Making the Right First Impression on a Job Interview - Work in Sports Podcast e070

Seven seconds - that's how long it takes for someone to determine how they fit with you. On a job interview, that's your magic window where they decide no or potential yes. How do you nail that moment? Pretty easy actually.

Hi everybody – I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for and this is the work in sports podcast.

It’s Friday – the Masters is going on, Villanova won the NCAA championship, Conor McGregor just attacked a bus of UFC fighters and tomorrow HBO will debut “Paterno” with Al Pacino starring as the embattled Penn State coach – what a week.

Here’s the deal – in a few weeks all that stuff will be old news, but our podcasts aren’t. All of my advice and interviews are evergreen, meaning they last, they aren’t tied to a specific event or time. They are just as relevant today as the day they are published – so go back, listen to some old episodes.sports jobs podcast

I’ve talked about interning, networking, interviewing and more… plus, I’ve interviewed executives in the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLS, MLB college sports, sports education, sports marketing and more. We’re covering it all…so go back through the archives.

Learn yourself a little something, and if you have a question – email me,

That’s how I got todays question – it comes from Ariel in New Jersey –

Hi Brian, I’ve really enjoyed your recent podcast episode where you played the best clips from the past 10 interviews. It inspired me to go back and listen to your interview with Sam Doerr – originally I skipped that one because I’m not that into soccer, but once I heard him speak I wanted to hear more.

One thing that stood out to me is that he said he could tell during the first 8-10 seconds of an interview if the person was going to be worth hiring. This scared me, because it takes me a bit to warm up during any interview or first meeting. Question 1: do you think this is true that someone can decide your future with a company in that short a time period? And Question 2: What are some tips you have to help me make a better first impression?

Ariel – I love that you went back and listened to my interview with Sam. I’ll tell you a little insider story, when I first booked Sam as a guest I thought to myself, I wonder how this will play…I mean people either love soccer or hate it, and he’s working in essentially minor league soccer… will this be a popular episode?

Side note: The #1 most popular episode we have to date is episode #39 with sports recruiter Dan Rossetti, president of Prodigy Sports – his episode has 5 more downloads than e5 with Colleen Scoles Talent Acquisition Manager for the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s crazy that only 5 downloads separate those two interviews…

Side note #2 – the least popular episode is a QA session where I talked about the career benefits that stem from being a student athlete – which I thought was a pretty great episode, but really fell flat… thousands less downloads than the two mentioned above.

Alright back on topic --

A minute into my conversation with Sam I knew I had hit gold. I could tell immediately he had experience, well-articulated opinions, and wasn’t someone who was just going to spout off clichés.

His first impression was spot on.

I loved when he said he can usually make a determination on a candidate within 8-10 seconds, because I feel the exact same way. And I know 80% of the people in charge of hiring feel the same way…and the other 20 just don’t want to admit it.

Think about it.

You only got the phone call, or the in-person interview because you already checked off all the boxes. You had the right skills to do the job and you passed through the initial filter. That’s what got you in front of the hiring manager – your skill profile.

The interview part, that’s all about who you are.

When you see people out there on the street, or around campus, you mentally categorize people within seconds. Sometimes you are attracted to them, sometimes you are drawn to them for other reasons, sometimes you feel they are a fit in your personality or vibe. We all do it and according to research that all happens in the first 7 seconds.

The same things happen during interviews, you are judged for match almost immediately.

Part 1: Appearance.

Let’s be clear here, appearance is not the same as attractiveness. I won’t be naïve and say attractiveness never plays a role, but really what we are talking about it appearance.

Appearance in my view is both physical and mental – Are you dressed the part? Clean shaven? Well manicured? Physical.

But there is a mental appearance too – do you appear confident? Do you make eye contact? Do you smile?

Yes these are physical manifestations, but they emerge from your mental state and are very important.

But let’s really break this down based on some available data that has been researched into first impressions.

1: The most important thing you can do is smile. It’s also the easiest. Just make eye contact and smile already.   48 percent of all Americans feel that a smile is the most memorable feature after first meeting someone.

2: Stay in the moment. Do you know why people don’;t smile…sure sometimes they are in a bad mood, but in the interview world we’re talking about, people don’t smile because they are thinking ahead. What if they ask me this…or what if they question that? We get so worried about what might be coming next, that we mess up the state we are in.

Stay present, feel your feet grounded on the floor and know you are in this moment. Sure that may sound kind of buddhist, but that is my nature…at least now. I used to be one of those people that flew around trying to make thigs happen in every second of the day. I never enjoyed the moment because I was always searching for the next one.

I say this and it reminds me of the Football Life on Jerry Rice – his one time teammate Deion Sanders said of Rice “he never enjoyed the ride.” When I was young that made sense to me, I was so focused on achievement, that actually enjoying the achievement seemed superfluous. But as I have aged, I try more than ever now to be present in this moment, enjoy it for what it has in store and only move to the next when I am ready.

So in your interview process – don’t worry of what is ahead, you may be wasting time worrying about something that never happens. Don’t sacrifice the now for the unknown.

Master that first moment.

3: Speak clearly.

Unless you are a wizard whose otherworldly skills in some area will far outweigh the need for diction and articulation, you are going to have to come off personably.

Remember, this person who will eventually recommend you for a hire, will have to answer to their boss for the choice to hire you. If you can’t come off well and handle yourself in the room, they are goingt o worry you’ll make them look bad.

True story – I interviewed for a position once and had someone with all the right skills in the world. But there was literally zero personality. I knew they could do the job, heck they were a machine, they could do the job with their eyes closed. But, I didn’t feel confident I could bring this person in front of my boss and say “here is my choice!”

I could see my boss saying…are you nuts?

So I hired someone else with 80% of the skill, but 100% more personality and cultural fit.

Speak clearly, nervousness will be allowed, but you have to be able to express yourself, your wants, your desires, your attributes, your fit… because no one else will do it for you. Your guardian angel isn’t going to swoop in and say “What Ariel actually meant was….” Nope you are on your own.

4: Make eye contact –

It’s funny, as a guy I focus on the handshake a lot – but one thing I’ve realized about myself is that I was often looking at someone’s hand to make sure I gave them a good handshake, rather than making solid eye contact.

Here’s my big paranoia at play…and I’m sure other people feel this. It’s the early handshake grab – you reach out to shake someone’s hand, but they squeeze down before solid contact has been made. They basically grip your fingers instead of the latching of palms. This is my nightmare… because you can’t have a good handshake if someone grips your fingers…and my dad drilled it into my head, a firm handshake is the most important first impression.

This happned to me just the other day – my buddy Tony owns a HVAC company and we needed out hot water heater replaced – now Tony is a big guy with hands like a gorilla, but I’m a good sized dude, I’ve been known to pick up some weights and put them down, so I’m going to make sure our handshake is on par. And he squeezes too early, grabs my fingers and my handshake now appears weak. The rest of the day, all I could think about is when he leaves I’m going to nail the handshake, he’s going to feel my cobra khan grip.

Oh it happened – nailed it later in the day.

Anyway, outside of Tony, in the business world I’ve adjusted my technique over the last 10 years… I’m all about the eye contact, the handshake will naturally work itself out.

Eye contact is a sign of confidence. Eye contact and a smile – now you are a frickin Jedi.

Side note – because I’m all about the tangents. Early on I was all buddhist feet planted firmly on the group and in touch with the present, and now I’m arguing about the strength of my handshake.

Like you, I am a walking contradiction. We’re all incompletes just trying figure stuff out, doesn’t matter if you are 23 or 43 or 63.

5: Take charge a little bit…it exudes confidence.

One of my bosses, the GM at Fox Sports Northwest when I was News Director, would go into every situation and he’d go around introducing himself to people. So for example, we’d be in the suite at a mariners game, and it would be full of various people – most of the time it was clients of the sales people, people he didn’t know. But he would walk up to everyone and say, “Hi I’m Mark Shuken , great to have you here.”

If you didn’t know who was in charge, you’d guess it was him just because he had an aura about the way he delivered with confidence.

The same thing can happen in an in person interview. Make eye contact, smile, stick out the hand for the shake, and declare “Hi, Brian Clapp, great to meet you…”

That’s simple, understated power. I do this in all instances now, whether it’s a school board meeting or a business conference… use the power within to give yourself an aura. Be the aggressor, introducing yourself to anyone you think warrants it.

That’s all – that’s the art of the first impression. After that first 7 seconds, now it’s in your hands to keep that momentum going forward. But that’s another podcast…

Thanks for your question Ariel – I’ll be sending you a free month at Work in which if I haven’t mentioned lately is the #1 job board for the sports industry – for real, voted on by real people like you. Our system works – over 7,000 available sports jobs from throusands of different employers of all sizes and locations.

We���re your one stop shop for jobs in the sports industry…and I’m Brian Clapp saying…have a good weekend everybody!

By Brian Clapp | April 06, 2018
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