1 Feb 2013

First Impressions...

I've mentioned in a previous blog that during an interview clients often make up their mind about the candidate within the first 5 minutes.  I read earlier today that actually we make eleven major decisions about one another in the first seven seconds of meeting...  The moment that the client/interviewer meets you, his or her brain will make a thousand computations: Are you someone to approach or to avoid? Are you friend or foe? Do you have status and authority? Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable, confident?  In the business world, first impressions are crucial and whilst you can't stop people from making snap decisions, you can understand how to make those decisions work in your favour.  Apparently first impressions are more heavily influenced by non verbal cues than verbal cues and studies have found that non verbal cues have over four times the impact on the impression you make than anything you say.

This was brought home to me last week.  I had a candidate interviewing with a respected digital marketing agency.  The candidate was well briefed and has some good and relevant experience. Strong academically and with excellent references.   Post interview, the client rang me quickly with some feedback.  Ultimately, he'd decided within 2 minutes that the candidate's 'look' had put him off.  His description of her 'look' was Gothic and the client felt that it wasn't an appropriate look for the clients of the agency (lots of law and accountancy firms).   From that point onwards, it's unlikely that the candidate could have done anything to persuade the client of her suitability for the role.  Indeed, the client was apologetic that whilst the candidate was well qualified and a very competent candidate, the fit clearly wasn't right.

This got me thinking in terms of the rights and wrongs of this situation.  I always advise candidates to dress appropriately for interviews.  But...the definition of appropriate varies from client to client.  Also, different people like/don't like to show their individuality in their outward apparel.  The Goth in question had several ear and facial piercings and fairly heavy eye makeup and I can appreciate that this wouldn't be 'appropriate' for a meeting with the partner of a Magic Circle law firm.  However, one of my favourite mantras is that there is somewhere for everyone and later that week, another digital agency having interviewed the same 'Goth', offered a role there and then.  This agency believes that it's important for their employees to be able to display their creative side (although I think they might like it to be dumbed down a little with client meetings!) but certainly on a day to day basis, the appearance of this candidate would present no problems.  I don't think the initial agency was wrong to say no and I do think we'll find them someone more suited to that perhaps more corporate environment.
Anyway, I've digressed from the main point about first impressions but obviously how you look relative to the work environment that you are interviewing for is key to how you will be perceived. 
Here are seven other non-verbal ways to make a positive first impression in an interview situation:
1. Adjust your attitude. People pick up your attitude instantly. Before you turn to greet someone, or enter the boardroom think about the situation and make a conscious choice about the attitude you want to embody.
2. Straighten your posture. Status and power are nonverbally conveyed by height and space. Standing tall, pulling your shoulders back, and holding your head straight are all signals of confidence and competence.
3. Smile. A smile is an invitation, a sign of welcome. It says, “I’m friendly and approachable.”
4. Make eye contact. Looking at someone’s eyes transmits energy and indicates interest and openness. (To improve your eye contact, make a practice of noticing the eye colour of everyone you meet.)
5. Raise your eyebrows. Open your eyes slightly more than normal to simulate the “eyebrow flash” that is the universal signal of recognition and acknowledgement.
6. Shake hands. This is the quickest way to establish rapport. It’s also the most effective. Research shows it takes an average of three hours of continuous interaction to develop the same level of rapport that you can get with a single handshake.
That's a few things to think about.  They might seem obvious but it's worth putting them into practice and seeing if they make a difference. 
On a final note,  I generally think when it comes to first interviews (for any role in the marketing world*) that when it comes to facial piercings less is more!

* appreciate that for a job in a piercing parlour, the opposite may be true!