile, a friendly, “Hello, it’s very nice to meet you”, and an expression of gratitude for meeting with them and you’re on your way.

As you settle in, you’ll be asked questions and this is your opportunity to market yourself to their advertised needs. Doesn’t it stand to reason that those who best show that they’ll bring what the company said they want will be the best fit and get the job offers? They may ask the majority of the questions I grant, but you get to do the bulk of the talking as you phrase your replies. Remember to focus your answers on the questions asked, and the only way they will know you can do what you claim is to demonstrate via specific examples that prove to them you’ve got what it takes.

Essential to remember is that your body, at least as much as your words, communicates. Look engaged, interested, focused and dressed appropriately.

Instead of an interrogation where you voluntarily go to be executed, the job interview is your opportunity – and theirs – to determine if the match between the employer and you is a good fit for both. This fundamental shift in your thinking; how you perceive the job interview, may be the one thing you do that changes how you perform.

It starts in the mind!