Making a good first impression

When interviewing for a job, don't take all the credit and share your weaknesses.

Story highlights

  • Want to learn the secret to a great first encounter? Five pros share their most effective moves
  • Let your guard down and show your flaws
  • Look interested and engaged during conversation
Want to learn the secret to a great first encounter? Five pros share their most effective moves.
Stop Talking
A lot of folks have a habit of imparting endless information during a first encounter. I call it male-pattern lecturing, though it's by no means exclusive to men. The listener smiles, nods politely, and asks questions, and so the male-pattern lecturer keeps...on...talking. The lecturer comes away from the experience thinking that it went really well. He felt so confident and interesting! But for the listener, it was a bust. She didn't feel affirmed or appreciated. It's natural, especially when you're nervous, to focus on whether the conversation is going well for you. But make sure you're also thinking of ways to make the other person feel good. Honestly, that can be as simple as asking about her day.
Ann Demarais, PH.D., is an executive coach and a coauthor of First Impressions ($15,
Show Your Flaws
Not long ago, I had a business meeting scheduled with a woman whom I found intimidating. I expected to pull out all the stops to impress her. But as it happened, I was just not in the mood that day, so I found myself acting differently: I was raw, vulnerable, and honest -- and she responded in kind. Ultimately we had an amazing conversation, which came about because we had both let our guard down. The fact is, we are all walking around trying not to be human. We want to be these perfect little machines with no faults. But if I'm putting up a front and you are as well, what kind of conversation are we really having?
Lucila McElroy is the founder of, a life-coaching company for mothers based in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Use a Person's Name. Repeat.
People love to hear their own names. It makes them feel special, like you're attuned to them. But don't stop there: Learn the names of other folks' spouses, children, and pets, too, then mention them in a follow-up e-mail or conversation. Asking, say, "Did Madison choose a college yet?" or "Is Hal's tennis elbow still acting up?" will go a long way toward solidifying an initial positive impression.
Julie Albright is a sociologist at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles, who studies social psychology and interpersonal relationships.
Don't Take All the Credit
When I interview a job candidate, I look to see if she is too self-serving. Does she appear to exaggerate her own contributions? Blame colleagues for things that went wrong? When you ask her to share her weaknesses, does she merely dress up her strengths? "I care too much." "I work too hard." (Ugh.) Just be humble, and let people know that you hold yourself to the same standards to which you hold others.
Ben Dattner is an organizational psychologist, a workplace consultant, and the author of The Blame Game ($26,
Look Interested
When your face is neutral, it indicates that you're not engaged. Just a slight head tilt powerfully conveys the message that you're listening. A quick eyebrow arch is another small but effective gesture that communicates curiosity. You often hear that you should mirror the body language of the person you're talking to, and that's true, to a point. For example, if someone is talking quietly, respond in a soft voice. But don't go overboard. You don't want to seem like you're mimicking the person to whom you're speaking.
Joe Navarro, a former special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation with 25 years of service, is the author of the book What Every Body Is Saying ($20,