Leveraging the First Few Interview Minutes to Make an Unforgettable Impression

The first few minutes of your job interview are critical, as studies show hiring managers form strong impressions to make their hiring decisions based on these early minutes of the interview.

The first few minutes of your job interview are critical, as studies show hiring managers form strong impressions to make their hiring decisions based on these early minutes – and even sometimes seconds – of the interview. To make the most of those early minutes takes advanced preparation (especially employer research) and practice. Here’s how you can make the best possible impression in those first few minutes.

Dress to impress – Job seekers are often advised to dress in the manner of other employees in the organization in which they are interviewing, but hiring managers have been saying recently, that it’s best to dress in the most conservative business attire (not business casual). That means a matching jacketed suit for both men and women, conservative colors (such as black and navy, though women can usually get away with a broader range of colors), polished shoes, and ties for men. Watch grooming: for women, hair styled in a way that keeps it off your face; for men, any facial hair should be neat and trimmed. Take steps to avoid bad breath and body odor. Avoid fragrances.

Bring your resume and be prepared to present it if asked – A surprising number of interviewers don’t have your resume readily at hand. Perhaps they’ve misplaced it or it’s buried on their desk. (Bring additional copies in case you interview with others).

Carry materials in a streamlined way – Take as little as possible with you into the interview. You’ll need copies of your resume, and perhaps business cards, a writing utensil and a notepad. You optionally might have a portfolio, briefcase or attaché case, and women will likely have a purse. Envision how you will pull items, like your resume, smoothly out of the containers in which you’re carrying them. You might even want to practice these moves.

Arrive on time – Arriving about 15 minutes early is the interview rule of thumb. Any earlier and you may annoy the gatekeeper, the admin or receptionist who greets you. This arrival time will also allow you to check your appearance in the restroom and settle your mind before meeting your interviewer.

Breathe – The period before you meet the interviewer is a good opportunity to take 5-10 deep, cleansing breaths to relax you.

Treat the gatekeeper with courtesy and respect – This person’s positive first impression of you should reinforce the interviewer’s impression.

Turn off your phone – You definitely don’t want it making any noise during the interview.

Greet your interviewer with a big smile – A smile not only makes a strong impression; it is also the best way to show enthusiasm and should be continued throughout the interview.

Offer a strong handshake – Your handshake should be firm, but not bone-crushing. Avoid the “limp fish” handshake. Be sure your palms are dry; use a handkerchief on them right before the interview.

When invited to sit (and only then), position yourself slightly toward the edge of the chair and leaning slightly forward – This posture has the effect of making you look eager.

Establish (and maintain) eye contact – Eye contact is surprisingly important in an interview; employers cite lack of eye contact as a reason not to hire. Since it can be awkward – and even creepy – to look directly at the interviewer’s eyes for the entire interview, try looking at the bridge of his or her nose. It’s also OK to look away briefly from time to time. What you especially do not want to do is constantly look down, or look up at wall or ceiling, as though you are hoping for answers to appear there.

Project your voice. The best way to convey that all-important confidence is to speak up with a strong voice. This advice is especially important for women, who sometimes speak too softly and can sound almost childlike.

Make the most of small talk to establish rapport – You can be proactive here by researching the interviewer beforehand, if possible (at the very least, learn how to pronounce the interviewer’s name, if it’s tricky). You might, for example, learn of a commonality you can bring up in the early minutes of the interview, such as having been a member of the same fraternity/sorority. If you can’t research ahead of time, look for clues in the interviewer’s office. Sports memorabilia? Comment on the team’s prospects. Collectibles? Ask how he or she got started collecting.

But don’t be the first to speak – It’s the interviewer’s role to run the interview; follow his or her lead.

Be prepared to summarize your value proposition early on – There’s a good chance the first thing your interviewer will ask you to respond to is the request to “tell me about yourself.” Have an effective response planned whether or not this question is actually asked. Whatever the interviewer’s first question is, begin your response with a phrase something like: “I would be happy to respond to your question, but would you mind if I tell you a little about myself first?” It would be a rare employer who would not allow you to do so.