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Your first impression takes an average of just seven seconds, according to author and lecturer Lydia Ramsey. A study recently completed by the University of Toledo psychology professor Frank Bernieri maintains you have 30 seconds to make that all-important first impression.

Whether its seven seconds or 30, the message is the same: You do not have much time to make your first impression, so you’d better do it right. Remember, many experts believe that the hiring decision is made within the first five minutes of the interview.

Jack Swenson, senior outplacement consultant and expert in the job search field, maintains that your first impression includes your appearance (clothes, hair, shoes, physical appearance), your handshake and your first words in the interview process.

Studies have shown that when you meet someone face-to-face, 93 percent of how you are judged is based on non-verbal data: your appearance and body language, according to Ramsey.

Over the years I have been asked many times “What should I wear to a job interview?” The answer to that question depends on the job for which you are interviewing. For example, if you are a male interviewing for a job as a CEO, or senior-level corporate officer, you better look the part. My recommendation would be a dark blue wool suit, long-sleeve white shirt, a silk tie with shades of red, over-the-calf socks, conservative black shoes that are highly polished, and a smile.

If you are a female interviewing for that CEO job, your appearance should likewise include a conservative suit, dark blue is always appropriate, a silk blouse and scarf. The scarf does for the lady what the tie does for the gentlemen.

Your hair should be nicely coiffed, your jewelry limited, and very conservative. Either male or female, eliminate the cologne. What smells good to you may smell awful to someone else.

Your handshake should be firm. Not hand-breaking, but firm. Your eye contact should be direct, not staring, but direct.

Usually the first question in the interview process is “Tell me about yourself.” The mistake that is made too often is that a nervous candidate tries to answer everything in this first question. That is a mistake. The “Tell me about yourself” question is simply an ice breaker, and your answer should be succinct and well delivered.

Swenson suggests that you use a “verbal résumé,” which may sound something like this:

“I am in the process of repositioning myself into a (name of the job for which you are interviewing) senior-level management position. My background includes a Master’s Degree, and more than 20 years experience in senior management. My key strength is my organizational ability. Most recently, I worked as Vice President for XYZ Corporation.”

During the interview, be sure to avoid verbal blunders, slang, too much jargon, and don’t talk too much. Your answers in the interviewing process should include several specific examples of your effectiveness for the position. These are especially important for a “Behavioral Interview,” an interview format that many companies are utilizing these days.

Subsequent to the interview, be sure to send a “Thank You” for the interview. It is estimated that less than two percent of the people who are interviewed bother to send a “Thank You.” A simple “Thank You” card is sufficient. At least send an email.

A human resources manager for a technical manufacturer in Walnut, California once told me that her recruiters almost never receive a “Thank You” for an interview. She said that when the rare “Thank You” was received, it was shown to others in the department by a very pleased recruiter.

Approximately three days subsequent to the interview, assuming you have enough information, you may want to send a follow-up letter or email. This follow-up communication should generally be limited to one page, and should tie-in with the needs of the position, and your ability and qualifications to fulfill these requirements.

In the interview process, you can get one step closer to your goal by making the right first impression.

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