Seven seconds. That, according to psychologists, is how long it takes to form a first impression. Considering creating a good first impression is only less important than work experience in clinching a job offer, getting those seven seconds right when you walk into an interview room is crucial.
Ready? Start the clock.
1… Unfold Your Arms
Body language is important. When we assess how someone else is feeling, over half of our analysis is derived from the way they hold themselves. So unless you want your interviewer to think you’re defensive, insecure, inflexible and closed-minded, don’t cross your arms.
We fold our arms to create a barrier between ourselves and the person we’re talking to. It’s a common way to deal with nervousness, but it’s the ultimate subconscious faux pas. So don’t do it!
2… Stand Up Straight
Even if you’re five-foot-nothing, always draw yourself up to your full height when greeting your interviewer. Good posture doesn’t just make you look more professional and self-assured, it makes you act more confident too. So-called ‘power postures’ are so effective that they inspire more assertiveness in an individual than giving them a powerful job title.
Creating an impression of height works in your favour too. Research shows that taller people are more successful than their diminutive counterparts. The logic is that evolutionary tics make us equate tallness with leadership and competence.
It sounds obvious, but it’s super easy to forget when you’re overcome with nerves and focused on rehearsing your CV in your head. So make a mental note to bare your pearly whites!
Smiley people are more likeable. In fact, research shows that when we have to pick someone to exclude from a group (read: reject for a job) we’re more likely to chuck out someone we think is unfriendly than someone we think is incompetent.
How many job applications ask for “positive” candidates? Ticking this box can be as simple as smiling sincerely. Smiley people are not just pleasant to be around, they make those they’re smiling at feel more positive too. And who wouldn’t want to hire the candidate that makes them feel good?
4… Hold Eye Contact
Not maintaining eye contact is the top body-language mistake a candidate can make, according to over two-thirds of employers. While you shouldn’t be staring someone out (think: blink) keeping good eye contact throughout an interview is essential.
Human beings tend to naturally maintain eye contact with people they like or admire, and look away when they are embarrassed or not paying attention. Because we are aware of the difference on at least a subconscious level, we look for the same cues in the people we’re talking to and judge them accordingly.
That’s why public speakers who maintain eye contact are thought to be more competent and believable, and why cereal whose cartoons are drawn to stare at shoppers are more likely to be bought.
5… Shake Hands Firmly
It sounds like a small thing, but a good handshake can make or break your interview. One study found that it mattered more than agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability. Hold your hand out first – it is a subtle way to show confidence and take control of the interview without seeming domineering.
Always grip the interviewers’ hand as firmly as you can without crushing their fingers, and if you’re prone to sweaty hands make sure you’ve discreetly wiped it on your suit before going in for the kill. Timing is everything – drop their hand too quickly and you convey disgust; hold their hand too long and you give the impression that you like them a little too much.
6… Introduce Yourself
Even if they have your name written down in front of them in three-foot-high letters, always greet an interviewer with “Hi [THEIR NAME], I’m [YOUR NAME]. It’s lovely to meet you.”
Why? It’s an easy way to break the ice, and shows confidence and assertiveness. Introductions are a social cue – swapping names makes you seem more personable, while referring to how pleased you are to be there shows enthusiasm for the opportunity.
It’s important to refer to the interview by name (and doubly important that you get their name right! Take some time to memorise it beforehand). People love to be treated as individuals, and few things wrap up our identity more powerfully than our name. That’s why it’s common knowledge amongst salespeople that repeatedly addressing a client by name helps integrate yourself with them. It might sound barmy, but science shows that when we hear our name it causes different parts of our brain to activate than those that are associated with regular speech.
7… Stay Standing
Finding the line between confidence (good) and arrogance (very, very bad) in a job interview can be tricky. The best candidates maintain a balance between taking charge of the situation and deferring to the interviewer who is, after all, the decision maker.
Having gone in with a strong handshake and assertive introduction, wait to take a seat until either you are invited to by the interviewer or they sit down. It’s polite without being self-doubting, and it indicates that you have respect for them and their authority in this situation.
Beth Leslie writes graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching candidates to their dream internship. Check out their graduate jobs London listings for roles or, if you’re looking to hire an intern, have a look at their innovative Video CVs.