“Real courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” –John Wayne

This article was originally featured on the USA TODAY COLLEGE website (By: Jen Glantz)

There you are. Sitting across the table, with your shoulders back, nerves doing the cha-cha, spilling out fragmented sentences and a series of yes’s and no’s to questions you wish you could press the pause button on or simply just ask to ‘phone a friend’.

You’re on a job interview or maybe, you’re on the first date of your dreams (both are synonymously uncomfortable for us post-grads, these days) and while the clock is ticking louder than your beating heart, you only have an allotted amount of time to make a solid, accurate and lasting impression that will leave those on the other side of the table recognizing that you are the one they have always been looking for.

I graduated from the University of Central Florida two years ago and since then have been on my share of both first interviews for jobs and first dates. But it wasn’t until my first time interviewing interns for positions at my current company that I began to notice the innocuous, yet deal-breaking, mistakes that those across from me were so anxiously carrying out.

After wanting to stretch my arms across the table and beg them to take a deep breath, I have put together a list of five tips toward mastering a more confident and concise first impression.

1. Get a grip

The first connection you establish on a first impression is surprisingly with your hands. Your handshake is the initial welcome gesture that opens the door to the mindset that you are confident and ready to present who you are.

It is also the perfect complement for your, “It’s so nice to meet you” comment that should happen simultaneously. That being said, your handshake needs to be memorable and it needs to be firm. Not firm enough that you will leave the other person’s hand ruby-red or loose enough that they will think you are grabbing onto them to start ‘The Wave’ at a football game.

Your handshake should feel like you are gripping on to something, while properly accessorizing your eager and excitement for what is to come. For best results, wipe away your clammy hands on your pants before you walk into the door.

2. Smile with your eyes

During the conversation, maintain eye contact. It will be the connect-the-dots for the information you are spewing out and will also allow the people on the other side of the table to recognize that you are indeed talking to them.

Eye contact also establishes the notion that you’re interested, confident and owning of your presentation.

3. 30-second elevator speech

Without a doubt on first impressions you will be asked the overbearing question, “tell me about yourself,” as if you could just whip out your autobiography and read excerpts from it.

But there is not enough time to deliver a drawn out speech on your who, what, where, why and when — and that won’t leave a memorable or powerful impression anyway.

Make it clear and make it concise. If you were to catch this person in an elevator and had only 30-seconds to convey the message of who you are, what would you say? Your speech should emphasis your “who” (who you are and who you want to be), “where” (where you have picked up this experience), and “why” (why you feel you are right for this job).

4. Pay attention to details

The half on half off nail polish, the coffee stained resume, the lipstick on your teeth.

During first impressions these minor details become extra noticeable. It’s important before you prance into any first impression situation you stop by the restroom or a mirror and organize yourself and your belongings. String a comb through your hair once more, pop in a Tic Tac, and straighten the creases out of your resume before you walk in.

5. Be a table turner

Never forget that while you are working your tail off to make your first impression go well, so are they. Ask questions that you care about knowing the answers to and that listen to the gut feelings inside of your stomach.

Before I walk into any first impression situation, I jump around to shake the nerves off and give myself an honest and assuring pep talk. “Jen”, I say to myself, “You have worked hard for this. You’ve completed many years of school, grueling internships, and have interacted with all different types of people before. You are brave, confident, determined and you absolutely are ready to do this.”

I wipe the sweat off my forehead, take a yoga-like deep breath and with a wide-toothed smile I move forward into the potential of a new experience.

Stay confident, stay calm!

I’m Jen Glantz. I’ve been a published writer for over 13 years, spilling my words into magazines (ranging from style to scuba diving), newspapers, websites and even this one time, a speech, for someone who didn’t speak a word of English. What drives my words, my site, my writing, is the power of relating to people. I find that many people, especially young girls, feel so alone and quite often they feel embarrassed. I want to shatter those feelings! I want them to read what I write and understand that it’s okay to be a little outside of the box, but most importantly, that it is okay to just be who they are.

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