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Prepare Your Image for a Successful Interview

In this post, I want to discuss a topic that upon which a big chunk of my business is based, but what is sure to become more important as our country and economy open back up.

The job interview – and making a successful first impression.

You have one chance and one chance only. That’s the thing about first impressions. They are powerful. They are persuasive. And you rarely have a chance to undo the damage caused by a bad first impression.

What do we know about first impressions? What is it about them that explains why they have such a powerful influence? Like I explained in my post about your personal image, scientific research suggests the answer. Research has shown that:

  • We all form a first impression when we meet someone for the first time.

  • First impressions are based on limited information.

  • First impressions are based largely on visual cues.

  • Attitudes and actions are often driven by first impressions.

  • First impressions are, often, not accurate.

With all of that working to reinforce the power of a first impression, is it any wonder that they hold the key to your interview success?

Trained recruiters and job interviewers will tell you that even when they try to overlook an initial bad impression, it is very hard, if not impossible, not to let a first impression color their attitude toward the job applicant. If you think this is unfair, if you think an interviewer should be ‘big’ enough to look beyond their initial superficial impressions, you’re simply fooling yourself.

The truth is if you want a successful job interview you must make a good first impression. And you can only make a good first impression when you are aware of the non-verbal messages you are sending.

Researchers disagree on the exact length of time it takes to cement a first impression. What they do agree on is that it happens very quickly, often in the first seconds of your interview. According to Dress for Success™, first impressions are usually formed in less than 30 seconds. The University of Florida, Division of Human Resources suggests that an interviewer typically decides whether an applicant should be seriously considered for a position within the first 10 seconds of an interview. Still others say that you only get 7 – yes, you read that right…7! – seconds. Yikes! That doesn’t give you much time to gain an advantage over other applicants. You can’t afford to waste even a moment.

So how do you do it? How do guarantee the impression you make will be a good one or, better yet, a great one! You do it by paying close attention to your non-verbal messages. You do it by carefully managing all the factors that contribute to your non-verbal communication.

The first step is to identify the factors that contribute to your non-verbal communication. Six elements of your personal style create opportunities to impress:

  • Your wardrobe choices

  • Your grooming habits

  • Your eye contact

  • Your facial expressions

  • Your body language

  • Your voice

Let’s look at wardrobe first. Even if you haven’t been wearing blue jeans and flip flops (or let’s be real…yoga pants and hoodies), a job interview requires you to kick it up a notch. You want your attire to communicate respect, professionalism, polish, and attention to detail. You want an interviewer to know, based on what you’re wearing, that you’ll be a good fit for their company.

It’s true that the workplace has gotten more casual over recent years but there is still a difference between personal and professional attire. Sometimes the line between the two can be blurry but for a job interview you should go professional all the way. In most business arenas a dark suit is still your best interview option. You might be surprised to know that in a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 87% of respondents said nontraditional attire would negatively influence their hiring decision. You certainly don’t want to hurt your chances of success by wearing the wrong thing to the interview.

If you don’t know what would be appropriate for an interview, do a little research. Check the company’s website and social media for clues. You could ask the recruiter who set the appointment, or call the human resources department of the company where you’ll be interviewing and ask about their dress code. If they don’t have a HR department, consider making an undercover visit to check out what other employees are wearing (just watch employees walking in and out of the building – but figure out how to do it in a non-creepy way, ok?). If you’re still uncertain, play it safe and follow the rule that says it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed for an interview.

Now, what’s up with your grooming? Grooming is very personal. It’s something you do in the privacy of our own bathroom. That makes it potentially embarrassing to talk about, and it usually doesn’t get talked about. Employers certainly don’t want to talk about it. When an employer is having problems around grooming issues with their employees, they often choose to bring in outside consultants to address the issue rather than have to get into such sensitive areas themselves.

So, let’s talk about it here before it can hurt your chance for a successful interview.

Grooming must be part of a daily routine. You can’t wait until the day of an interview to pull yourself together. To ensure your good appearance during an interview, your daily routine should include a focus on:

  • Nails

  • Body odor & use of fragrance

  • Hair

  • Oral hygiene

  • Makeup

  • Facial hair

Impeccable grooming is one way to remove potential red flags that might prevent an interviewer from focusing on your strengths.

Good eye contact is essential to a good first impression. An interviewer will make certain assumptions about you based on your ability to make and maintain good eye contact. It’s a way for you to say to the interviewer, “I’m interested in the job and in what you’re saying. I’m focused on the interview. I’m positive and energetic.”

The next time you’re having a conversation with someone who isn’t looking you in the eyes, notice how it makes you feel. You’ll discover it can make you feel devalued, uneasy, mistrustful, or even resentful.

Body language can trip you up in a heartbeat if you don’t understand the messages you are silently sending. Based on your body language alone, the interviewer will make certain assumptions about your state of mind, your self-confidence and your energy level.

How you use your voice, how you say what your say, will impact the impression you make on the interviewer. Follow these simple guidelines and you’ll have a much better chance of sending the right message.

Speak up. Don’t yell but don’t speak too softly. Support your voice with your breath for a strong, steady, well-modulated tone. Speaking too softly can make you seem timid or unsure of yourself and speaking too loudly can make you seem ill at ease or brash.

Do keep a pleasing pitch. Women especially can sound shrill or girlish when the pitch of their voice is too high. High pitched voices can be unpleasant to listen to. When speaking, pay attention to the intonation of the end of your sentences. If a statement sounds like a question, you sound unsure and lacking in confidence.

Enunciate clearly. You may have great things to say but if the interviewer has a hard time understanding what you’re saying, you’re in trouble!

Pace yourself. Speaking too slowly or too rapidly will hurt your chances of making a good impression. If you speak too slowly, the interviewer may think you won’t be able to keep up the pace of their company. If you speak too rapidly the interviewer may not catch everything you say, or they might assume you’re nervous. A steady moderate pace will make the best impression.

Finally, it’s vital that your verbal and your non-verbal communication be congruent. In other words, what you say and what you communicate non-verbally must be consistent. If you say one thing but all your non-verbal messages send a contradictory message, the interviewer is much more likely to believe what they see rather than what they hear.

So yes, ladies and gentlemen, it does indeed matter what you wear.

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