By: Robert Half
Robert Half, CPA and founder of Robert Half International
Inc., the world's leader in specialized staffing and the parent company
of Robert Half and Accountemps
"She wasn't well-groomed."
"He never smiled."
"She sounded totally disorganized when I returned her call."
"He slouched in the chair and seldom looked me in the eye."
These are just four of countless observations I've heard over the years
from hiring authorities in response to candidates with whom they had come
in contact. Each has something in common: They all represent negative
There are two first impressions job-seekers make.
The first is on paper with your resume. Assuming it's been carefully and
skillfully crafted, at least to the extent it prompts a hiring manager
to ask for an interview, the second impression occurs when you walk through
the interviewer's door, or when you answer this individual's call. It
doesn't take long for a first personal impression to register. It happens
in a matter of seconds, and it can set the tone for the rest of your contact
with perspective employers.
On the Telephone
Let's start with first impressions on the telephone.
1. When making that initial call, don't wait until you've dialed the number
to decide what it is you want to say. Plan ahead, even preparing a script
to remind yourself of the points you wish to convey. Know what you want
this call to accomplish--advice, referral, interview--and then focus on
2. The person on the other end will not be able to see you, but more important
factors, like your attitude and enthusiasm, are reflected in your voice.
Be upbeat. Smile. Act as though you were across the desk from this person
with whom you are speaking.
3. Be prepared to accept calls from prospective employers in a business-like
manner. Avoid attempts at humor or music programming on your answering
machine's outgoing message. Brief your family on how you would like business
calls handled. As always, return calls promptly. Also, if you call and
reach the company's voice-mail system, leave your name and telephone number.
Speak slowly and repeat your number so that someone has enough time to
write it down.
Face to Face
Making a positive in-person first impression involves common sense.
1. Make sure you dress appropriately in a stylish, yet business-like fashion--shoes
shined, no loose buttons, personal grooming attended to.
2. Practice "attitude adjustment" before each interview. You
may be down about something, but do not allow this to reveal itself to
prospective employers. Instead, carry an upbeat, energetic attitude during
the interview (and through life).
3. Do your homework about that company before going to the interview.
Nothing builds confidence faster than being prepared.
4. Be on time. Even better, be early, allowing yourself to calmly collect
your thoughts. A breathless, last-minute arrival does nothing to enhance
your initial impression.
5. Don't think the only person with whom you must make a good first impression
is the person in position to hire you. Be cordial and polite to everyone,
from the security person and receptionist at the main entrance to the
interviewer's secretary. Jobs have been lost because secretaries or administrative
assistants, when asked their opinions of you (and this is probable), indicated
they were unfavorably impressed.
6. Exude warmth and enthusiasm the first moments of the interview. Be
determined to like the interviewer, no matter what direction your conversation
takes. Stand and sit tall. We tend to believe what we see more than what
we hear. Extend a firm, sincere handshake. And, establish immediate eye
contact, not in a challenging sense, but as a sign of interest in that
person and the company he/she represents.
7. Take in your surroundings and spot something to comment upon. A framed
picture, awards on the wall, an unusual piece of furniture or sculpture.
Or, use what you've learned about that company, perhaps even about the
interviewer, during your pre-interview homework to break the ice.
Finding a job is a job in itself, demanding many things of you. Among
them is realizing how important first impressions can be. Take stock of
yourself and how you impact people for the first time. Obtain feedback
from trusted friends. If you have the means, videotape yourself and analyze
We've all heard that first impressions aren't always accurate, and shouldn't
be trusted. We've also heard that first impressions are lasting ones.
No matter what your view, accept the reality that your initial interaction
with a hiring authority, either in person or on the phone, will determine
to a great extent how successful you will be in your quest for a job with
that individual and that company.