Making a Good First Impression in Your Executive Job Interview

John Krautzel
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Executive job interviews are the ultimate face-off of first impressions. Top-level managers have the biggest responsibility and salaries, so company recruiters are hyper-sensitive to behavior that could indicate a bad hire. Unfortunately, first impressions form quickly and become difficult to change. If you want to avoid an uphill battle, it's important to be aware of how you come across. Start off strong by understanding how body language and split-second judgments influence the interview.

Dress to Blend In

Prepare to be scrutinized from head to toe. Humans rapidly process visual information and assign meaning to what they see, which leads to inaccurate first impressions. In one MIT neuroscience study, researchers found that the human eye shifts gaze about three times per second, and the brain identifies images in as little as 13 milliseconds. So, if you can see the poor fit or wrinkle lines of your clothing, everyone else can as well.

Interviewers immediately draw conclusions from physical attributes, such as wardrobe, tidiness and posture. Do your best to blend in, avoiding bright colors or embellishment that could portray you as an outsider. Choose simple clothing that is comfortable, low-key and well-tailored, so you appear confident and polished. The more you mirror the culture, the easier it is for interviewers to see you as a professional.

Get on the Interviewer's Good Side

Perceived "likability" plays a big role in first impressions. Without realizing it, many interviewers rely on personal bias to interpret behavior and body language. The interviewer forms an opinion within seconds and spends the rest of the meeting looking for information to confirm their positive or negative assumptions. Have an attractive, trustworthy face? Congratulations, you're hired. Did you clear your throat too many times during the interview? Sorry, no job offers for you.

Use this subconscious habit to your advantage by giving the interviewer something positive to focus on. Offer a kind word of gratitude or a compliment when you first shake hands. Praise puts your interviewer in an upbeat mood, helping to build good rapport. Combine this with the sensory triggers of smiling, making eye contact and shaking hands, and you have a recipe for a great first impression. But don't gush over the interviewer like a superfan, or you might seem desperate.

Embody the Company Culture

Environmental cues also determine how an interviewer perceives your behavior, according to the Association for Psychological Science. Hiring professionals are trained to view your qualifications through the lens of the company culture. If you talk about innovation, agility and bold ideas in an interview for a stodgy corporate culture, you may seem too aggressive and out of the box. At an energetic startup, the same behavior might be perceived as dynamic and enterprising.

Thoroughly research the cultural environment to make a good first impression. Your behavior should match the tone of the workforce, or you run the risk of alienating the interviewer early in the conversation.

Keep your professional priorities in mind as you prepare for interviews. If the company is worth your time, the interviewer should care about leaving you with a great first impression as well. Earning an executive role is a pivotal career moment. Make sure you find a place where your skills are put to good use.

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