Funny You Should Say That! I'm Not Impressed

The perils of making a good first impression.

By John Cadley

After 30 years in professional life, I don’t have to worry about making a good first impression anymore. If they’re not impressed by now, they’re never going to be. All I know is I must have impressed somebody, because they’re still giving me a paycheck. In fact, I now conduct job interviews, meaning people have to make a good first impression on me. Yet I’m more nervous than they are. Whenever I see someone trying to make a good initial impression, it’s a sure sign he needs Toastmasters to learn how to avoid the following:

First, I’d like to shake the hand of the person who told everybody to use a firm handshake – not to congratulate him but to show him how his disciples interpret “firm.” He’d be on his knees begging for mercy. Just for the record: Firm does not mean a bone-crunching vice grip where I still can’t make a fist an hour after the interview. And I’m talking about men and women. Women seem to think they’ve got to squeeze even harder just to prove they’re as tough as a man. They are, trust me. I’ve had a 5-foot female weighing 100 pounds get me up on the tips of my toes with tears coming out of my eyes.

And speaking of eyes – what’s with eye contact? Let’s dial that one way back, okay? A little goes a long way. I don’t need to be locked into a laser Vulcan hypno-beam where I feel like I’m being X-rayed. I know you’re talking to me; I’m the only person in the room. I met with a man once who never took his eyes off me for an entire hour, not even to blink. I felt like saying, “Do you have eyelids?”

Then there’s this business of knowing when to arrive. Obviously, arriving late for a job interview will not make a good first impression. It won’t make any impression, since you’re not even there yet. But far too many job candidates seem to think, “If arriving late is bad, then arriving early is good, and arriving really early is really good.”

No, it is not. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s getting a call from the front desk at 9:30 a.m., saying that my 10 o’clock appointment has arrived. That gives me half an hour to feel like I’m late for the interview. One insightful business guru suggests that if you arrive too early, you should spend the time in the rest room. No, you should not. It will make people wonder who you are and what you’re doing there. At the very least they’ll think you’re strange, and they might even call security. Then you’ll have to explain what you’re doing there, which will make you late for the meeting you were so early for. Coming into a job interview late while being introduced as “the weirdo who was loitering in the men’s room” does not make a good first impression.

Physical appearance and hygiene are supposed to be important, too. Now there’s a searing insight. One consultant even feels it necessary to say – and I quote – “Always bathe the morning of the interview. They shouldn’t smell you coming before they see you.” If a person has to be told this, making a good impression is the least of his problems.

And let’s not forget body language, which research says constitutes 55 percent of a first impression. You’re supposed to act calm, confident and relaxed when in fact you’re as nervous as a long-tail cat sitting next to a rocking chair.

Have you ever seen people try to relax when they’re not? It makes me squirm. They sit back in the chair and nonchalantly cross their arms over their chest, which is really saying, “I feel threatened. Don’t hurt me.” They throw one leg casually over the other – while their foot is going up and down faster than a hummingbird’s wings. And then, God help us, they smile. They’re thinking: Does he like me? I should have worn the brown suit. There’s dandruff on my shoulder. Am I getting that red nervous rash on my neck? He hates me. I’m finished! I’ll never work again! Okay, now smile.”

A smile like that looks like plastic surgery gone bad.

The irony is that all this advice – all these drastic changes you should make in your dress, speech and behavior to be deemed socially acceptable – is given in the context of, “just be yourself.” As in: Don’t be yourself. Just be yourself. No wonder there’s a 10 percent unemployment rate. 

John Cadley is an advertising copy-writer in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at