You know how important first impressions are—especially in an interview. And you’ve probably also heard that, during these critical moments, one of best ways to leave a lasting impact is to make eye contact.
Unfortunately, all that emphasis on first impressions and eye contact probably isn’t helping you stay calm, cool, and collected when you’re first introduced to a hiring manager. In fact, I’ve noticed that making eye contact seems to be in this special space where people are simultaneously hyper aware that it is important and completely unable to do anything about it to make it better.
So, is there anything you can do to make sure those crucial first minutes go smoothly? Absolutely.
First of all, don’t be that person who stares deeply into your interviewer’s eyes—the entire interview with minimal blinking. Too much eye contact is just as bad, if not worse than limited eye contact.
But also don’t go to the other extreme and pick a random object on your interviewer’s desk to keep looking back at when you don’t know where to direct your gaze. I once interviewed someone who spent the entire interview looking at my business card holder—and talking to my business card holder. It didn’t make a great impression.
Instead, go for a happy medium. One trick I’ve learned, first written about by Dale Carnegie, is to look at your interviewer’s eyes long enough to register what color they are before looking away. For whatever reason, this amount of time feels natural—and effectively mimics those lucky non-awkward people who can do this instinctively.
Career expert Kara Ronin gives a similar tip for making eye contact that doesn’t feel forced or creepy:
If you feel a bit awkward staring into someone else’s eyes, try this little trick: Draw an imaginary inverted triangle on the other person’s face around their eyes and mouth. During the conversation, change your gaze every five to 10 seconds from one point on the triangle to another. This will make you look interested and engrossed in the conversation.
Of course, if eye contact is something you really struggle with, it can be hard to go from active avoidance to being a perfectly present conversationalist. To ease your transition, try first focusing your efforts on making eye contact when you are the listener in the conversation. Since you won’t be actively needing to figure out what you’re going to say next, you can spend more of your effort on eye contact. Once you get the hang of this, you can move on to making a more concerted effort when you’re the speaker.
With a little bit of practice, you’ll know how to make eye contact for the appropriate amount of time during introductions or conversations and can focus on the rest—giving a confident handshake, relaxing your shoulders, and smiling. It’ll all come naturally before you know it.