Seven ways to make a strong first impression in job interviews

Making a strong first impression really does matter in job interviews.

A survey by Accountemps, which specialises in global temporary staffing services for accounting professionals, says a majority of interviewers form a positive or negative opinion of job candidates within 10 minutes. Very few human resources managers (10%) wait longer than 20 minutes to make up their mind.

Armed with that knowledge, job seekers should be on alert the moment they get out of their car, press an elevator button or check in at a reception desk.

Josh Warborg, a district president at Accountemps, says interviewers have three main questions they want answered as they sort through candidates: “Can they do the job?”, “Do they want the job?”, and “Can I work with them?”

The question hiring managers learn the answer to first, in the earliest stage of an interview, is the last one. That’s why it’s important for a job-seeker to establish a comfortable back-and-forth with the interviewer.

The meat of the interview should answer whether a candidate can do the job. The end should answer whether a candidate wants the job.

“When people get to the end of the interview, the No. 1 thing they should say is, ‘I’m really interested in this job,’ as long as it’s true,” Warborg said. “They should say that with every ounce of sincerity.”

Nik Pratap, the London-based national director for senior finance at global recruiting firm Hays, says candidates should prepare for different types of interviews from different departments. A finance executive, for instance, might focus on a different skill set than an HR director would.

Job candidates “need to appreciate that any interview with HR or (a financial director) will be different,” he said. “Most finance managers will do a competency-based interview. If the interview is conducted by a recruiting team or HR, (candidates) must also demonstrate that they’ve got a self-development plan, that they’ve thought about their career, and that they have the soft skills needed.”

A recent CGMA report shows that skills valued by chief executives, CFOs and HR directors are often vastly different.

Seven ways to make a good impression

Before the interview begins, job-seekers must make an interpersonal connection with the interviewer, Warborg says. The basics of a firm handshake and a warm, I’m-happy-to-be-here expression set the tone.

Now onward with tips on how preparation can make your initial impression a good one:

  1. Be on time. As one CFO recently said, “If you’re not 10 minutes early, you’re late.” If you’re even a minute or two late, that reflects poorly on you. Get specific directions, especially if you have to navigate an unfamiliar building. Plan to arrive early, but not too early. Bursting into an office at 9:40 for a 10:00 interview shows a lack a concern for your interviewer’s schedule. Instead, get to the site early, use a mirror to check for any grooming emergencies, and rehearse a few of your answers.

  2. Be enthusiastic, but not over the top. It’s important to show genuine interest in the job and in the questions asked, but don’t be three-cups-of-coffee maniacal. Maintain an amiable, even-keel demeanor.

  3. Print copies of your résumé and other materials the night before. If you’ve been given a list of people you’ll be talking to, email materials in advance. It is an easy way to make sure you don’t run out of copies, and it gives your interviewers prep time as well.

  4. Practice, practice, practice. In the days before your interview, go over questions you expect to be asked. Then, out loud, answer those questions. Warborg suggests role-playing with a friend or significant other so that they can provide feedback on your answers. If you’re having trouble with a practice answer, write out or type your responses, then practice those words. Two questions to be sure to practice answering: Why are you interested in this job? Why are you looking to leave your current job?

  5. Don’t eat garlic fries, or a box of chocolate cookies, before the interview. But eat something; you’ll need the energy. No matter what you choose to eat, stopping to check your teeth is probably a good idea. It’ll also help you practice another skill you’ll need to make a good impression: Smiling.

  6. Watch your language. This should go without saying, but apparently some people get excited telling a story, and they might drop a no-no word in there. Bad move, especially before a hiring manager has had time to form an opinion.

  7. Be prepared with your own questions. This will show you’ve done research and that you’re thinking seriously about the job. If an interviewer asks a job candidate, “Do you have any questions?” and the answer is a casual, “Nope, I’m good,” then, no, that’s not good. “If I hear that, I’m pretty close then to saying the interview is over,” Warborg said.

The Accountemps survey data came from phone interviews with 500 HR managers at US companies with 20 or more employees.

Neil Amato ( is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.