Some people believe, and I think I am basing this on Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, that in the first 3 seconds of meeting someone you know pretty much everything you need to know about them. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but there is a lot of truth to the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
One of the things I hate, and I don’t know why, is when someone shows up to an interview holding a cup of coffee. It bothers me. A gentleman came with a danish along with his coffee. He was toast. I was going to give him the bum’s rush. We sat down and he said, “I apologize for the coffee and danish. I’m diabetic and have to eat something.” “No problem,” I said with a look of sincere appreciation for his plight. We had a good half hour chat and I submitted him to my client.
But in case you don’t have a good excuse for a bad move, here a few things to do in the first few seconds:
First, give the person a firm handshake. I interview a lot of veterans. One day I thought I had the entire Marine Corps in my office. After a while I was actually scared to shake hands with them! I was in pain. So finally I said, “Firm hand shake good. Break interviewer’s hand, bad.” They all laughed.
Second, make eye contact, smile, introduce yourself, and thank the person for meeting with you.
And here’s how to start the conversation. It works for me, but it has to be genuine. Don’t lie or fake it. And only use it once. If you use this when you meet the HR director and then the CEO, and either one mentions it to the other, you will lose all credibility.
You walk into the interviewer’s office, look around out of the corner of your eyes (never look away from the interviewer!) and shake hands at the same time. (In the word of the con artist, it’s called “reading the room.”) You then look at an object in the office and smile as though you are remembering something. The interviewer may ask something like, “Why are you smiling?” or just smile and say “What?” Then you reply, “Oh, it’s not important. I just saw the whatever and it reminded me when I…” Don’t go into any details. Don’t say more than a few words. And then smile and say, “But I digress.” That way you have established a personal tie to the interviewer, made it seem not to be your intent (Don’t worry, the interviewer knows what you are doing!) and you have also shown that you can separate personal from professional and get down to business. (If the interviewer does not ask about the smile, just get down to business.)
Of course, if after you have done this, in the next interview you walk into a different person’s office and something blatant jumps out at you – their diploma shows that you graduated from the same college – then there is nothing wrong in saying, “Oh, you are a … too.” Then let the interviewer take the lead. The difference is that in this case there is no acting. Again, in neither case should there be any lying. And in both cases, you hand over to the interviewer the impetus for turning the initial comment into a conversation.