ellen-reevesGuest post by Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of Can I wear My Nose Ring to The Interview?

In the words of Mark Twain, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, and this is especially true when you’re job-hunting. You are on display all the time, and everything you do, consciously or unconsciously, tells the employer a lot about you. Be aware so you can be strategic and intentional as you present yourself.


Nothing is a bigger turn off than a bad handshake. Just last night, a major literary agent told me that when she’s hiring, if she gets the dead fish shake, the interview is basically over before it’s begun.  So when I do my job-hunting seminars at the Columbia Publishing Course, I make sure to do a hand-shaking session: 100 students have to shake my hand firmly and look me in the eye while smiling and introducing themselves. When I tell them they need to practice their grip, many of my students say, “but I’ve been interviewing with this handshake forever and no one’s ever said anything.” EXACTLY! And they never will! But employers will register a sub-standard gesture and make judgments and assumptions based on this seemingly simply act. Handshaking is a professional convention and you’ve got to take it seriously. Make sure the groove between your thumb and forefinger meets the other person’s hand there, flesh to flesh. Do not tentatively grasp a few fingers, as many shy people do.  That is NOT a handshake. To invoke gender stereotypes for a moment, women need to make sure their grip is sufficiently firm; men need to make sure they are not crushing the other person’s hands. And watch out for rings that may cause marks or bruises!  In ancient times, the handshake was a way to prove you were unarmed; I will assume you are not packing heat at an interview but you do need to make sure you’ve got this first gesture down pat.


I also do a seminar called Dress ‘Em Up and Dress ‘Em Down in which my students come dressed in their purported interview clothes and I offer a blunt and biased critique. (It’s all voluntary and I warn them that I’m rather direct, ironic and sarcastic; yes, I’ve been called the Simon Cowell of job-hunting but I don’t just tear them down; I build them up and make them feel good about themselves once they’ve clean up their act. Certainly fashion is subjective and a matter of taste, but for most interviews, err on the side of being conservative –a suit or the equivalent for women. Most important are the details: your clothes must be fresh smelling and pressed, well-fitting, clean and coordinated. A coffee stain, wrinkled shirt or missing button speaks volumes, and this is what you’re saying: “Even though this interview is a chance for me to shine and present myself as professionally as possible, this is the best I can do.” And what this says to me as an employer is that you can’t be bothered with details. I’ll have to supervise you closely and think twice before I’d send you out to meet clients.

Bottom line: the first impression you make on an employer really counts.  Put your best foot forward and get hired!

ellen-reevesOver decades of helping job hunters present themselves, Ellen Gordon Reeves has been asked thousands of questions, now collected in Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? The Crash Course in Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job (Workman 2009). She posts daily as a career advisor for jobs.change.org and is the resident job-hunting expert at the Columbia Publishing Course. She is a regular guest on ABC NOW’s Good Money and contributes weekly to BACK TO WORK on the Tyler and Ken Show, New 92.1 FM , Columbia, South Carolina.