The Legend of the First Impression

The Legend of the First Impression

Jeff Lipschultz

We’ve all heard “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” Albeit true, if you start off on the wrong foot with an interviewer or recruiter, is there no recovery? Are you doomed to fail? The answer lies in how a job seeker responds to the challenge. And, there is always the last impression.

Recruiters and career coaches have communicated the standards for making a good first impression for years.


Face-to-Face Meetings

During those first critical moments in face-to-face meetings:

  • Always greet people with a confident smile and upbeat tone of voice.
  • Hold your head up high and maintain good eye contact.
  • Give a firm hand shake (no sweaty palms!).
  • Dress appropriately.
  • Do not appear uncomfortable or stiff (body language is louder than your voice)—instead have natural gestures.
  • Ask where to sit if you are not sure.
  • Be on time, of course!

Telephone Calls

For calling a new contact on the phone:

  • Use a friendly tone and consider a nice icebreaker to start (something you have in common perhaps).
  • Soon after, get right to the point being mindful of their time.
  • Enunciate and avoid a monotone.

In both cases, know how to pronounce the person’s name. Common sense is typically a good guide for ground rules for getting a good first impression.

Mistake Recovery Strategies

But what do you do if you stumble through the first few minutes of the meeting or call? The simple answer is: temporarily pretend it did not happen, and mush forward. If you start to think about the mistake too much, it will distract you from staying on your game plan.

The trick is to tell yourself you will deal with the slip-up towards the conclusion of the discussion as you “end on a high note.”

Remind yourself that you have prepared well for the discussion and you need to leverage this effort to earn the respect points of the interviewer or recruiter.

Here’s a real world example that I experienced personally:

I was interviewing with a Fortune500 company with a high-level executive and entered his office to meet him. After a proper greeting, he motioned towards the corner of his office to sit down (there were two chairs and a small couch opposite).

I sat on the couch and the executive said, “oh, you’d like to sit there…I guess that will work.” Frankly, I think he said that to throw me off balance and see how I responded. For a moment, I was rattled, but then I launched into my game plan.

During the discussion, he mentioned a major reorganization in the past year. I responded by showing him a printed article I got off the web describing the changes made. He was very impressed on how prepared I was.

By “resetting my confidence meter,” I stayed on track during the interview and got the job.

Making That Lasting Impression

Although the first impression is important, the last impression can be equally or even more important. In a long discussion, what you say last can be remembered even more than what you said or did at the beginning.

It is always important to leave an interview expressing appreciation for the time and reaffirming your interest in the position.

At the end of an interview, I once confidently stated to the direct supervisor that “I’ve determined that this is the very role I want next in my career and if I don’t get it at this company, I will find it elsewhere. It is what I need to do with what I have to offer.”

As you get ready to leave the room or get off the phone, there are a few things you can do to compensate for a poor first impression.

  • If you had a weak handshake or humbly looked at the floor during introductions, do the opposite during salutations.
  • If you mispronounced someone’s name at first, be sure to say it right upon leaving showing you did pick up on the correct pronunciation.
  • If you tripped over a ripple in the carpeting coming in, make light of it on the way out saying “I’m not going to let the carpeting eat my shoes this time.” Laughing at yourself shows you are human and have an easy-going personality.

Like first impressions, there are also expressions about last impressions. For example, “always leave them wanting more.” The message is you can convince your audience that you are the best after a slow start and there is more to you than meets the eye.

Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz is a 20+ year veteran in management, hiring, and recruiting of all types of business and technical professionals. He has worked in industries ranging from telecom to transportation to dotcom. Jeff is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a Dallas-based recruiting and employment consulting company. He is a unique recruiter, a Six Sigma Blackbelt, and a founding member of the Dallas chapter of the Peter Drucker Society. Learn more about him through his company site and his personal blog. And follow Jeff on This article is reprinted by permission from

Career Topics
Job Interviews