4 Research-Backed Ways to Make a Killer First Impression

UPDATED: June 23, 2023
PUBLISHED: May 8, 2017

Eddie walked away from the interview feeling confident. He felt he was poised, answered the questions well and got a good vibe from the interviewer. When he got home, he would send a follow-up email.

A few days later, when Eddie hadn’t heard anything from the interviewer, he realized he forgot to send his “thank you” email. He nervously typed it up, clicked send and was surprised to see a return email within 30 minutes. He was thrilled at what he read.

The manager remembered everything about Eddie, from the suit he wore to the points he made during his interview, even though they spoke days ago. Eddie had made a memorable first impression that resulted in a job offer within the week.

Related: 10 Best Practices for Making a Good Impression

First impressions are critical to the way people judge one another. In August 2016, the Social Psychological and Personality Science (SPPS) journal published a study where participants recalled thoughts they formed about someone in a photo six months after seeing it.

In the beginning of the study, researchers asked participants to judge a person’s photo for likeability. One to six months later, they brought participants back to interact face to face with the person they previously judged in the photo. It was determined that if the participant said the person was more likeable in the photo, it carried over to the face-to-face meeting.

Vivian Zayas, one of the researchers and a professor of psychology at Cornell University, said, “Participants who had said they liked the person in the photograph tended to interact with them face to face in a friendlier, more engaged way.” Researchers reported this happened in part because of “behavior confirmation” and “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

If a hiring manager can’t remember who you are and what stood out about you, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get the job.

It reinforces the age-old adage of how important it is to leave a good first impression on someone. If a hiring manager can’t remember who you are and what stood out about you, it’s highly unlikely you’ll get the job.

Here are four ways to make a killer first impression at a job interview.

1. Call to pitch yourself.

If you want to make a strong first impression, pitch yourself to an employer before the interview. A February 2015 University of Chicago Booth School of Business study found employees respond better when they can hear a job candidate.

Professor Nicholas Eply and Ph.D. candidate Juliana Schroeder stated in their report, “When professional recruiters listened to candidates’ job qualifications, they rated the candidates as more competent, thoughtful and intelligent than when they read it, even if the words were the same.”

So, while you should continue to send emails and résumés for jobs that interest you, pick up the phone and try making a cold call, as well. An employer listening to you speak about your qualifications might be the push you need to receive the invitation for an interview.

2. Use powerful words to describe yourself.

The right word in the right place used at the right time can be powerful. Whether it’s in written form or during the job interview, you want to use words that make you look powerful to your potential employer.

For example, using words like “initiative” and “responsibility” are great power words. Saying “I took the initiative to do this” shows a potential employer you’re motivated and confident in your ability to handle a task. Furthermore, saying “it was my responsibility” to an employer shows you’re self-aware and reliable.

Words like “intelligent,” “likeable” and “successful” should be avoided. You want to show interviewers why they should hire you based on facts. Don’t tell them you’re intelligent, likeable or successful; show them by talking about tasks you’ve excelled at in the past and through authentic, personal interaction.

Related: 9 Tips to Say It Better

3. Choose your profile pictures wisely.

The power of social media can rear its ugly head when it comes to choosing your profile picture. The SPPS study said good pictures received 21 percent more positive responses than a candidate with a less favorable profile picture. Moreover, the difference in the chance to be invited for a job interview is almost 40 percent higher with a favorable profile picture.

Unfortunately, there’s no universal definition of what a favorable picture might look like. While a “good picture” was mostly left up to the study participants’ own personal tastes, favorable photos are typically clear of any background clutter, have good lighting and the subject is dressed professionally.

If you can’t arrange for a professional business headshot, develop something else for people to land on. For example, Robby Leonard used his design skills to create an interactive résumé that listed all of his qualifications. His résumé is essentially a play on an old two-dimensional video game, but it fits his target audience while enabling him to stand out among the crowd. This drew favorable attention to his skills and creativity.

4. Be engaging.

Image is everything. Recall, in the SPPS study, when participants who said they liked the person in the photograph were more likely to interact with them in an engaged way. It has also been determined that when someone is engaged, people tend to pick up on that behavior and respond in the same manner.

This means if your enthusiasm and engagement are not at peak when you do meet in person, the disconnect between your first impression and your real-life impression will stand out even more to interviewers.

A killer first impression could be the difference between getting the job and not even getting through the door.

Many people tend to treat the job interview like a standard Q&A affair. Although there is a lot at stake, it’s important to show genuine interest in the interviewer and position. You should maintain eye contact, lean forward in your chair to show you are attentive to what’s being said, and control your voice/tone to make it clear you are engaged and eager to interview for the position.

Employers won’t want to hire you if you don’t want the job. So show you are excited for the role and make sure you’re 100 percent in-tune with what’s happening in the interview.

There’s a lot at stake when you meet a potential employer for the first time. A killer first impression could be the difference between getting the job and not even getting through the door. A job interview has many steps, but the only way you can see how far you can go is to make sure you wow them from the first time they “meet” you.

What are some of the ways you’ve made a killer first impression at a job interview?

Related: The Best and Bravest Question to Ask in a Job Interview

Susan Joyce

Susan P. Joyce is an online job search expert and owner and operator of Job-Hunt.org, the guide for a smarter, safer job search. Connect with Susan on Twitter and LinkedIn.