12 Ways to Make a Bad First Impression-and How to Recover

Posted by Liz Seasholtz on May 6, 2011
12 Ways to Make a Bad First Impression-and How to Recover
In the book You Are the Message, media executive Roger Ailes wrote that you only have seven seconds to make a first impression. With a job on the line in an interview, the pressure to immediately impress is even more intense. No wonder we get flustered.

The good news is that no matter what goes wrong during your introduction—your fly is down, you spill your water, you mispronounce the company name—it’s all about how you recover. In fact, reacting gracefully and showing calm under pressure will likely impress your interviewer. “I had one candidate who sat on chair, it flipped out from under her, and she landed on her back,” says Ellen Reeves, author of Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? “But, she picked herself up, picked up the chair, and made a joke. She knew how to recover—and she got the job.”

Below are 12 ways you can potentially botch your interview, and the steps to take to right your sinking ship.  

1.  You’re Sick the Day of the Interview

Don’t try to be a martyr. Even if you just have a cold, you should call and reschedule. “I once interviewed someone who told me she threw up on her way over,” says Reeves. “I was just thinking, ‘Why didn’t you cancel?’” You may be trying to prove your dedication, but employers would rather interview you when there isn’t a risk you’ll give them the flu.

2.  You Have a Black Eye
If you’re hurt in some way—whether you have a black eye, broken leg, or visible stitches—first assess if you can give the interview the same effort as if you were well. You may then want to call and explain your condition, especially if your injury is severe or requires handicap access. If you decide not to call in advance, be prepared to have a canned explanation that addresses the 15 stitches across your forehead. A general rule of thumb: sporting accidents are more acceptable than bar fights.

3.  You Have a Nose Ring
Facial piercings and visible tattoos are tricky. The best bet is to cover up those skull tattoos for the interview and first weeks on the job, and wait until you feel out the culture. If you’re concerned your fashion choices won’t be tolerated, make an anonymous call and ask the receptionist if it’s the correct environment for your nose ring. If the answer is no, remove/hide your piercing/tattoo. If you’re unwilling, be prepared to get rejected because you don’t fit the company culture.

4.  You’re Sweating
You’re human. You perspire. But don’t let interviewers see it. If you arrive at an interview spouting like a sprinkler, excuse yourself to the restroom to compose yourself—and towel down. Sweaty palms don’t make for a pleasant handshake. Run your hands under cold water to cool them off, then dry thoroughly.

5.  You’re Underdressed
Dressing to impress should be a no-brainer, but many people still struggle with what to wear.  “Do your homework,” says image consultant Lauren Solomon. “Be able to walk in and look like part of the team—but one step above.” Solomon suggests looking at peoples’ wardrobes on the company website, checking out what employees are wearing in the lobby (without looking like a stalker), asking the secretary, or posing the question on Twitter. If all those fail, wearing a suit is always a safe bet.

6.  You’re Late
There really is no excuse for being late to an interview. Scope out the route beforehand, and give yourself plenty of transit time. If you have to be late—because your car stalled, your train is running late, or there was a UFO landing outside the office—you need to call the interviewer, explain the situation, and ask if they still have time for you or would like to reschedule. Be respectful of their time and they’ll remember it.

7.  You’re Early
While you should give yourself plenty of time to get to the interview, checking in with the receptionist and hanging out in the lobby for 30 minutes before the interview gives the impression that you’re desperate. If you get there early, sit and wait in a coffee shop, or just sit in your car. Don’t go into the office until ten minutes before the scheduled time.

8.  You Misuse Your Lobby Time
Count your ten minutes in the lobby as part of the interview. “The security guard, doorman, and receptionist will all be judging you,” says Reeves. “If you’re rude or dismissive, they will tattle, and there’s a good chance you won’t get the job.” Talking on your cell about last night’s exploits or reading a book are also bad ideas. Spend your time gathering information—read available literature, ask for a copy of the annual report, or even look at company bulletin boards.

9.  Your Handshake Isn’t Up to Par

Handshakes are important: A University of Iowa study found a solid handshake is more important than dress or physical appearance when establishing an impression in an interview. Your embrace should fall between the dead fish shake and the bone-crunching clasp. It sounds silly, but practicing with a friend is the best way to perfect your grip. Also make sure to look your interviewer in the eye and say his name—it makes a confident, lasting impression.

10.  You’re Bad at Small Talk
Besides the weather and traffic, you should think of some questions to ask your employer as you walk through the hall. If you noticed something like a company picnic flyer, inquiring about that can be a great way to learn about company culture. Another safe topic is how the interviewer learned about the company. By showing interest in your interviewer’s background, you’ll put her at ease and establish a connection.

11.  You Haven’t Done Your Research
One of the worst things you can do right off the bat is forget your interviewer’s name or where you are. “Once I had a job candidate come in, and the first thing she said was, ‘I’m so excited to be at your magazine!’ We’re a book publisher, and it started the interview on a bad note,” says Reeves. To avoid sounding clueless, do your research and if you’re unsure about something, such as pronunciation, ask the secretary or the interviewer during your initial conversation.

12.  You Have a Personal Tick
You may be unaware you have a tick, so ask your friends if they notice any nervous habits, such as twirling your hair or bouncing your foot. Then try your hardest not to do it! If it’s something more severe that your interviewer points out—perhaps you become extremely flushed when nervous—don’t let it trip you up. “Brush it off and take it as expressed concern,” says Reeves. “Say, ‘I appreciate your concern but I feel fine and I’m enjoying the interview.’” Then move on.

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