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The 8 Best Ways to Leave a Lasting Impression in an Interview

By Gerald Walsh ©

Employers want to hire people they like and whom they feel will be a good fit for their organization. In fact, employers often reject candidates with strong technical skills but come across as arrogant, in favour of candidates who are likeable but with fewer technical skills. Now I know most of you are both competent and likeable, but it never hurts to have a few pointers about how to make a good impression in an interview.

1. Be on your best behavior as soon as you arrive

Your interview starts the moment you walk in the front door of the building. Your best strategy is to scout the location a few days before so that you know exactly where it is and how long it will take you to get there. Plan to arrive outside the building about thirty minutes before your actual interview time to give yourself the chance to unwind, straighten your tie, fix your hair, or whatever. You can go into the building about ten to fifteen minutes before your actual interview time. If you go in any earlier, it conveys that you have nothing better to do. It could also be interpreted as disrespectful of others’ time particularly if you end up chatting with the front-desk receptionist for this time.

Once you’re inside the door, you are being judged. Other employees might be nosing around, curious about the candidates. For sure, the receptionist is judging you on how friendly you are. So always be on your best behaviour.

2.Pass the handshake test

One of the best ways to make a sure-fire good first impression is with a strong handshake and friendly greeting. The rules of handshakes are well-known but not always followed:

  • Stand up to greet the person;
  • Make sure your palm is dry and cool;
  • Make eye contact and maintain it throughout the greeting;
  • State an appropriate greeting, such as “Nice to meet you, _____”;
  • Smile comfortably;
  • Give a firm, confident squeeze but don’t break his hand;
  • Hold the handshake for two to three seconds; and
  • Don’t give a two-handed handshake EVER, as it comes across as insincere.

3.Think about where you will set

When you enter the interviewer’s office, she may gesture for you to sit in a pre-assigned seat, such as across from her desk or at the head of the table. Don’t argue, just go there. If, however, the interviewer offers you a choice of seating, always opt for the more upright chair if there is one. Big, soft, comfy chairs are great for watching TV, but they’re risky in an interview setting. That’s because they can be difficult to get out of and awkward, particularly if you’re a woman wearing a dress or skirt.

Also look for an inconspicuous spot to place your belongings such as a briefcase or purse. Never place them on the table or interviewer’s desk, or even your lap. Instead, just place them on the floor beside your chair.

4.Don’t overdress or underdress

If you overdress, you risk conveying that you are somehow superior and can immediately disconnect you from the interviewer. Similarly, underdressing such as wearing jeans and t-shirt and sandals in a corporate setting, gives off a message of disrespect like, “I am going to dress anyway I want; I don’t care what you think.”

Neither work. Which is why Guy Kawasaki in his 2012 book Enchantment says dress for a “tie.” Simply match your dress to your audience as closely as you can when heading to an interview. And, by the way, it’s okay to ask the person who calls you to book the interview time, “How should I dress for the interview?” If nothing else, it shows you care.

5.Control your voice

We speak faster when we’re nervous. So be conscious of your speed of speech during interviews and deliver what you have to say in a controlled and deliberate manner. The pace and tone may seem draggy to you but it will come across perfectly.

And, if offered something to drink, like coffee, tea, juice or water, always accept water, even if you’re not thirsty. When we’re tense, our mouths tend to dry out so a good glass of water will keep the pipes lubricated. Avoid coffee, tea and juice because the consequences of spilling your drink are more severe than if you spilled water.

6.Maintain eye contact

When the interviewer is speaking to you, maintain 100% eye contact to show you are actively listening. While doing so, nodding your head to indicate agreement or saying, “uh huh” or “yes” periodically, will further impress him that you are listening and understand what he is saying. Looking down or away suggests a lack of interest in what he is saying and makes him feel disconnected from you.

When you are the one speaking, you should maintain eye contact with the interviewer for about 75% of the time and for not longer than 10 – 15 seconds at a time before looking away. The reason it is okay to look away once in a while when speaking is that it gives the impression that you are collecting your thoughts in order to continue the conversation.

7.Don’t let your hands and legs be a distraction

If you’re not sure what to do with your hands, just rest them loosely in your lap or on the table. Most of us tend to gesture with our hands when we speak and you should feel comfortable doing this to emphasize your points, although these gestures should be controlled. Likewise, try to avoid folding your arms across your chest, which could be perceived as defensive or close-minded, and touching your face or your hair, which could be interpreted as nervousness or anxiety.

As far as your legs are concerned, keep them firmly on the ground or crossed at the knee. Like hands and arms, too much leg movement can be distracting and suggest nervousness.

8.Pay attention to the interviewer’s body language

As if worrying about your own body language isn’t enough, you also have to pay attention to what the interviewer is communicating non-verbally. For example, loss of eye contact might indicate that you have already answered their question sufficiently and they want you to wrap up your answer. A furrowed brow might indicate they are not understanding your answer and you might want to simplify what you are saying. A frown might be an indicator they disapprove of what they are hearing and you should switch subjects.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and on LinkedIn.