If you’re in the job market, chances are you’ve come across a multitude of articles on the importance of making a positive first impression while networking or in a job interview. And for good reason: You send a message about your competence and likeability long before you open your mouth. Therefore, you’re supposed to dress professionally, avoid falling asleep in the waiting area, be nice, offer a firm handshake, smile, keep your arms uncrossed, and the list goes on and on.
There’s nothing wrong with these tips. In fact, they’re great (if perhaps somewhat obvious). But if you constantly run through a mental list of dos and don’ts and worry about how you come across, you will shoot yourself in the foot. So stop worrying about getting every detail right and instead do something much more proactive and useful: Prepare.
Prepare yourself, your mind and body, not just your clothing or your resume or your answers to possible interview questions. Your ability to make a great first impression starts long before the day of your interview. Get ready in advance and the first impression will take care of itself.
Here are three things to do before an interview or networking event in order to make a great first impression:
That long list of do’s and don’ts for making a good impression? They’re all valid. But as with any “test,” cramming rarely works. If you don’t want to cross your arms at a networking event (good tip!), start practicing in everyday conversation. If you want to avoid slouching during your interview (definitely!), start sitting up straight at your current job. If you want to smile and make eye contact with your interviewer (yup! definitely want that!), start smiling and making eye contact whenever you’re interacting with people.
All those things you want to do to make a good impression need to be second nature. It’s a lot easier to be your usual self than to try out a bunch of new behaviors in a stressful situation. So change your “usual.” In addition, it’s awfully hard to think clearly when your brainpower is consumed with trying to look good. When making a good first impression has become a habit, you have more processing power for the conversation.
2.) Decide how you want to be…
…rather than what you want to do or say. When you’ve got an interview or networking event coming up, choose a few words (no more than three) to describe how you want to be.
It could be anything: confident, dedicated, caring, professional, creative, smart, funny, passionate, bold, thoughtful, experienced, driven, quirky, friendly, decisive, hard-working… You choose. For one minute, imagine how it looks and feels to be that way. Keep your word(s) in mind and your speech and behavior will naturally align.
Often, we get hung up on what we should say. We figure out a script in our heads for answering questions and demonstrating our capabilities. But as you may have noticed, life rarely follows the script. People surprise us. Then we either stubbornly stick to the script we prepared or fumble for words as we try to recover. Neither of those makes a very good impression!
Certainly, it’s a good idea to be prepared for possible interview questions and have an idea of what you want to say. Do that. But instead of relying on having “all the right answers,” rely on yourself. Be grounded in who you are and what you bring to the table. Even if you don’t get all the answers quite right, if you’re crystal clear on who you are and how you want to be, you will come across that way.
3.) Release tension
Do this daily as you prepare to meet people at job fairs or networking events or in interviews. But also make a conscious choice and effort to do it before and during the event itself. Breathe deeply and let go of unnecessary tension.
You don’t want to be so relaxed that you’re slouching or come across as nonchalant. Stay alert. Yet releasing tension through breathing brings many benefits:
- You will look more comfortable and confident.
- You will feel more comfortable and confident.
- You’ll avoid nervous tics like bouncing knees or twiddling thumbs.
- You’ll be able to think more clearly and quickly.
First impressions are important. Yet worrying about it will backfire for two reasons: First, worrying shows up in your nonverbal communication, and that makes a bad impression! Second, worrying gets you stuck in your head, so you can’t be present and fully show up.
Want to make a good first impression? Stop trying. Instead, prepare yourself ahead of time and then trust that you can do it.
Change your communication, change your life.
Rachel Beohm has worked for over ten years in the communications field. She trains executives, HR professionals, speakers, and job seekers to present themselves powerfully through the use of nonverbal communication skills so they can achieve their goals. She coaches clients one-on-one in downtown Portland, OR, provides blogs and other resources online, and delivers workshops and keynotes across the country.
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