While the single most important determining factor in whether or not you land that job is your qualifications, first impressions can be the tie-breaker between you and another equally qualified candidate. That's why it's important that the hiring manager's first impression of you is a good one.
Here's how to get started on the right foot with any interview.
Be on time...but not too on time! First - and this should go without saying - be on time. As hard as it is to believe, as a hiring manager, I've had many candidates show up late for interviews over the years. It's usually just a minute or two, but it's the worst thing you can do when it comes to first impressions. That said, you also don't want to arrive too early.
If late is bad, then shouldn't early be good...and the earlier the better? Not necessarily. If you show up twenty minutes early for your interview, one of two things will happen. (1) Either the interview before you isn't over yet and you have to sit around awkwardly for twenty minutes, or (2) There was no interview before you and the hiring manager has to either start the interview early or rudely let you sit and wait. Either way, you start out bad.
Here's what you should do. Plan to arrive at least 30 minutes early - 45 is better - and then wait in your car reviewing your notes. Then, walk in five minutes before the interview. This is perfect. It shows you are punctual but have the business etiquette to not show up too early.
The reason you want to arrive at the interview location 30 or 45 minutes early is to allow yourself time for any unexpected delays, such as traffic or a flat tire. Plus, you won't be rushed and will arrive much more relaxed and ready.
Dress professionally. Basically, you don't want to look like a slob and you also don't want to look like you're ready to step out on the town. You want to look neat and professional. The best advice is to dress one step up from how you think people at that company in comparable positions dress. One thing you may want to do prior to the interview is wait inconspicuously outside the employee entrance around quitting time and observe how people are dressed. Then, dress one step up from that.
For professional and management positions, a suit or sports coat and tie with dress shoes is the most appropriate dress for men. For women, a formal pant suit is best, so that you don't have to worry about things like what is the proper dress length and whether or not to wear stockings. Keep jewelry to a minimum and wear shoes with conservative heels.
For trade and clerical positions, men should at least wear dress pants or "Docker" style pants, a nice long sleeve shirt with a collar, and hard-soled shoes (no athletic shoes). For women, casual or dressy pants with a sweater or blouse.
Never wear blue jeans to an interview, regardless of the nature of the job. No matter how expensive your jeans are or how good you think they look, many hiring managers will immediately peg you as disrespectful and not serious about the interview.
A good general dress tip for everyone is to wear conservative colors. Avoid loud colors, unusual colors, bright checked patterns, etc. Otherwise, these will end up being your first impression.
When you feel good about how you're dressed, that's just one less thing to worry about.
Smile and give a firm handshake. When you are introduced to the person or persons who will be interviewing you, your first action should be to smile, look them straight in the eye, and give a firm handshake.
In other words, project an aura of friendliness and confidence (even if that's not what you feel!). This will not only make a good first impression, but will put the hiring manager more at ease, knowing that you seem to be handling yourself well.
You'll be surprised at how much more smoothly the interview will go. Personally, as a hiring manger, I find it very awkward when a candidate doesn't smile when introduced, won't look me in the eye, and gives a limp fish handshake. Right or wrong, this sends me the signal that you aren't very excited about the interview or the job. More often than not, these end up being strained interviews and seldom result in a hire.
On the other hand, you don't have to gush over with enthusiasm, trying to make the hiring manager feel he is the greatest person in the world and that the job is the most fantastic opportunity you've ever seen. This will come across as insincere at best and patronizing at worst.
All you have to do is remember this: smile, straight look, and firm handshake. And then get down to the real business of answering the hiring manager's questions.
Yes, you do still have to have a good resume and answer questions well in the interview. However, these three steps for making a good first impression just might make the difference between you and another front runner for the job.