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Why First Impressions Count

Did you know that an employer may decide whether or not to hire you 30 seconds after he first shakes your hand? Studies show that many employers will make a decision about your viability as a job candidate within the first 30 seconds to 2 minutes of having met you.  So what factors do they evaluate?

Here are six key elements that affect employers' "first impression" of you.  How do you rate on each of these?

1.  Your likeability.  Having the right qualifications for a position is important, but beyond this, employers hire people that they like.  In a Wall Street Journal article, Ben Decker, Chief Executive Officer of Decker Communications, is quoted as saying "Likeability isn't something you are born with, like charisma. It's something you can learn."  Behaviors that will make you likeable include greeting the employer with a smile and a firm handshake (no dead fish handshake or a handshake that is a test of strength), good eye contact, and varying your tone of voice in a way that shows warmth and enthusiasm.

2.  Your passion for the job and organization.  Employers can find many people who are qualified and will show up for a paycheck.  It is much harder to find candidates who are enthusiastic-and knowledgeable-about the job opportunity and the organization.  Make sure you communicate to the employer why you are specifically interested in the particular job and in their organization.

3.  How you prove your qualifications.  It is not enough to just talk about how you have the skills and knowledge to do the job; you also need to provide specific examples that demonstrate your accomplishments in previous positions. Prior to the interview, practice giving examples of what you have done in the past that illustrates your qualifications for this position.

4.  How well you are prepared.  Spend time researching the organization and practicing your interview skills. Review the organization's website thoroughly; read about the mission of the organization and other details related to who they are, what they do and their goals for the future. See if there are other sources of information about the organization, as well, that can give you important information about the company. In addition, take the time to practice interviewing with another person. Mock interviews will give you a chance to refine your ability to greet and interact with the employer in a professional manner and to verbally answer anticipated interview questions.

5.  Being dressed for success.  Right or wrong, how you dress for the interview will have a major impact on how the employer views you.   It is a good idea to call the company beforehand and ask about the dress code.  Often times, employee and executive pictures on the company's website can also give you a sense of the dress code.  If it is a lower to mid-level position (such as a sales associate or a supervisor), plan to dress a step above what people commonly wear to work for that position. For most interviews, men will wear a suit or sport coat, a collared shirt and tie, dress pants and dress shoes. Women will typically wear a jacket, skirt or pants, a professional looking blouse or shirt, and professional-looking shoes. Your appearance should communicate that you took time to choose appropriate attire and to be carefully groomed (hair, nails, etc.).

6.  Paying attention to your body language.  One study found that when meeting new people, verbal impact accounts for only seven percent of the first impression you make.  The quality of your voice, grammar and overall confidence makes up 38% of the impression, and 55% is communicated by the way you dress, act and walk through the door.  (Remember to avoid negative body language such as crossing your arms, slouching, not smiling or having poor eye contact.)

Be intentional about working on these key factors and you will be on your way to making a more effective first impression and "acing" the interview.

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