How To Create A Strong First Impression In A Job Interview

Image Concepts’ founder Jennifer Austin is an image expert focusing on visual presentation and first impression management. She combines extensive experience as an international fashion model, teacher and fashion festival organiser, with academic study and research on clothing psychology, perceptions, communication and the importance of first impressions.

In light of Covid and the inevitable increase of digital communication, we’ve asked Jennifer for her best tips and tricks in making a good first impression when it comes to meetings and job interviews – both online and IRL.

Image Concepts founder Jennifer Austin
Image Concepts founder Jennifer Austin. Image supplied.

Why are first impressions so important in a job interview?

It’s easier to form a positive first impression than to convert a negative impression into a positive one, especially under the time constraints in an interview. As the famous saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”; so make yours count!

The first impression is everything because relationships are based on trust and connection, and if you do this right in the first meeting, this will carry through into the future of the relationship – and you can move on to the second interview.

You have to ask yourself how you want to come across? Friendly? Creative? Strong?

By ensuring you make a positive first impression, you leave the rest of the time available to display your ability and skills. What you don’t want to happen is for that ability to get clouded because of negative first impressions that may have formed during the initial encounter.

Research on first impressions indicates that the first 7 to 20 seconds and 93 per cent of first impressions are non-verbal communication, such as facial expressions and appearance.

business woman

What are the things we notice first when forming a first impression of someone in a job interview (as both the interviewee and interviewer)?

When you’re going for a job interview, the interviewer will notice an array of non-verbal cues – and probably even without being conscious of it. Even before you arrive, the interview could be over if you don’t arrive on time! Once you’re in the room, they’ll notice your posture, facial expressions, energy level, handshake and whether or not you make eye contact. They’ll take note of what you wear and how you wear it – such as, did you bother to iron your shirt? And they’ll notice your grooming, such as how clean your nails are and whether you have bad breath!

Although there is a good amount of pressure on the interviewee to make a good impression, remember it’s a two-way street. What impression has the interviewer made on you? Do you really want to work for this company?

Did you have to wait long at reception? What is everyone’s dress code, appearance, manners and behaviour like? What do you make of the room the interview takes place in? And how often is the interviewer checking the time, or checking their phone for emails?

What are some staple items/accessories that go well for a job interview?

For corporate:

As the saying goes, "you need to dress for the job you want". It’s an honest classic piece of advice for people who want to get ahead. We live in a society where people judge others by the way they look — especially when it comes to job interviews.

"Looking the part" will help you get your foot in the door. It’s not just about being well-bathed and groomed either, it's about investing in the right wardrobe staples for your interview. Though it may cost you, it’s a wise investment before an interview. HR managers agree that investing in these pieces of clothing will ensure that you'll have the professional image people want to see in their next hire.


For creatives:

When going on an interview in the creative space, your outfit should reflect what role you are going for. Try classic and chic with a touch of your personal style, whether that’s edgy, dramatic, or trendy. To play it safe, perhaps just choose one eye-catching piece. This could be statement heels, printed pants or top, coloured blazer, chunky accessories or a handbag with a pop of colour. The fusion of classics and neutrals will nicely balance out your chosen ‘loud’ element. The final ensemble will hint your sense of style, while showing your interviewer you’re ready to work.

Staple items for your next interview:

  1. Suit jacket – one of the most important staples for interviews. Make sure it fits properly as you don’t want a jacket that’s too baggy or hangs tightly around the wrong parts of your body – you want the suit to flatter you and elevate you.

  2. An elegant statement watch and classy accessories such as a ring or necklace.

  3. Pencil-cut skirt – flattering with any body shape and will keep things looking chic and classic.

  4. LBD – it’s a classic piece and never goes out of style… and one of the fastest ways to get dressed in the morning.

  5. Black high heel pumps – they should be comfortable, two inches max in terms of height, with another option in a neutral colour.

  6. A well fitted dress shirt – the key here is the well-fitted aspect. A shirt that’s too tight will make it look awkward and may seem like you got it a size too small.

  7. In terms of colour and prints for a job interview, go with solid and neutral colours. Big prints and loud colours could be a distraction.

  8. A leather portfolio – it looks professional, and you can use it for taking down notes and questions you might want to ask the employer.

  9. If you’re going for a creative job, you can incorporate your personal style – be a little more experimental, try bold colours, chunky accessories and statement pieces that standout.

What are some tips you could suggest for forming a great impression in a job interview?

Always arrive early and dress professionally. When you walk into the interview room, use a firm handshake, make eye contact and have good energy. Maintain a professional hairstyle that’s appropriate for the job you are going for, use natural make up and don’t overdo jewellery. A manicured hand is a bonus – it looks good and feels good; nail polish is okay but should often be a neutral colour that looks sharp. Lastly, try and keep your cologne and perfume to a minimum!

What about how we could elevate our presence in virtual meetings/interviews?

It’s much more challenging to establish rapport and trust. This means creating a great first impression is essential to elevating our virtual meetings. Good lighting is a must. Spend time creating a great backdrop and finding the right angle. And don’t forget that all the things that are important face-to-face are still important online – maybe even more so.

Before and during your meeting, aim to minimise distractions – keep your lockdown puppy outside and don’t check your emails and phone. Remember, small movements are exaggerated through the Zoom screen, so be aware of your body language.

If Image Concepts was a ____, it would be a _____:

A flower: Bird of paradise

A TV show: Sex and the City

An iconic woman: Michelle Obama

A colour: Red

A dessert: Crème Brulee

A song: “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor

A cocktail: Margarita

Want some great tips for your next job interview or important meeting? Watch these five videos from Jennifer about how to make a great first impression.