Tag Archives: eye contact

Nailing the interview process; part 5. First impressions matter

I’m sure you were told, as a child, to look the person with whom you were talking in the eyes. You were also instructed to deliver a firm, yet gentle, handshake; not a limp one. I bet you were told to smile, as well. Your guardians wanted you to come across as likable, because being likable would get you far in this world.

Handshake

Guess what; all of the lessons you were taught as a child apply today. Now that you’re an adult, you still need to maintain consistent eye contact, deliver a great handshake, smile, and more. And if you’re interviewing, your first impressions count more than ever.

It’s believed that 33% of employers will make a decision to not hire you within 90 seconds based on the first impressions you make.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is how important first impressions count, so don’t take them lightly. Let’s look at some interviewers’ pet peeves to make sure you don’t commit them in the interview.

1. Poor Eye Contact. Mentioned earlier, making the appropriate amount of eye contact is important. Which means that you don’t have to stare at the person for many minutes; that’s just creepy. You can look away occasionally, as this shows you’re reflecting.

Good eye contact shows engagement and implies trust. Poor eye contact may imply that you’re avoiding a question, you’re disinterested, or you’re lying. People who are shy need to make a concerted effort to make eye contact with the interviewers.

2. Not Knowing Enough About the Company. This is considered a first impression, because it shows you didn’t prepare for the interview. If you are asked what you know about the company, and you answer, “I was hoping to learn about the company in the interview,” you’ve failed at this very first important first impression.

Employers want to know that you have done your research on their company, as well as the position and even the competition. Will you come across as prepared, or do you appear to not care? It should be the latter.

3. A Lousy Handshake. To me the handshake is one of the most important first impressions you can make. It says something about your character. Your handshake should be firm, yet gentle. Don’t crush the hand of the person you’re greeting.

On the flip side, do not deliver a limp handshake, as this indicates indifference. The sweaty palm handshake is an immediate turnoff. Also annoying is the early grab, where you grab the interviewer’s fingers. The crooks of your hands should nicely fit together.

4. Fidgeting, Crossing Your Arms, Playing with Facial Hair. All of these are signs of body language that imply nervousness. You may not know you’re committing any of these faux pas, but interviewers can see you do them and be distracted.

Fidgeting and playing with your facial hair can easily be corrected by holding a pen or interlocking you fingers and placing them on the table. Crossing your arms can imply defensiveness or aloofness. You may simply feel comfortable talking with your arms crossed, but interviewers may see it as a negative stance.

5. Monotone Voice. The worst thing you want to do is talk in a monotone voice, as it implies indifference or boredom or even pretentiousness. You sound robotic when there’s no inflection or pitch in your voice. You lack enthusiasm.

This is particularly important during a telephone interview when the interviewer can’t see the enthusiasm on your face. So, you need to “show” your excitement through your voice. Occasionally you’ll  want to raise your voice or even lower it to make important points.

6. Not Smiling. This is what job candidates often forget to do during an interview, even people who have killer smiles. We are so intent on delivering the best answers that sometimes we forget to smile. Try to remember to smile, at least occasionally.

Smiling shows interviewers that you are friendly, welcoming, and happy to be in their presence. This is important, because interviewers want to know that you are enthusiastic about working for their company.

7. Poorly dressed. There is much debate as to how job candidates should dress for an interview. The general rule is one or two notches above the company’s dress code. What is the company’s dress code, you may wonder? Following are some suggestions for various occupations.

Sales/Finance/Banking. You’ll want to look formal and contemporary, which may include a grey or black suit for men with a color tie. Woman may want to wear a silk blouse beneath a suite jacket, as well as a skirt.

For education, IT, and public sectors; no suit, but a pressed shirt and nice slacks for men. For women, a skirt or trousers and a silk blouse.

Engineers, construction workers, warehouse workers may go with a simple shirt, maybe a tie for men. Women may wear a button-down shirt and slacks.

In all cases, refrain from heavy perfume and cologne. Women should not wear a lot of bling (jewelry). What’s most important is showing respect for the interviewer. There are no situations when you should wear jeans,  unless you’re specifically told to.


The first impressions you make can be your last ones, so make sure your start of on the right track. Enter the room and shake each persons’ hand, make eye contact, and smile. Show the interviewers that you’re happy to be there.

Next week we’ll look at how to answer the difficult questions.

Photo: Flickr, Flazingo Photos

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4 reasons why eye contact is important

Recently I conduced a mock interview for one of my customers, and what struck me most was her lack of eye contact. As career advisors we advise our customers to maintain eye contact. Never has this advice been more relevant than during this mock interview.  

Here is an article I posted almost three years ago, which is still very relevant…as I’ve come to find out with my recent experience.


If you’ve seen the movie Love and Other Drugs, you’ll totally agree with Jamie Randall (Jake Gyllenhaal) when he tells Maggie Murdock (Anne Hathaway) that she has beautiful eyes. No?

Not only does Anne Hathaway have beautiful eyes, but she has such tremendous eye contact that her eyes seem to become the only thing the viewer can think about. To me, her eyes signify complete trust and honesty in the movie. They are part of her physical presence, yet they talk to the viewer—as if she didn’t have to say a word.

So what do Anne Hathaway’s eyes have to do with the job search? Well everything if you consider the importance of your eyes and how you use them. I’m speaking specifically when you’re networking and, most importantly, when you’re at an interview.

Eye contact is something career counselors harp on, along with a firm handshake. It’s what we believe to be a major element of your first impression. Like Anne Hathaway, your eye contact can capture the immediate attention of the person with whom you speak.

Steady eye contact with the person to whom you speak can say a number of things: I’m warm and personable; I’m attentive and listening; I’m trusting and honest; I’m confident. These are all traits we want the interviewer to see in us. In some cases when eye contact is too steady, it might relay the message that you’re scrutinizing the other person. If it’s unwavering, it may “freak the person out”; make her feel threatened. We don’t want that.

Unsteady eye contact will most certainly hurt your chances of landing the job. Personally, when I talk with someone who can’t look me in the eye (like the customer I mention above), I become suspicious. What is she trying to hide? Unsteady eye contact usually implies that the person lacks confidence. It can also say: I’m bored; I’m distracted and thinking of something or someone other than you; I’m devious and a liar. I’m sure the last statement isn’t true of my customer.

There is unsteady eye contact that is natural and necessary. Usually when we divert our eyes from a person it’s because we’re concentrating hard on what we’re going to say next. We introverts have a tendency to reflect in such a manner, while extraverts think while they’re talking and eye-gazing.

The interviewer considers body and facial language when determining the strength of the candidate. Some experts believe that 60% or as high as 90% of our communications is nonverbal, which means our countenance may be more important than our words. Although, don’t rely on batting your eyelashes and making those eyes sparkle; the verbal messages you provide are ultimately vital in your success at an interview.

Also be aware that hiring managers and HR professionals are trained to examine face-to-face language, and certainly eye contact is an important part of overall body language. Note: it has been determined that 30% of interviewers know whether they’ll hire someone within the first 90 seconds.)

Interviewees must maintain a fair amount of steady eye contact at the interview. This means that at least 90% of the time you’ll look into the interviewer’s eyes, giving yourself sufficient time to look away as you organize your thoughts. If you’re at a panel interview, the majority of the time will be spent making eye contact with the one who poses the question, while the rest of the time you’ll scan the other interviewees sitting at the table.

Back to Anne. If you think I’m in love with Anne Hathaway, you’re mistaken. I love her eyes, and yes she is a beautiful woman, but I harbor no fantasies. My only wish concerning Ms. Hathaway is that she continues to captivate viewers with her stunning eyes that do enough talking on their own.

Do first impressions matter in the job search? Not as much as performance, according to Lou Adler

First ImpressionWhen someone gives me a limp handshake or, worse yet, a sweaty palm, I cringe inside. The handshake, to me, says a great deal about a person’s character. It says, I’m a stand-up guy or gal. Really nice to meet you. The handshake should be firm but not crush one’s bones.

Eye contact means a great deal to me, as well. Steady eye contact says, “I’m paying attention. I’m interested. I’m not hiding anything, etc.” A pleasant smile helps to create a great first impression, as well.

But Lou Adler downplays the importance of first impressions in his article Performance Matters, First Impressions Don’t.  Now what would Lou Adler know about interviewing and hiring quality candidates? A boatload. He wrote the books: Hire With Your Head and The Essential Guide for Hiring, the second of which I own. What do I know? Not as much as him. I’ve interviewed people before but not the thousands he has. Here’s what he writes in his article:

“The only common trait among the best people is their track record of solid performance, not the quality of their first impression.”

Were this to be true, that’s great, because some people’s first impression simply suck. They come across as approachable as Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory, devoid of character; or they maintain eye contact like a shy child being interrogated…I mean questioned by adults; or they shake your hand like they’re afraid to touch you. I agree with Mr. Adler that performance is paramount, but a terrible first impression? Read Mr. Adler’s article, a wonderful tale.

Be prepared for the big and little things at an interview

The other day a job seeker named Bill came to my workshop carrying a newspaper article from the Boston Herald titled: “Be prepared for [the] unexpected at [the] job interview.” It’s not often someone brings in a newspaper article for me to read, nor do I often see a newspaper. So I was a bit stunned.

I was grateful for the article Bill brought me because much of what was written confirmed what I tell job seekers about the interview process. Not what questions to predict; not how to successfully structure their answer to a behavioral question; and not how to negotiate salary. The article talked about the simpler acts interviewees sometimes take for granted.

Two of the do’s some job seekers take for granted, according to this article, are maintaining eye contact and arriving on time. Weren’t we told many years ago that these faux pas are unforgivable? Reading that these interview mistakes still occur is almost incomprehensible. In the worst economy of our time, I can’t see any room for even these minor mishaps. Sweaty palms, a bit of hesitation, some “umms” here and there, are borderline acceptable.

So what goes wrong after job seekers zip off a great résumé and cover letter, pass the phone interview, and head for the all important face-to-face? Some of it can be attributed to nerves and downright fear, and some of it can be because the interviewee doesn’t have the common sense of a Labrador Receiver.

Marvin Walberg, the author of this article, writes that a survey was conducted by Accountemps to see what the kinds of silly mistakes are made at interviews. The mistakes go beyond not maintaining eye contact and being late; we’re talking about other more serious mistakes, definite interview killers.

Of more than a thousand hiring managers, six blunders stood out more than others. The percentages indicate which mistakes came to the managers’ mind first.

1. Little or no knowledge of the company: 38 percent
2. Unprepared to discuss skills and experience: 20 percent
3. Unprepared to discuss career plans, goals: 14 percent
4. Lack of eye contact: 10 percent
5. Late arrival: 9 percent
6. Limited enthusiasm: 9 percent

The first three failures point directly to unpreparedness. What more can job search professionals tell jobseekers? Prepare, prepare, prepare. It’s that simple. If you’re not prepared for the interview, your raw intelligence, good looks, and charm will probably not land you the job.

Questions about the job: Expect questions regarding the company and the job. Interviewers want to know why you want to work for them, what you know about their plans and goals, what understanding you have of their products and services. And they also want you to sell their company to them.

Knowing the company’s competitors will be an added bonus. Going to the interview loaded with all this knowledge can solve the employers’ last most common mistake, failing to show enthusiasm.

Be able to discuss your skills and experience: “Know thyself” is such a well known cliché, but it’s true. You have to know what duties you’ve performed, how well you’ve performed them; and it all has to relate to the position you’re seeking. As we’ve read hundreds of times, quantified accomplishments sell.

People with good recall usually have no problems recounting their experience, so those whose memory isn’t that great need to study their résumé before going to the interview.

Know your goal plans: Where do you plan to be in five years? Who the hell knows? At least show your ambition by telling employers that you reach for the stars and won’t be a clock puncher—in at 9:00 out at 5:00 on the dot.

If you want to be an individual contributor and are tired of the management route, demonstrate your desire to accomplish great things in your new role. Let them know you want to help the company’s bottom line. This is providing the role doesn’t have management responsibilities in the future.

The last three, my friend, are simply common sense. If you avoid peoples’ eyes, are constantly late, and show no enthusiasm, it’s time to do an about face and change your ways. I’m glad some people still read the newspaper and are thoughtful enough to bring in the cut-outs.