First Impressions

I was chatting with a friend recently who had been in turn chatting with a colleague about first impressions. The colleague had gone to the lobby to meet a candidate and escort them to the interviewer, and during the walk had tried to make small talk, offered them some water, and didn’t get much interaction. This resulted in the first impression of someone being serious, or perhaps distant, or worse. More, she was thinking – could I do this better? Did I do something wrong?

My friend had remarked that she had gone through something similar when I came in for a visit with my current client/boss. Interesting to hear. I always try to be polite, but going into an interview I’m focused, and by nature when in new territory I’m serious. But I also know the importance of the ‘gatekeepers’ (assistants, receptionists, etc) that often provide a different perspective to the interview post-interview. I tried to think back, it was less than 5 minutes total,most of it walking – what to do better?

We discussed it for a minute or two. One of the items was being offered water and not accepting. That one was easy for me; two reasons not to drink sitting outside the interviewers office – no reason to risk spilling something on me or the furniture,and I don’t want wet hands from condensation going into an interview. I didn’t see the offer as an obligation or signal, but it had been seen as one – maybe next time I’ll take the water and just not open it! The small talk is harder. It carries its risks and while I’m willing to bet on a most days I can carry on minor small talk without putting my foot in my mouth, it just seems simpler to say less. Be polite, do more than nod, but stay focused.

It was a good exchange, lessons learned on both sides. My lesson is to try harder, to understand the stress that the other person is under – after all, impressions matter. The lesson for my friend was that it’s easy to forget that they are in their comfort zone, the candidate is not, and she has to – to some degree – adjust her expectations based on that.

That’s the challenge of first impressions, especially on interviews, you’re seeing a best behavior filtered view of someone, interviewer and interviewee. No way around it, that is what is required.

Lots of lessons and thinking from one five minute conversation about another five minute conversation. If only I could have five minutes that good ever day!

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