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The Finance & Accountancy team discuss whether the importance of first impressions in the interview process and whether there is anything you can do to influence an interviewer's first impression of you.

Our first article in the Alexander Lloyd interview series discussed the importance of research in your preparation for interviews; your training for the big race.  However, all that preparation can be wasted thanks to a poor first impression.  As a senior accounting professional, you know the importance of an initial first impression; in your professional life, and indeed you yourself may have been on the other side of the interviewing table to understand its magnitude in the decision making process.  

The frightening thought especially when making an impactful business decision, is that this reaction occurs within the first few seconds of actually meeting someone, not as a result of careful assessment of a character over time.  Whilst we might not relish in admitting that we have instinctive responses to others, the truth of the matter is that interviewers are human beings and not machines, and subliminal reactions can easily over-ride years of training.  

The validity of first impressions is well documented and researched, with the most recent piece of pertinent research being carried out by Oregon State University.  They demonstrated that in nine out of the eleven character traits that  were assessed,  the same conclusion was drawn by both a trained interviewer carrying out a comprehensive interview and a trained interviewer who viewed a video clip of the first ten seconds of the introduction.

The research backs up what we all instinctively know; the question is as a candidate, what can you do to influence those crucial first few seconds? In my opinion, the answer is there is little you can actually control, and they are all the back to basics concepts that we’ve had drilled into us over the years.  

You would expect by the time Finance and Accounting professional has reached a senior level, these are automatic checks and precautions that you don’t really think about.  I would however give a word of warning about complacency.  It is precisely because you are familiar with the interview process, that it’s easy to overlook the little details that really make an impact for a first impression.  Therefore, there are some key things I recommend to keep in mind.

Appearance

This is a simple thing you can control.  Of course you dress appropriately for an interview, ensuring that a smart suited image is presented, with loud or garish ties, shirts or tops left in the wardrobe.  You want to be taken seriously as a professional and there are many ways of projecting your personality during the interview; that isn’t one of them.   

On occasion the company will request a slightly different dress code for the interview, listen to your consultant in this instance as they have done so for a reason, and ensuring that the image you present is in tune with the business as requested will aid them in visualising you fitting in to their dynamic.

Demeanour

On the surface, talking about this seems a little odd, it’s taken for granted that you will greet your interviewer pleasantly with a smile.  However, your interview is not the only person whom you will come into contact with during this time.  You are making an impression on everyone with whom you interact in the locale.  It’s very easy to forget, particularly when the nerves are kicking in that you are making first impressions from the moment you arrive.  In the car park, the reception area, the lift; you are being assessed by all the employees that you meet and you never know when you might come face to face unwittingly your interviewer.  Some companies operate a 360° recruitment process and others are brought in to discuss their impressions of you, even the receptionist.  There are plenty of horror stories where a candidate has unknowingly made a bad impression before they entered the building or in reception and of course, didn’t get the job as a result.

Looking and being prepared

This is all about presenting a professional image to the interviewer.  Having a copy of your own CV to refer to is a must.  Also bring with your questions that you have prepared; taking with you a binder or presenter with a notepad included in it will demonstrate to your interviewer that you give the impression of being ready for anything.  Our previous article in the series discussed your preparation phase.

Body Language

Nearly every article you read on interviews touches on body language somewhere, be confident, smile, meet your interviewers eye. It is precisely because it’s so important that it features so heavily.  If you subscribe to Albert Mehrabian’s view, then 55% of communication is physical, 38% is paralinguistic or vocal and only 7% is words.  However, it does go further than simply being confident when it comes to first impressions as when meeting someone for the first time as you pick up signs on how to interact with them.  

There are certain effective techniques that you can utilise to achieve this, one in particular is mirroring, when you pace your own physical and verbal response to the tone of the interviewer and create a rapport.  It is vitally important that you are aware of yourself in your surroundings, from the moment you arrive to the end of the interview.  You aiming to sell your skills, experience and personality, and a first impression will colour the tone of the rest of the interview.  You need to bring your A-game to the table and make that first impression count.

The third in the Alexander Lloyd series on interviews will be Competency Questions, coming soon...

© Alexander Lloyd 2012.

About the Author

Georgina Gilbert is a Recruitment Consultant recruiting Interim Finance and Accounting professionals across the South East.

 

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