Although making a good first impression is steering a little away from personal finance basics, I’d like to finish up the career planning and job search portions of the series with a little discussion about personality and professionalism.
My Own Observations
I will be the first to claim that I’m not always the most professional of people. I don’t like kissing up through compliments or trying to fit in, but then again, I don’t try to go against the grain just to make a statement. After the interview and first day on the job, I don’t wear a suit, and I might not even wear a tie. However, I won’t wear jeans and sneakers unless everyone else is doing so.
Also, even though I get a 5 o’clock shadow by 9am, I still go into work clean-shaven. I’m always punctual (i.e on-time), unless some unforeseen circumstance, or my wife, get in the way. I’d rather be early than late, even if it means sitting around for some time. But some people simply can’t understand the meaning of punctuality. I don’t want to make anyone wait for me, and I hope others have the same respect for me.
Those are just a few of my own personal traits and observations I wanted to point out. Next, let’s go over a number of details that you should remember when you want to make a quality, lasting first impression.
10 Tips for Making a Good First Impression
- Arrive on Time – I’ve already stated how I like to arrive early. I know that in some other cultures or countries, being punctual isn’t considered a virtue, but when you’re talking about 5 minutes potentially killing your opportunity, try to at least be on time, if not early.
- Dress Appropriately – I’ve written two articles on how to look unprofessional. I recommend doing the opposite of those tips if I were you. The rule is that you should dress one level above the interviewer (well, that’s the rule I follow). When I go in for a corporate interview, I’m wearing a suit while the interviewers are dressed “business casual”. I’ll wait till I get hired to dress like them.
- Go Alone – When Stacie went for a site visit for an internship at a very prestigious national institute, my friend (a frequent commenter on this site) went along with her, mainly because they both thought it would just be a tour, which is mostly was. However, I can only guess what the host thought since it was really a time to get to know Stacie. In the end, she got the internship, but looking back, we both agree it would have been much more professional to go alone.
- Be Prepared – If you’re going for a job at McDonald’s, it seems like overkill to bring a resume, but at least bring your reference information. For corporate jobs, I’ve found that every interview I’ve been on, the interviewer either didn’t have my resume, or they brought in others to sit in who needed a copy. Always bring copies of your resume, a notepad, a pen and your identification. They might have you complete an application on-the-spot so you’ll need your driver’s license number, reference information and other key information. Be prepared!
- Appear Poised and Self-Confident – Even if you’re scared out of your wits, you want to control your emotions, your eye contact, and any nervous habits. My problem is that I tend to talk to fill in silence, and then I forget what I was saying. It’s common in my personal life too 🙁
- Be Courteous – Don’t get all in a huff if you’re asked to wait. Don’t interrupt the interviewer. And say “thank you”, “please” and all those other polite things.
- Take Time to Think Before Answering – Don’t think that you need to speak as soon as the question ends. Take time to think about what you should say. I had a lot of problems with this back in college and my early professional years, but I’m slowly getting more patience and confidence in my knowledge.
- Don’t Get Down on Yourself – You may realize that I am more prone to highlight my negative points. Some people have said I’m humble, but I just think I’m negative. I don’t like to tout my strong points, because then I’ll have to back up the statements. However, if you highlight your weaknesses more than your strengths in an interview, that’s what the interviewer will remember. Don’t do that.
- Don’t Flirt – I don’t have this problem, but I know a few people who, because they’re nervous or have low self-esteem, will flirt. You may not even realize you’re doing it. Just watch yourself if you’re prone to flirting.
- Be Interested in the Company and Job – I’ve been in interviews where I know nothing about the company and I didn’t bother to read up on the job. It’s a little embarrassing. It’s also a nice touch to bring printouts about the company/job that you might reference when they ask if you have any of your own questions. It shows that you’re interested in them.
The Thank-You Note
Although it’s not during the first impression time frame, sending a thank-you note really helps to close out the conversation. Use the note (email, letter, or even phone call) to show your appreciation for their time and their interest in your skills. Restate briefly why you think you’re suitable for the position and how they might contact you for follow-up interviews.
Do you have any horror stories from your first impressions that still make you cringe to this day?