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How Important Is the First Impression in an Interview?

Some people land a lot of interviews, but rarely get the job.

It's possible that if that happens to you, it's just bad luck. Perhaps each time you interview, a slightly more polished, more qualified candidate comes in before or after you.

What's more likely if you keep interviewing, but fail to get the job is that you're doing something wrong. That could mean a lack of preparation or not being ready to answer standard tricky questions.

If that's not you, it's also possible that you're making a bad first impression. If that happens it can sink your chances at landing the job before the bulk of the interview even takes place.

Sometimes a bad first impression can ruin your interview chances. Image source: Getty Images.

What makes a bad first impression?

The easiest way to make a bad first impression is showing up dressed inappropriately. Unless otherwise told by the person offering you the interview, men should wear a suit and women should wear the female equivalent. In most cases you will also want to tone down your jewelry, hair color, and anything else that would stand out from the norm.

If you walk into an interview wearing jeans and carrying a cup of coffee (as someone I once interviewed did) you have disrespected the interviewer. Sometimes dressing appropriately means changing in a fast food restaurant bathroom as you leave work to get to the interview, but if that's what's required, then do it.

That's not the only mistake

While appearance can sink your chances right away, so can a number of other things. These are all areas that are easy to address where you can make a bad first impression:

  • Not having your resume: Make sure to bring a few copies in case there are multiple interviewers.
  • Not being ready: When the interviewer comes to collect you from a waiting room, don't keep them waiting as you finish doing something on your phone.
  • Speak up: Some people are nervous and that causes them to be quiet or mumble during the greeting part of the interview.
  • Don't be too casual: The interviewer is not "dude," "bro," or anything else informal. Those may be your standard greetings, but please resist using them out of reflex.

Most of these are common sense, but some take practice. If you are naturally shy, for example, practice the initial greeting to work on being confident.

Be confident and prepared

All of the items above are in your control as the person being interviewed. That changes once the questions start flying, but you can master the art of interviewing if you prepare.

Come in with questions about the company that show insight (not things that can easily be Googled). Be ready to talk about your past accomplishments in specific terms. Don't say, "I did a good job," say "my efforts resulted in 2% reduction in expenses and a 5% increase in sales."

Follow through

Just as the first impression can ruin your chances at getting a job, your exit from the interview and follow-up an interview can also mess things up. On your way out, thank the interviewer for the opportunity. You should also have a printed list of references to share if asked for them.

Last, once you get home, it's important to send a thank you note. Email is fine if your correspondence has been electronic. If it has not, then a handwritten, mailed letter is better.

Use your thank you note, not just to say thanks, but to reinforce something you missed in the interview. For example, if you lack a certain skill, reiterate your willingness to learn it or note how something else you do well may fit the position.

Go get the job

Some people interview better than others, and if you interview a lot without being hired, assume your technique needs work. Follow the steps above and practice talking about yourself. Ask friends to mock interview you and don't just play at it -- go through all the steps.

Making a good first impression helps kick open the door. After that it's all about confidence and being well-prepared. Those are skills you can work on and if you do, you will have a much better chance at landing the job.

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