When you’re prepping for an interview, your focus is probably on the tough questions you’ll face, the thorough responses you’ll give, and the professional-yet-slightly-witty anecdotes you’ll tell. After all, that’s what the bulk of the interview is about—and what will (hopefully) get you a fast pass to an offer letter.
But before you even get the chance to deliver those impeccably thought-out answers, you’ll already have all eyes on you, evaluating your potential to fit the job and the company. From the moment you walk in the door, the pressure’s on: You have to make a stellar first impression.
Before you head into your next interview, check out these eight tips to make sure you’re presenting yourself in the right light and setting yourself up for the most successful interview possible.
1. Show Up on Time
You’ve heard it a million times: “If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late.” Being punctual should be a given—especially when your dream job is on the line. But no matter how many times you’ve heard it, it’s worth mentioning again: Show up on time.
Running late? Call as soon as possible to let your interviewers know. They’ll appreciate it much more than if you offer up a lame excuse after they've already been waiting for 30 minutes.
2. Dress the Part
Your appearance probably won’t be the basis of the interviewer’s final decision—but it can certainly play a part in how you’re first perceived. When you show up in a neatly pressed suit and scuff-less shoes with a portfolio in tow, you’ll come across as professional and well put-together.
If, on the other hand, you’re dressed down a few notches more casual than everyone else in the office, juggling your briefcase, purse, umbrella, and a stack of resumes, you’re probably not going to exude the same sense of professionalism.
3. Bring Only the Essentials
A jolt of caffeine may be necessary for you to get pumped up for your impending meeting, but don’t bring your paper cup inside the office to finish off the last few sips. Sure, it doesn’t seem like a huge deal (who doesn’t drink coffee in the workplace?)—but you probably don’t want your first interaction with your potential employer (or even the receptionist) to be anything along the lines of, “Hey, you got a trash can back there?”
The same goes for other non-essentials, like the granola bar you’re polishing off or the gum you forgot to spit out. They may not be the kiss of death—but they’re not going to put you in the most favorable light.
4. Be Nice to the Receptionist
The person at the front desk may not be the hiring manager—but that doesn’t mean his or her impression of you doesn’t matter. In fact, some companies specifically ask their front desk attendants to report back on the demeanor of interviewees who come through the door. And that likely plays a role in the ultimate hiring decision—so it’s important to treat that person as well as you’ll treat your interviewer.
5. Put Your Phone Away
It’s a natural tendency to pull out your smartphone any time you have to wait: in line at the grocery store, during commercials, while you wait for the vending machine to dispense your Diet Coke—you get the picture.
But if you’re waiting in the lobby, don’t automatically default to your phone. Instead, take that time to look over your resume (or All-in-One Prep Guide) and think through what you want to convey during your interview. Then, when your interviewer makes his or her appearance, you won’t be caught off guard, shutting down Angry Birds and stuffing your phone back into your briefcase.
6. Have Everything Neat, Organized, and Accessible
You can be certain that, within the first few minutes of your meeting, your interviewer will ask for a copy of your updated resume. But if you have to dig through your bag past candy wrappers, phone chargers, and old receipts, you’re going to look a little unorganized.
To make the best first impression, everything you need should be neatly organized and readily accessible: You should be able to pull out your resume, references, and even a pen (one that’s not completely mangled) on command. The less you have to rifle through your bag, the better.
7. Make the First Move
When you’re a guest at your potential employer’s office, you probably expect that they’ll make the first move when it comes to introductions. And while that may end up being true, don’t be afraid to extend your hand first for that introductory handshake. With just that small gesture, you’re conveying that you’re excited to be there, ready to jump into your interview, confident, and self-assured.
8. Find a Connection
After the initial introductions have been made, solidify your stellar first impression by making a connection with the interviewer. It doesn’t have to be something big—just a commonality that will get your foot in the door and start your conversation out on a this-just-might-work kind of vibe.
Maybe the degree hanging on his office wall sparks that connection (“Oh, you went to the University of Florida? I’m a Gator, too!”), or the award perched on her bookshelf (“I ran the Boston marathon last year, too. How’d you do?”).
Don’t see anything conversation-worthy? Dig into some small talk a little deeper: How long has the interviewer lived in the area? Where did he or she move from? Draw out details that will get you that “in” ("Oh, you moved from Atlanta? I lived there a few years back—isn’t traffic on 285 the worst?”) It doesn’t have to be a major connection—but finding that one thing to chat about before getting down to business will put both of you at ease.
These tips alone may not win you the job—but they can certainly get you a little closer. When you start your interview out on the right foot, you’ll be able to face the tough questions with confidence. And that could be your key to your new job.