First impressions count, especially in an interview situation. According to research, it takes only 7 seconds for an individual to form an opinion of someone they meet for the first time. Clearly, making a great impression is how you need to start an interview!
Those first few moments will often dictate how the rest of the interview will proceed. If you can start strong, your confidence will blossom, leading to increased rapport with the interviewer and potentially positive outcomes in terms of a job offer.
On the flip side, an uncertain start can lead to an uphill struggle in terms of turning things around and convincing the hiring manager you are the right person for the job.
Stay strong and avoid spiraling into an interview meltdown by following our guide to making a positive impression from the very start of your interview!
In this article we’ll explore:
Getting ready for the interview process
What to say at the beginning of an interview
What not to do at the start of an interview
Getting ready for the interview process
Before you actually enter the interview room and meet the hiring manager or your potential new boss, the interview process could already be underway!
If you take public transport to the interview, grab a drink at a nearby coffee shop, or visit a nearby store for some water, make sure you are confident, polite, and professional at all times. You may unknowingly encounter an employee, senior manager, or even the interviewer, so this will ensure you keep things positive from the get go.
Ensure you arrive early to be interview ready!
There is nothing worse than getting stuck in traffic or missing a train, then being late to an interview. Even if you beat the traffic or catch a taxi and actually get there on time in the end, you will probably still feel really stressed out. Making sure you get there early may seem like a no-brainer, but it also allows you to have a bit of downtime before the interview to gather your thoughts and be 100 percent interview ready.
Treat everyone as a prospective interviewer
Be polite and friendly to everyone you meet once you enter the building. Whether it’s a guest sitting in reception, the receptionist, someone cleaning the office area, any employees you encounter, or even someone sharing the lift. Being friendly, polite, and positive at all times is key.
If the interviewer is debating whether to hire you or another candidate, this might just swing the deal in your favor. Conversations may be had with one of these staff members and their input about how positive and friendly you were could win you a job offer.
Anthropologist Ray Birdwhistell found in his research that 65 percent of communication occurs nonverbally. From your facial expressions to your movements, the things you don’t say convey a lot more than the spoken word.
Smile and have a friendly approach
While your words are important at the start of an interview, so are those non-verbal cues. Body language is a major giveaway. In the first few minutes of the interview make sure you smile, make eye contact, have a confident handshake, and project energy and enthusiasm.
Active listening is also really important. You can model this via non-verbal cues including nodding in agreement, maintaining eye contact, and leaning forward to show you are present, interested, and actively part of the conversation.
Active listening has a dual purpose in terms of enabling you to find out more about the job and the people you will be working with. You should ask follow-up questions so you can decide if the job will be the right fit for you.
Wear clothes that match the company dress code
Conduct some research on the company website, including the “About Us” page, and social media platforms to get a sense of the typical dress code for the company. If you are struggling to pin down the dress code, then it’s best to go with more formal clothing.
Interview clothes should make you feel confident and comfortable, so it's a good idea to have a complete dress rehearsal and make sure your overall look is smart and subtle.
Take time to get your interview clothing on point. While you will ultimately be judged on your personality and what you say, an outfit that makes you feel like a million dollars is a major confidence boost!
Go crazy by wearing neon colors or loud patterns or look somber in all-black outfits! Stick to two or three block and/or muted colors so your outfit looks cohesive and professional.
How to start an interview conversation
The first few minutes can set the tone for the entire interview so it's important to be genuinely positive and energetic. As with any business interaction, remember to look people in the eye and respond with a confident handshake when greeted. Then, be ready for small talk and have a few key messages in mind.
Be ready for some small talk
Small talk may seem like a minor thing, but it can actually have a major impact on the outcome of your interview (depending on how good or bad it is!). Small talk is an effective way to build rapport and connections, leading to the development of positive business relationships.
Preparing some talking points prior to the interview is the best way to impress with your small talk. Here’s what you need to know:
1. Avoid the cliches. Skip cliches such as talking about the weather or how busy the traffic was on your way to your interview. Generic comments are unlikely to make an impact. Imagine the hiring manager saying, “Remember that guy who complained about the traffic on the way in, we should hire him!”
2. Look out for some common interests. Research a little about the person interviewing you via the company website or social media. You may uncover some common interests. This could be sporting activities, a love of animals, or a passion for travel. Try to avoid directly mentioning you have done your research as you may come across as creepy!
In response to the typical opening question “How are you?” You can reply, “I’m great thanks! Enjoyed an early run with my running club this morning, so I am feeling super energized.” This will really resonate with the interviewer if they are a fellow runner.
3. Comment on company related matters. Showing an interest in company-related matters is an excellent way to show how you are a great fit for the team. While you are waiting for your meeting, have a lookout for some clues, i.e. award certificates on the wall, upcoming staff events on the notice board, etc.
You could say, “I saw all the team building events on the notice board which look amazing. I would love to try kayaking. You have a great company culture here!”
4. Ask questions. Small talk can be a bit awkward, so a good tactic if you run out of things to say is to ask some questions. As long as your questions aren’t too personal or intrusive, the interviewer will appreciate your interest in them or the company.
You could say something like, “I’m great thank you! How are you? How has your morning been today?”
Have three key messages ready to go
American businessman Phil Crosby stated in his famous quote “No one can remember more than three points.” Ask yourself, what do you want the interviewer to remember about you from the very outset of the interview? The best way to control that: establish three key messages you want to get across to the interviewer
Preparing three key messages you want to get across to the interviewer is an excellent way to make a great impression. These statements should relate to what you can offer the company and also what you are looking for in terms of this specific job opportunity.
For example, you could say, “I’m keen to lead and motivate a finance team,” and “I combine excellent project management skills with robust financial control,” as well as “In my career to date, I’ve gained advanced proficiency across a range of accounting technology, such as …”
The goal here is to repeat these messages in a natural way as much as possible to make sure they resonate with the interviewer. Starting to drop these messages in at the beginning of the interview is key. You can also refer to these ideas when asked questions such as, “Why do you want this job?” or “What is your understanding of the role?”
What should you not do when starting an interview?
Here are the top pitfalls to avoid when starting an interview to make sure you impress and make a strong start!
Don’t be late. Being late is an obvious one, as this just looks unprofessional. It can easily happen though if you don’t prepare. Make sure you have everything planned to perfection, so you look great, arrive early, and are fully prepared to ace your interview!
Don’t make personal calls in close vicinity to the interview location. Calling family or friends for some moral support before your interview is natural, but just be mindful that you could be within earshot of potential colleagues or the hiring panel. If you are smoking or complaining about your current employer, and this is seen or overheard, it’s not going to be a great interview start!
Don’t ask the interviewer lots of personal questions. While it’s great to ask some non-invasive questions as part of small talk, try not to grill the interviewer about their personal and professional life as this will just make them feel uncomfortable.
Don’t give the impression you know little or nothing about the job or company. Interviewers will typically ask what you already know about the role and company at the start of the interview. If you know little or nothing you will come across as uninterested.
Remember the interview process starts as soon as you leave your house. Be polite and professional to everyone you meet from your doorstep to the interview room.
Keep your body language positive and enthusiastic, ensure your clothing choices are appropriate, and build rapport by engaging in great small talk.
Communicate your key messages of why you want the job and why you will be an asset to the company from the outset and during the interview.