Make a Good First Impression

Below are some of our suggestions for making a good first impression in an in-person interview. We recommend that you also read our webpage on Telephone and Video Interviews for ideas about virtual interviews.

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You’ll have received an invitation letter or email with details of your interview. Congratulations! Check it closely to make sure you know exactly what time you have to be there (you will often be asked to arrive five or ten minutes early, so make sure you take this into account if necessary). Plan your route, and think about transport options, traffic, parking or how busy public transport will be. Do you know exactly where you’re going? It might be a good idea to find the venue in advance. When will you eat? You could perhaps pop a cereal bar and a small bottle of water in your bag. Do you have to take any documents with you? Sometimes you are asked to take ID or proof of right to work – if so, find these in advance and make sure you know where they are on the day.

When you arrive at the venue on the day, there will usually be a reception desk or similar. Let them know your name and that you’re there for an interview. If it’s a large organisation there might be multiple recruitment processes running simultaneously so be prepared to mention the job title you’re interviewing for, and name of the interviewer (it should be on your letter). Don’t forget that reception staff might be asked for their informal impressions of candidates – so be unfailingly polite and professional with everyone you meet!

Consider in advance what you’re going to wear. There’s a whole section below on ‘what to wear’ – read it through and make sure you have your outfit clean and prepared ahead of the interview date.

Always make sure to 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.

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 – however, remember that you will be expected to make every effort to be there if at all possible.

  • 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 firm’s website, talk to an alumnus working in the same sector or talk to a careers adviser. If in doubt, be more smart/formal rather than less.
  • Make sure your clothes are clean and ironed in advance of the day of the interview.
  • It is a good idea to practise standing and sitting in your outfit and your shoes to make sure you feel comfortable. Breaking in new shoes is also a good idea!
  • Be clean and presentable, but don't go overboard with deodorants and scents, as these can be overbearing in a small interview room.

The following tips from employers should help:

  • 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, you should err on the side of subtlety. You can express your individuality once you’ve got the job.
  • Avoid gimmicky ties or socks. Socks worn with a suit should never be white, and brown shoes do not go with a city suit!
  • Try on the whole ensemble a few days in advance. Walk around a bit and spend some time sitting down to see if any adjustments are needed. The goal is to look good and feel comfortable.
  • Pay attention to fit. Clothes that are too tight can make you physically uncomfortable – which can affect your concentration and interview performance.

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
  • 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 right to work if the organisation has asked you to bring these along
  • Directions/map and, if using public transport, bus/train timetables and (money for) tickets
  • If driving, an idea of where to park and change for parking meters if necessary
  • Don’t forget your umbrella – it’s not good to arrive drenched!
  • Make sure you have factored in time to have something to eat well before the interview - and avoid anything that will repeat on you during the interview!

If most of this list is stored on your smartphone make sure you have a full battery and consider taking a hard copy of the contact number and address just in case of emergencies.

When you arrive in the interview room, 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, clicking the end of a pen or tapping your leg.
  • 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 to gather your thoughts before answering a question; this will prevent you staring at the interviewer.

Many people feel nervous when invited to interview but remember this is exactly the outcome you wanted when you applied. 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 interviewers are not aiming to embarrass you, to demonstrate their superiority, or to expose your weaknesses. Interviewers 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. Don’t forget as well that an interview allows you to make a judgement about whether this workplace is a good fit for you – if you leave with a bad impression then it’s worth taking time to think through why that has happened, and whether this job is one that you still want.

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 a really strong candidate for this job”. Say your positive affirmation out loud at the start of the day and repeat it (in your head if necessary) whenever you are feeling nervous. Don’t rush it; think about the meaning of the words you are saying.

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