Beware; First Impressions May Deny You the Job

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A Curriculum Vitae (CV) prepares a job interviewer for the kind of job applicants to expect, but nothing can substitute the face-to-face meeting of the actual interview. And here the first impression is crucial. It says a lot about the job applicant.

To know the kind of first impression that a jobseeker makes during an interview the following four questions are critical: How do I look like? How do I sound? What do I say? And how well do I listen?

According to Magdalene Mwai, a counseling psychologist, people tend to focus first on what they see than what they perceive with the other senses.

“In one glance, a person can take in details of skin colour, gender and age and facial expression of a newcomer or interviewee,” says Ms Mwai.

She adds that focus then shifts to eye contact, movement (to discern flightiness or poise), and personal space and finally touch (a pat, a hug and a handshake).

Mwai says facial expressions and body language convey 50 per cent of the newcomer’s message and meaning “sure image killers that can ruin the first impression include a row of earrings in one ear, fancy nose studs, and multiple finger rings,” she says.

Too trendy hairstyles that are in vogue may look unconventional to some interviewers, she says.

Dunford Kagiri, a human resources management practitioner, says that many panelists in interviews are likely to be middle-aged people drawn from the middle and upper managerial positions and who may have had their battles with their post-adolescent children.

Job at hand
“And the last thing they need in an interview is to revisit youth rebellion in the form of the interviewees’ dress and mannerisms”, says Kagiri.

He advises that an interviewee’s dressing should be compatible with his or her personality and the job at hand.

Extremes in dressing should be avoided at all costs regardless of the job being applied for.

Other areas that kill the first impression are overdone make up and slouching of the shoulders (a defeatist posture) and these can easily lead to a job rejection.

From his experience, Kagiri says, jobseekers give scant attention to their shoes, but they are part of dressing.

Extremely pointed “pastors shoes” and sneakers are inappropriate in professional offices.

According to him, the thumb rule before setting out for a job interview is to look at yourself up in a mirror and ask the question: Can I hire the person I am seeing?

In the face-to-face conversation that is typical of interviews, people’s voices transmit up to 38 per cent of the meaning.

“The rate of one’s speech and pitch of articulation of ideas give subtle insights into the speakers’ personalities, attitudes and level of anxiety,” says Mwai.

Deep breath
She advises interviewees to be as natural in speech as possible. One can use some relaxation techniques like taking a deep breath and focusing on a pleasant thought when tension builds up.

One’s verbal skills during an interview often support and balance non-verbal ones that are written in the CV.

“What one says is reflected in how it is said. Body and verbal languages must be in agreement so that trust can build up between the interviewee and interviewer,” says Kagiri.

He cautions against too much gesticulating, which can give the impression of anxiety or fanatical conviction with what one is saying, as in a religious crusade.

Interviewees can employ vocal variation in the rate and loudness of their words to energise certain interviews like auditions and make a lasting first impression.

Listening is also part of making a positive first impression.
Kagiri says that contrary to popular notions, which place listening as obvious, this is a skill that is learned and needs a lot of practice. “Good listeners are attentive. They maintain eye contact throughout a conversation and wait for the other person to finish speaking before they can talk,” says Kagiri. Such good listeners are in agreement with their interlocutors in facial expressions, gestures, and body language and tone of voice.

He cautions against avoiding eye contact, as this can be interpreted as lying, lack of concern or rudeness in a job interview.

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