Five first-impression tips for interviewees

First impressions matter at interview. Here are five ways to make sure the panel remembers you for all the right reasons

Tes Editorial

How To Impress In Your Teaching Interview

You’re 60  seconds into your job-of-a-lifetime interview.

Having already knocked over your water, forgotten the interviewer’s name and dropped the F-bomb, it’s not looking good.

But surely your polished CV, personalised cover letter and wealth of experience hasn’t been undone by a minute of faux pas? Well actually, the research says it probably has. 

Alexander Todorov, professor of psychology at Princeton University and author of Face Value, claims that ”person impressions are often formed rapidly and spontaneously from minimal information”. 

Todorov’s research asked subjects who had viewed millisecond-long videos of various political candidates to predict which candidate they thought would win in the upcoming elections.

Participants were able to accurately predict who would win an election 70 per cent of the time. 

Todorov believes that not only does his research suggest that people make accurate snap judgements in a heartbeat, it could also reveal that people cast their votes based predominantly on a first impression. 

The science has spoken, you’ve got one opportunity to get into an interviewer’s good books and it only lasts a moment.

Here are five ways to make it count:

1. Shake things up

It is commonly believed that the ancient practice of the handshake was once used as a peace gesture, showing that neither of the participants were holding a weapon.

Today the practice is so ubiquitous in Western societies that you might wonder whether the handshake holds any real importance in this day and age. However, a 2012 paper published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, says it may still help your chances as a candidate.

study, led by Florin Dolcos and Sanda Dolcos at the University of Illinois, found that a confident handshake can amplify the positive impact of a social interaction and diminish the effects of any negative impressions you may have made. 

Sanda Dolcos tells those looking to make a good first impression to ”be aware of the power of the handshake”. 

Dolcos believes that a firm, confident and friendly handshake can act as a lifeline for nervous interviewees who are desperate to make a good impression.

She says: ”Many of our social interactions may go wrong for one reason or another, and a simple handshake preceding them can give us a boost and attenuate the negative impact of possible misunderstandings.”

2. Perfect your posture

If you had been teaching150 years ago, you might have been required to run classes in posture training. Though we’ve moved away from the high chairs and sloping desks of the 19th-century classroom, posture still seems to have a role to play when it comes to first impressions.

2010 study, published in Psychological Science, claims that body posture is often the primary representation of power, and can affect not only how you are perceived but also how you feel. 

The study conducted at Columbia University and Harvard University found that maintaining an expansive posture can increase an individual’s sense of personal power.

Researchers Dana Carney and Amy Cuddy found that widespread limbs and occupying greater amounts of space helped to increase a subject’s sense of confidence.

In addition to this, the study found that expansive postures actually altered the hormone levels of patients, who reported feeling more ”in charge” and ”powerful”.  

Constricted postures, such as crossed arms and minimisation of occupied space, were deemed to have a negative effect upon an individual’s sense of confidence. 

3. Turn that frown upside down

You’re waiting outside the office, you’ve been preparing for weeks, the nerves are unbearable, you could be forgiven for allowing your face to curl into a worried expression. Don’t. 

It seems that when we appear to be happy, others receive us more positively and we’re more likely to be remembered.  

Psychologists D Vaughn Becker and Narayanan Srinivasan conducted a study in 2014, entitled The Vividness of the Happy Face, in which they argue that ”happy faces are vivid: they automatically and rapidly engage cognitive processing at many different levels”. Srinivasan and Becker call this a ”happy advantage”. 

The research goes on to state that not only do happy faces evoke positive reactions in others but they are more memorable and far more likely to make a lasting impression in the mind of an interviewer.

The paper concludes that both attentional and memory mechanisms appear to favour happy faces. They grab our attention and linger in our memory. 

4. Give context to your triumphs 

When the time does come to let the interviewer know about all the magnificent things you’ve achieved, throw in a bit of background information.

Research carried out by Professor Janina Steinmetz, senior lecturer in marketing at Cass Business School, shows that in order to create a more favourable first impression, you should give a backstory to your achievements.

The study, published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, argues that too many of us make the mistake of focusing on our successes rather than the effort that it took to get there. 

Steinmetz’s research was conducted with participants from the Netherlands and the US, and involved setting candidates up in a series of one-off dates.

Some of the daters were instructed to merely explain their achievements as though they were obtained through natural ability, and others detailed the hard work that it took to achieve their goals. 

When asked about which candidates they preferred at the end of the study, 80 per cent of participants said that they feel more fondly towards those who demonstrated a history of hard work than those who seemed to be a natural talent. 

A job interview is naturally an opportunity for potential employers to assess our capabilities but it is also a popularity contest and, while emphasising our triumphs may increase perceptions of competence about us, it does little to engender feelings of warmth and relatability. 

Stienmetz says: “A success story isn’t complete without the hard work and explanation of why we were successful. Did the success come easy thanks to one’s talents or was it attained through hard work?” 

5. Foster your inquisitive nature

During a job interview, we all want to present the best of ourselves to whoever is sitting across the table.

Many of us might feel that it’s important to let the interviewer know about all of our greatest achievements and strengths. 

But researchers say that too many of us make bad first impressions when we try too hard to self-promote.

Francesca Gino, a Harvard professor of business administration, says: ”People spend most of their time talking about their own viewpoints and tend to self-promote when meeting people for the first time”. 

A 2017 study, led by Gino, claims that the best way to make a great first impression is to ask questions. 

The study concludes that ”high question-askers – those who probe for information from others – are perceived as more responsive and are better liked. Responsiveness reflects three components: understanding, validation and care for the partner.”