Tuesday, May 11, 2010

First Impressions Are Everything: Make it an Ice Breaker

Recently, I was asked to help out a student sales organization with mock interviews. Eager to offer advice to these hopeful college students, I quickly accepted the job. I was set up with a total of 12 mock interviews all back to back. Each student was nervous but very well prepared by this elite sales organization. After each mock interview, the students asked for feedback. They were very receptive to all the advice that I had given them.

However, I had one student enter the room. You could tell that he was nervous as he perspired profusely. He apprehensively clutched his resume that was neatly placed between a manila folder. Not sure what to do next, he shook my hand asked me if he could have a seat then placed his resume and manila folder on the desk. He began telling me about himself without ever handing me the folder. You could see the fear in his eyes. I asked him his first question. He then apologized and asked for a moment to think. After 3 seconds, which to me felt like 30, he then answered my question I almost forgot how nervous I once was when I was on the other side of the table many moons ago. Already anticipating the feedback that he would ask for, I started to envision the advice I would give him to be more relaxed and expressive of his talents.

And then it came to me. I explained that he should think of an ice breaker before entering the room. Not only is the interviewee nervous, but sometimes the interviewer is nervous too. You want to separate yourself from the myriad of potential candidates in the room, but not by being known as the guy who sweats profusely. Everyone knows that the first impression is made in the first ten seconds. So think of something that is interesting. (Stay clear of religion or politics.) It could be something like, “Wow, it’s raining outside, but we sure need that rain.” Or you could say something about sports like, “What did you think about that Cowboy’s game?” (You might not want to admit if you’re a fan of that team until you find out who the interviewer is rooting for.) You want to remain natural and only talk about true events. This could possibly change the entire mood of the interview, allowing you to be yourself and make you and the interviewer more relaxed.

Once I gave him examples of breaking the ice and using the Cowboy’s example, his face quickly brighten and revealed an amazing smile that he hadn’t shown the entire interview. He then began to tell me about this Cowboy’s game with so much passion in his voice. Without hesitating, I yelled out, “See, that’s what I’m talking about! By talking about something you enjoy, you now are comfortable with me and have shown me a side that has set you apart from the rest.” The student soon realized this and looked at me with that same amazing smile, and said, “Thank you.”

Although it was a mock interview, this was the first time he ever had to interview for a professional job. He knew what he was supposed to do, but was so nervous, that he never thought about ways to get comfortable. At this time I realized that I had provided the most effective advice all day. Whether you are a recent college graduate, someone recently laid off after many years in your position or someone who hasn’t interviewed in along time, we all get nervous and forget how to separate ourselves from the others.

Just remember that first impressions are everything, they have to be good and memorable!