By Christine Pardi
Succeeding in your job interview isn't easy.
But, did you know that hiring managers can form an opinion of you in the first five minutes or less?
Psychologists call it the "halo effect," or a tendency to reconcile judgments with initial observations.
If you make a favorable first impression, the interviewer is inclined to view your subsequent behavior in a positive light.
You've probably done the same thing when meeting someone for the first time, without even realizing it. In some cases, your first impression might be a negative one and could cause you to make judgments about the person later based on that initial interaction.
That's why it's critical to start off on the right foot when meeting with a potential employer. Everything from the handshake, to what you say and how you say it, can make a difference in how the interviewer perceives you.
It's hard enough just to get an interview in a competitive job market, but once you get your foot in the door, you can make a great first impression. Here are few tips to help you get past the first five minutes successfully:
Your physical appearance is the first thing interviewers will notice about you, so make sure you are well-dressed and well-groomed. Your attire should be appropriate for the company, too. In other words, make sure your clothing, jewelry and even hairstyle don't fall outside of what most people in your particular profession or industry would consider the norm. Dark, conservative clothing is usually the safest bet.
Your goal is to blend in and look the part of the job you wish to fill. And avoid wearing perfume or cologne to an interview. There's nothing worse than an overpowering scent in an office environment.
Have you ever shaken the hand of someone who had a limp or squishy handshake? Something about it just doesn't quite feel right. Handshakes say a lot about you, and I could write an entire article on the different types of handshakes.
Your grip should be firm, include one shake and last for just a few seconds. A weak one can indicate a lack of confidence. On the other hand, too strong a handshake can be overbearing, not to mention uncomfortable.
You also should be smiling during the handshake, and making friendly eye contact. A warm smile (not a grimace!) and eye contact can put both parties at ease.
Yes, what your mother taught you! Be on time (of course!), and thank the interviewer for the opportunity to interview for the position. If the interviewer is already seated, wait a few seconds to be invited to sit down. If you aren't given the invitation to sit down fairly quickly, within a few seconds, ask for permission, "Do you mind if I sit down, too?" And then take your seat when permission is given.
If the interviewer is standing, follow the interviewer's lead on when and where to sit down.
Now, focus 100% of your attention on the interview - not on your cell phone or other personal distraction. If you plan to take notes (a good idea), ask for permission to get out your notebook or tablet and to take notes. You are demonstrating your interest and also enabling yourself to do better follow-up after the interview. Unless you are interviewing for a highly-classified job, taking notes should be viewed as a good sign by the employer.
I'm a fan of cooking shows, including the Food Network Star, and when one contestant, Stacey, had to pitch her dishes to the judges, she kept getting the same feedback: "You don't come across as genuine." When Stacey made it to the top four, she realized she wouldn't get the "job" unless she addressed their concerns. The same can hold true in an interview. Hiring managers can sense when you're giving a rehearsed response.
While preparation is always necessary and practice is always a good idea, too much rehearsing can come across as scripted. When answering questions, be open, honest, positive, and natural. The interviewer will sense your genuineness and also get a sense of your personality.
The first question you often get from an interviewer is, "Tell me about yourself." This is where your well-honed elevator pitch can help you articulate who you are and the value you would bring to an organization.
Hiring managers want to know what you can do for the company; NOT what the company can do for you.
If you can't get your point across succinctly, you risk appearing as if you lack critical communication skills. And rambling can make you appear nervous. When you're done answering a question, stop talking. A momentary silence indicates you are finished and the interviewer can ask the next question.
[Don't have a great elevator speech? You need one for your job search, and here's how to develop a killer elevator speech.]
Remember, if you do get off to a rocky start in the first part of an interview, don't worry, it's not a lost cause. Just try to relax and focus on the rest of the meeting. Use it as an opportunity to highlight your strengths and what you bring to the table.
Keep in mind, too, that you are interviewing a company as well. There has to be a good fit on both sides.
Christine Pardi is a career expert with Robert Half, a leading specialized staffing firm that helps skilled professionals find rewarding temporary and full-time jobs in a variety of fields. Christine has been writing on job search, career and workplace topics for nearly 15 years. Connect with Christine and Robert Half on Twitter at @smallbizhiring.