It takes us humans a scant seven seconds to form a first impression, or roughly the amount of time it takes for a really good yawn. Add this on to the already nerve-wracking experience of an interview, where a prospective employer is sizing you up to see if you’d be a good fit at that company or not, and seven seconds isn’t a long time to make an awesome impression at all. But when you expand it to a whole two minutes, or 120 seconds, then you’ve got a whole lot more time to work with. First, we’ll tackle what you have to do in those first seven seconds, and then how to cement that impression in the next 113.
Seven Seconds: Ready, Set, Go!
This section is going to require you to practice a little bit, much like how an NFL punter practices kicking hundreds of times to line it up for that one perfect shot during the Super Bowl. Your goal is to get the following steps down so perfectly, someone could wake you up in the middle of the night and you’d be able to rock a great first impression in seven sleepy seconds.
Posture: Stand up tall, as it has many effects — it straightens your shoulders, sucks in your gut, makes you look taller and more authoritative, and gives the physical look of confidence. You may be quivering on the inside at the prospect of a one-on-one interview, but other people should never be able to tell just by looking at you.
Eye Contact: If you’ve ever talked to someone who didn’t make eye contact with you, then you can remember thinking they were a shifty person with something to hide. Don’t make that mistake with your interviewer, and lock eyes right away to signify an open, unassuming personality.
Handshake: This is one of those things that still hasn’t caught on everywhere, as too many people shake hands either like an arm wrestler or a dead fish. The former tells the interviewer you’re an aggressive personality who may have a bully streak lurking underneath, while the former says you’re a wimpy person who’ll never stand up and grab the bull by the horns. The right way is to grasp the other’s hand, squeeze a bit, pump about three times, and then let go.
Personal Space: In Western cultures, the amount of personal space you should be giving others is about two to three feet. This helps a person retain a sense of comfort so they feel more at ease, but you still want to tilt your head and lean it forward to establish a feeling of closeness.
Filling in the Next 113 Seconds
This is now your time to really shine and build on the great first impression you’ve just laid out. You have quite a bit more breathing space to work with, as the seven seconds goes by incredibly quickly. The next 113 seconds will go by faster than you realize, so again, it’s important to hammer out these steps to ensure you’re impressing your interviewer as much as possible.
The first thing you want to focus on is manners. While this’ll differ in every city, state and country, there are a few things that most places have in common, such as:
1. Introduce yourself with a smile that shows only some of your teeth; don’t keep your lips clamped shut and don’t show every tooth in your mouth.
2. Don’t sit down until you’re offered a seat.
3. Keep your hands on the table as a sign of friendliness and openness. To show confidence, competence and authority, don’t clasp your fingers together, but touch the fingertips to the opposite ones.
4. Make a comment about the building or company, something friendly and bland, yet on topic. Keep it neutral and don’t bring up religion or politics, especially in the first two minutes.
5. Say “well, thank you” or “fine, thank you” when asked how you are, not “good, thanks”. “Good” is what other people say, not what job winners say.
6. Never underestimate the power of saying “how are you?” and “thank you”. Politeness will get you far.
Lastly, it’s only a matter of when, not if, you’re requested to “tell me about yourself”. This question has tripped up many job applicants and prevented them from going any further, and you want to avoid getting lumped in there at all costs. Craft what’s called an “elevator pitch” (a pitch you can deliver to someone for however long it takes to take an elevator ride with them) so it’s short, sweet, on topic, and to the point. Nobody cares what your middle school accomplishments were or how awesome your puppy is, but what they do care about is how you improved sales or incoming income for your company at a more efficient rate than other employees. If you need help identifying what these objective accomplishments are, then get a harsh pair of eyes to look over your short list until you know you have a good answer.
Remember, 120 seconds isn’t that long at all.