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What Do Interviewers Notice First About You?

Jada A. Graves

Whoever originally said "You only get one chance to make a first impression" was either coming from a job interview or a blind date. The two scenarios do have certain commonalities. Both can be nerve-wracking social circumstances in which you meet someone who could be important to you for some time. In both situations, carrying breath mints can only help, not hurt.

One advantage an interview has over a date, however, is that most hiring managers' intentions are transparent; they want to find a qualified candidate to fill a particular job. That means you can do a little prep work to make sure the first impression is a positive one. To help you, here's a list of seven things an employer will notice about you first during an interview:

1. Your arrival time

Being even the slightest bit late is an obvious no-no, but experts agree that arriving too early is also gauche, since you might make the interviewer feel rushed to greet you. What's the sweet spot? Somewhere between five and 10 minutes before your appointed time. "We suggest that candidates not arrive any more than 10 minutes ahead of an interview, unless they've coached you to come in early to fill out paperwork," says Brett Good, senior district president for the staffing services firm Robert Half International. Do a dry run ahead of time so that you're sure of the route to take to the office, and so you're familiar with the traffic flow for the time of day you'll be driving.

2. Your Attire

Your interviewing outfit should depend on the company and the occupation you're seeking. It's not always appropriate to wear a basic business suit, but donning your dingy cut-out jeans probably won't work, either. To determine how you should and shouldn't dress, Gretchen Sunderland, a career and executive coach for 12 years, recommends conducting a little intel (i.e., a Google search) on the company's corporate culture.

If you're still having trouble, Sunderland suggests calling the office's front desk. "Receptionists are normally very helpful with advising on dress," she states. "And there's a chance that [what you did] will get back to the hiring manager, and that's not a bad thing. You'll just appear as though you're concerned about making a positive impression." Plan on dressing just a little bit better than what you find out to be the office norm.

Do you have piercings, tattoos, a mohawk and/or dreadlocks? Then you should base your decision for how to sport them on the type of job you're seeking, Good says. "If you're interviewing to work in media or marketing, then showcasing that sort of flair might be acceptable," he advises. "But for a position in the accounting department, you might want to appear a little more conservative."

3. Your Body Language

Slumped shoulders, crossed arms, and fidgety fingers won't do you any favors with a hiring manager. And keep in mind that nervous ticks--like tapping your foot or flipping your pencil--could signal impatience. "I train people to mirror the energy and body language of the person who is interviewing them," Sunderland says.

Posture is also important. Find a balance between looking relaxed yet alert. Good says: "You want to have an aura of confidence, but you also don't want to come across as too casual. It's alright to look comfortable, but not so much that you drape your arm over the arm of a chair. Then you've started to look too laid back."

4. Your Communication Style

Nearly every job description asks for candidates who know how to communicate effectively. Communication is ground zero for performing a job's tasks well, and your interview is the first chance you'll get to show an employer what type of communicator you are. Mumbling, garbling your words, or umming and erring simply won't do.

Similar to her advice on body language, Sunderland recommends mirroring the interviewer's communication style and adopting a similar approach. "If you're a fast-talker but you're talking to someone who has a mellower communication style, your pace could be too overwhelming," she says. "Pay attention to how they communicate with you, their tone of voice, and their energy, and mirror it back to them." Also, listen carefully to the questions asked, avoid interrupting, and maintain eye contact with those with whom you're speaking.

5. Your Preparedness

"It really comes down to a candidate's preparedness for a meeting," Good says. "Interviewers can tell if you've done your homework on their company. One of the first questions they'll probably ask is for you to tell them what you know about their organization. Failing to answer this basic, common question could set the whole tone."

You should not only be ready with responses to the most common interview questions, but you should prep your own set of questions to ask concerning the job's responsibilities, the corporate culture, and about what to expect next in the hiring process.

A few other signs that you're prepared for the interview: the materials you bring. Carry hard copies of your resume, your work portfolio (if you have one), and a pen and pad for taking notes.

6. Your Enthusiasm

There's nothing wrong with letting a potential employer know how much you'd like the job. In fact, a little enthusiasm is preferable because you don't want to convey indifference. Says Sunderland: "I've found a lot of people will finish an interview and say, 'Thank you so much for your time.' What they really need to say is, 'Thank you, and I'd really love to have this job.'"

7. Your Qualifications

You can't just nail an interview with good fashion sense and social graces; you also have to prove your competency. Your resume and cover letter contained enough qualifications to secure an interview, but once you're in the room, you have expound on your accomplishments and expertise. Treat each question's response as an opportunity to prove you're the right fit for the position. "Focus on the impact you've had in your career and in your prior work history," Good says, "whether it was saving your company money, or creating an innovation."

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