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Make a Good First Impression | The Careers Service Make a Good First Impression – Oxford University Careers Service
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On the day

First impressions are important. Be ready to say hello with a confident handshake and steady eye contact.

Remember you are on show from the minute you arrive to the point that you leave.

Consider what you’re going to wear. Be clean, neat and tidy. Appropriateness is the key word here, and you will be expected to wear clothes that constitute a smart version of the items usually worn by people in the role for which you have applied. The dress code in different industries can vary considerably. If you are unsure of the industry norm for the role you are applying to, think back to what representatives were wearing at careers fairs, presentations or events, look at images of employees on the firms website, talk to an alumnus working in the same sector or talk to a careers adviser.

Most candidates will wear a suit of some description, but do check the letter of invitation carefully, particularly if there is a social element to the interview (perhaps a dinner for candidates the night before), and be guided by any instructions that are given to you.

What to wear

Top tips

  • It is a good idea to practise wearing your outfit and your shoes to make sure you feel comfortable. Breaking in new shoes in is also a good idea!
  • Take a spare pair of tights or stockings in case you get a ladder!
  • Be clean and presentable, but don’t go overboard with deoderants and scents.

The following tips from employers should help:

Tips from employers

  • Ensure that your shoes and clothes are scrupulously clean and maintained. Unpolished shoes and missing buttons will not create the desired impression.
  • Avoid inappropriate jewellery. Unless you are entering an extremely unconventional environment, the interview is not the place for nose rings, ankle chains or personalised necklaces. Men should restrict any jewellery to cuff links, and a signet or wedding ring.
  • Men should avoid short-sleeved shirts and gimmicky ties or socks. Socks worn with a suit should never be white, and brown shoes do not go with a city suit!
  • Women should avoid short skirts or very high heels, avoid appearing overly made up, and wear a jacket to look fully dressed.
Before you set out

It doesn’t look good to be late, or to turn up without something important. As well as making preparations for the interview discussion, it is important that you prepare the practicalities as well. Work through this checklist to make sure you have everything you need:

  • Correct time of interview (plan to arrive 15 minutes early) and exact location
  • Directions/map and, if using public transport, bus/train timetables and (money for) tickets
  • If driving, an idea of where to park and money for parking meters if necessary
  • Don’t forget your umbrella – it’s not good to arrive drenched!
  • Letter inviting you to the interview with the name of your interviewer
  • The organisation’s telephone number
  • A copy of your CV and/or application form
  • A list of the key points you would like to make, and the questions you would like to ask
  • ID or proof of permission to work if the organisation has asked you to bring these along.

If you can’t attend

It is not always possible to attend an interview on the day stipulated in your invitation. Recruiters will understand that you have academic or family commitments, which sometimes can’t be changed. If you are really unable to attend the interview, contact the person who has issued the invitation, as soon as possible and ask politely whether it can be rescheduled.

Body language

Make the most of these first crucial minutes, with a confident smile and a firm handshake, to show you are enthusiastic, assertive and professional.

What you say will obviously be crucial to the success of your interview, but it is also important to think about how you say it. There is evidence to suggest that what you actually say (the words you use) only contributes 7% to your overall impact, the way in which you say it (your voice) 38%, and your body language the remaining 55% (BusinessBalls: Mehrabian Communications).

Think about the non-verbal signals that you give off. Consider the following aspects:

  • Relax and listen: show that you are actively listening by maintaining eye contact, nodding, and smiling or agreeing with the speaker where appropriate.
  • Posture: keep your shoulders back and you will appear and feel more confident.
  • Sit comfortably: the recommended position is to sit reasonably upright, but comfortably, in the chair, and it sometimes helps you to feel more relaxed if you sit at a very slight angle to the interviewer rather than face on. Leaning too far forward can be interpreted as an aggressive stance, but slouching or leaning too far back can give the impression that you are too casual or laid back. Crossing your legs, and especially your arms, can make you appear defensive. Although it is polite to do so, you do not necessarily have to wait to be asked before sitting down – in a more informal interview, the interviewer may expect you simply to take a seat as they take theirs.
  • Stop fiddling: avoid any personal idiosyncrasies, such as fiddling with your hair or jewellery, or any potentially irritating mannerisms.
  • Eye contact: eye contact is essential if you are to convey your interest in the job.  If you encounter a panel of interviewers, eye contact becomes more difficult, but it is usual to look at the person asking each question while acknowledging the others with a glance from time to time. It is natural to look away every so often too, perhaps, gather your thoughts before answering a question, and this will prevent you staring at the interviewer.
Psychological preparations

Many people feel nervous when invited to interview. Ensuring that you have prepared yourself in practical and mental terms will go a long way to making you feel more confident on the day, as will reminding yourself that you have already done very well to get this far. It is important to remember that interviews are not interrogations, and that selectors are not aiming to embarrass you, to demonstrate their superiority, or to expose your weaknesses. Selectors dream about streams of well-qualified, highly motivated candidates appearing before them – and it is in their interests, as well as yours, to bring out the best in you.

Approach the interview with confidence and a positive frame of mind. The selectors like to see enthusiasm but they will not expect a word-perfect performance.

Relaxation techniques

  • Breathing: breathe deeply, and silently repeat the number “one” at every exhalation. By slowing down your breathing you will feel calm.
  • Visualisation: relax, and visualise yourself being enthusiastic and successful at the forthcoming interview. Preparing for success can make success a more likely outcome.
  • Positive affirmations: identify your main concern about the interview, e.g. “Everyone else will be better than me”, and write yourself a positive statement to address it. In this situation you might come up with, “I am the strongest candidate for the job”. Say your positive affirmation out loud at the start of the day, and repeat it whenever you are feeling nervous. Don’t rush it; think about what you are saying.
This information was last updated on 06 September 2017.
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