How to Ace Your First Impression in Executive Job Interviews
First impressions are tricky things . . . and especially critical in executive job interviews.
We always want to nail a first impression but, sometimes, it seems more like an art than a science. However, research shows that there are scientific principles that contribute to how we judge others—and how we, ourselves, are judged.
The key to getting it right is to understand the aspects of neuroscience that impact first impressions in the first place.
According to Karla Starr in a Psychology Today article, the two relevant parts of the brain are the amygdala, which gathers feedback from all your sensory organs, and the posterior cingular complex (PCC), which assesses risk and evaluates choices.
The amygdala and PCC work together to help us compute first impressions when we meet someone new.
Researchers at New York University noted in the article:
“These regions sort information on the basis of its personal and subjective importance and summarize it into an ultimate score, a first impression.”
When you’re looking to wow during a job interview, you need to get it right the first time. Here’s how to understand these puzzle pieces and put them together in just the right way.
Ready to ace your first impression? Keep reading.
Get Ready to Make the Best First Impression in Your Executive Job Interview
Look the Part from Head to Toe
We gather a lot of information about people based on how they appear.
Smelly, dirty, and torn clothing? That’s risky. Those descriptors set off alarm bells. Neat, tidy, and appropriately dressed? That’s always a baseline for a good first impression, no matter what situation you find yourself in. For a job interview, though, it’s a must.
Nothing that you wear needs to be expensive or trendy, but it should be clean and fit you well. Your clothing, shoes, accessories, and outerwear should also be suitable for the sort of interview you’re on.
If you’ve been told you’ll be touring a large office or spending a portion of the day outside, for example, you need to wear comfortable shoes or weather-appropriate apparel.
If you’re interviewing for a job at a more conservative workplace (or you’re unsure of the environment or the specifics of the dress code), opt for a cautious approach to clothing and grooming. That might mean covering up large tattoos, taking out piercings, dying your hair a natural color, or removing unusual nail polish.
Once you receive a job offer or start work, you can get a lay of the land and see how your preferred style fits in with your new colleagues.
Brainstorm Your Answers to Interview Questions
Practice makes perfect—except, during an interview, when practice can make you a little too perfect. Most interviewers want to feel like they’re talking to a person they can happily work with every day, not an always-on automaton. Trust us: You want to avoid the “robot taking over the world” trope.
But how should you do that and still be prepared?
Instead of drilling your answers, take a more informal approach. Sit down with a notebook and a list of common interview questions. Then, brainstorm some possible answers.
Come up with examples for open-ended questions like:
- “Tell me about a time when you led a team to achieve especially impressive results”, and
- “How do you resolve interpersonal problems at work?”
This will let you figure out the best way to explain complicated, political, or emotional situations that have been integral to your work history and success without sounding like you’re overly rehearsed.
Present Yourself with Polish
A job doesn’t necessarily go to the candidate with the best resume, but it always goes to the person that seems like the best fit.
And “fit” has a lot to do with the impression you make on interviewers, and potential colleagues you meet and communicate with throughout the job interview process.
You need to be likable, polite, and professional. Make good small talk. Inquire about your interviewer’s work projects. Say “please” and “thank-you”—and don’t allow yourself to bash former employers, no matter how tempting it is when you’re explaining why you are job searching.
Do be sure not to polish away all your personality, though.
You want “you” to show through! To achieve just the right balance of personality and professionalism among people you don’t know well, aim for subtle nods at your interests rather than deep-dives.
You Should Want the Job . . . But Not Too Much
Another fine line you need to walk as a job candidate is the one between wanting the job and needing the job. Interest is essential. Desperation is off-putting. And entitlement? Well, entitlement is the kiss of death.
Remember: Even if you’re a perfect pick on paper, it’s important for you to take your first impression seriously. After all, there’s no guarantee that your work history will make you a top contender.
If you apply knowing you’re under-qualified, and you won’t be among the top-tier applicants, you want to pay particular attention to perfecting your first impression. It could be what gives you the edge over your competition.
Preparation can help you show just the right amount of interest. Before you go on your job interview, go back to the initial research you did on that company or organization.
Or, if you didn’t do any research earlier in your job search, give the company in question a quick Google search. Browse recent articles about the organization, skim press releases and statements to shareholders, and look at products and services.
Then, pay attention to the people you know you’ll be speaking with during your job interview. It’s also a good idea to research the company’s founders and leadership, like C-level executives and prominent board members.
Learn what you can about their work projects and their background. Approach the interview like a conversation rather than a quiz show with a prize at the end, and you’ll do well. Use these details to inform your small talk as well as the questions you ask during the interview itself, not to show off.
FYI: When it comes to questions, it’s A-OK to write them down in advance. A short list of questions—five is a solid number—will make you look like you’ve done your homework. Interviewers will appreciate your thoughtful preparation, which will further cement your solid, science-backed first impression. Good job, you!
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Chris Napa is the Global E-commerce Experience Manager at A.T. Cross Company, LLC, overseeing the customer experience on Cross.com from the Providence, RI headquarters. Previously, Chris was the User Experience Lead at FootJoy and the Ecommerce Project Manager at TaylorMade Golf Company. When not thinking about enhancing customer’s online experiences, Chris can be found cycling, golfing, or bowling.