Bounce back from a bad first impression

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Have you ever walked away from an interview feeling sick to your stomach because you messed it up? You didn’t shake hands when you were introduced to the CEO. You forgot that the company you were interviewing with was number one in the industry – not number two! AND you misprounced the hiring manager’s name. It couldn’t have been worse.

First impressions are important and there’s nothing worse than making a bad one. Have no fear – it’s possible to recover.

"Not all interviewing mistakes or other first-meeting errors are fatal," says Annie Stevens, managing partner with ClearRock, a Boston-based outplacement and executive coaching firm. "With a combination of the right follow-up plan and quick action, some bad first impressions can be turned around effectively."

Here are some common interviewing and other job-related bad first impressions:

  • Drawing a blank, or being slow to answer at a critical time, particularly in response to questions about your qualifications for the job or business, you distinguishing qualities or other personal capabilities.
  • Being overly nervous or too low-key.
  • Being late, or not as prepared as you should have been.
  • Forgetting someone’s name, getting it wrong or confusing the person with someone else.

ClearRock suggests the following steps after you’ve committed a first impression faux pas:

  1. Conduct a damage assessment. "Determine how seriously you may have hurt your prospects," Stevens says. "Sometimes what seemed like a fatal error to you may have hardly been noticed. At the same time, be honest with yourself and don’t try to ignore it or feel it doesn’t warrant further investigation or follow-up."
  2. Act quickly. "The longer you wait to take corrective measures, the more likely the negative impression is to set in," says Greg Gostanian, also a managing parter with ClearRock.
  3. Apologize if it will be the only corrective action that will suffice. "If you made a glaring error that reflected badly on the other person, misspoke or inadvertently embarrassed him or her, then a sincere apology may be the only thing to do," Gostanian says. "Don’t over-apologzied, but realize that if an apology is needed, you may only be doing the decent thing and not necessarily saving yourself."
  4. Use humor cautiously and sparingly. "Don’t mistakenly think all that is required is some self-deprecating humor or wit. Humas has its place, but don’t add to the problem by trying to make light of a situation that may demand a more complete follow-up," Stevens says.
  5. Better prepare yourself next time if you recover. "It usually takes more than one interview or one business meeting to land a new job or client," Gostanian says. "If you make it to the next stage, be sure not to repeat whatever you did the first time. If you do not get another interview or meeting, use this as a learning experience and keep in contact with the person from time to time for possible future opportunties."
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