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Does Your Organization Make a Great First Impression?

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The applicant walked up to the construction company door, climbing over piles of dirty snow, wondering if the dirt and water would ruin her shoes. She knocked, and a young woman dressed in jeans and a t-shirt answered. The woman had a toddler perched on her hip.


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The owner was running late, she said. She pointed to a slightly dirty sofa for the applicant to sit on.

The applicant observed that the floors were dirty, the walls bare. The open coat closet wouldn't close because it was stuffed with boxes and baby paraphernalia. When the owner arrived, he was speaking loudly on his cell phone.

Once the interview finally began, the applicant and owner were joined by the employee and her baby, who kept squirming in his mother's lap, banging on a laptop on the table. She put down the toddler to appease him, whereupon he began to run around beneath the table. When, 15 minutes into the interview, another employee arrived, the owner asked the applicant to sit on the couch again, to make room at the table, and also to restate her background for this new arrival.

Unfortunately, this is a true story. While hundreds of articles exist on the topic of how applicants should present themselves to prospective employers, we think someone needs to talk to business owners about the same thing.

In recent years, the job market has stabilized, and in some cases flipped: Good employees are getting harder to find; the best applicants are receiving multiple job offers. So, how do you get these great candidates to choose your organization over the competition? How do you show your company in its best light?

Think of an applicant's interview as a first date, where, just as happens on a date, you don't get a second chance to make a great first impression. Studies show that you also have only approximately 10 seconds to create a positive picture in the mind of that perspective employee you really want.

So, how do you do that? Going back to our example:

1. Be on time, and prepared.

Don't keep the applicant waiting. Being late sends a message about personal importance. Being ready to greet the applicant at the appointed time shows respect and sets a positive tone for the interview. Make sure that you have a copy of the applicant's resume, cover letter and questions you plan to ask printed before the interview. "On time" includes all participants.

2. Dress appropriately.

If you work in a construction office, you don't need to wear a suit. However, you are running a business. Both you and your employees should make an effort to dress in "business casual." You applicant most likely will, too.

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3. Greet the applicant with a smile and a firm handshake.

A nod and hand signals are obviously not acceptable. Give the applicant your full attention. Look him or her in the eye and smile. Introductions should include everyone's individual role as it relates to the job to which the applicant is applying.

4. Ensure that your office area is neat and tidy.

It doesn't cost a lot to keep your office clean. We actually had to tell the owner of the construction firm to sweep the floor and wipe down the table, as well as shovel the sidewalk in front of the building and clear a path.

Make sure you have enough chairs for everyone to sit together. If your office isn't big enough, find another location to hold your meeting. Even if your business doesn't cater to the public, there is no excuse for a messy office. Show that your company has personal pride. Applicants want to know that their office area will be a nice place to work.

5. Eliminate distractions.

We understand that a toddler in an office is an extreme -- and perhaps rare -- occasion. But other things can be distracting, as well. Turn off cell phones. Designate someone to answer the company land line, if applicable. Choose a less busy time to hold the interview.

In today's tough job market, the littlest things may make the difference in your landing the best applicant. You don't have to spend a lot of money or time to keep your office looking neat and professional. So, look at your environment from the eyes of a potential employee and make appropriate changes.

You only get one chance to create a positive first impression. Don't blow it.

Related: How to Conduct an Interview Effectively

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