In today's legal job market, first impressions more vital than ever

Shawn Healy, The Daily Record Newswire

We’ve all heard the expression: “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” That first impression is so important because it dictates how a person evaluates information about you going forward.

For example, if I get a positive impression of a person, I’m more likely to look for (and remember) information about that person that supports my impression. Therefore, I will remember facts that support my positive impression and possibly explain away as exceptions the facts that contradict my impression.

The flip side is also true: If the impression is negative, the bad sticks out because it supports that impression, while the positive facts might be held in the “exceptions” category.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a person’s impression to change from negative to positive, or vice versa; changing an established impression depends on its strength. A slightly positive impression of a person can easily shift to a negative impression if folly should closely follow.

The stronger the first impression is, the more contrary evidence it requires to change it.

For most people, not many things in life bring more instant anxiety than a job interview. One reason for that is because there is a risk of not getting the exact thing that you hope for most: a job offer. Whether you love the job or not, you want the interview to go well, and you want the employer to offer you the job, even if you decide not to take it.

After all, we all want to be valued, appreciated and wanted. The reality is you have to risk rejection if you want a competitive job. So how do you put yourself out there, get rejected, and still go on with confidence? In short, change your goal.

• Paradoxical goal

Some people perform best when they are under a lot of pressure. Most people, however, perform best when they are relaxed. An effective method of taking pressure off during an interview is to develop a seemingly paradoxical goal.

Don’t make getting the job your objective. You’re more likely to be yourself when you are more relaxed. Being anxious makes you behave differently, and that can make a poor first impression. Removing the pressure of “getting the job” can make you more relaxed and able to make a better first impression.

Make your goal something that is within your control. I have heard countless times from people that the more they needed the job, the poorer they did on the interview, as it made them anxious or even desperate.

Connect with the interviewer by being genuine, honest or making him smile. Employers are looking for strong candidates, and being self-assured enough to be relaxed or even funny shows an inner strength that will impress.

• Answering

There is something about being on an interview that adds significant pressure to normal human interaction and makes us doubt our answers to simple questions.

When an interviewer asks you a question, often times the first thought that goes through your mind is to wonder what the interviewer wants to hear, as opposed to simply thinking about what the honest response is.

The best approach to answering questions is to be honest, even if the honest answer is, “I’m not sure how to answer that question.”

Being honest with your answers will communicate to the interviewer that you are unafraid to be yourself. Trying to tailor your answers to what you think an interviewer wants to hear is probably more transparent than you think; this is likely not the interviewer’s first time. Communicating that you’ll say whatever you need to win approval is not the impression you want to make.

• The hidden interview

If I ask a job candidate who interviewed him, he usually tells me the names of the people who were asking the questions in “the interview.” Normally people list the hiring manager, the HR personnel, the partners, etc.

The reality is you are interviewed by every person you come in contact with at that firm/organization. While some organizations rely more heavily on the questions asked in the formal interview, many rely almost as heavily on the feedback that comes from the people you meet before and after your interview. Whether that’s the support staff, paralegals, other associates or the cleaning personnel, the impression you are trying to make should apply across the board.

In my previous role as a manager, I interviewed many qualified candidates that made a good impression on me in an interview, but whom I rejected after hearing that they were rude around my administrative assistant. You can tell a lot about a candidate by the way he behaves when he thinks no one is looking.

Remember to make a positive impression across the board. In the world of influence, a stranger’s positive endorsement can carry even more weight than a friend’s, as the stranger has no agenda.

So remember:

• Take some of the pressure off by revising your goals.

• Make your objective something you control.

• Try to answer questions honestly, as if a friend was asking.

• Try to make a positive impression on everyone you encounter.

• Be yourself.

Good advice for a job interview, good advice for life.

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Dr. Shawn Healy is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers of Massachusetts, where he provides clinical services, groups, and writes and presents on a variety of topics germane to the practice of law. He can be contacted at shawn@lclma.org.

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