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The Lost Art of Mastering a Great First Impression – Part IV: The Car Makes the Candidate

Wow, am I setting myself up for the hate mail or what? I know this post will be controversial to some, and I’m the first to say, if you don’t agree with me, it’s ok, do what you want. These are only my opinions, are not set in stone, and sometimes even I go against them if I feel compelled.

That said, I do have some thoughts on how some candidates do themselves harm with their car. I was taught about five years ago by my business coach, Vance Caesar, to walk candidates to their cars after an interview. I must admit, I am not always able to do this, but I do try, especially when interviewing someone at my office. I might say something like, “I’ll walk you out” after the interview is over, and then follow them out of the building since our suite is on the first floor. As we’re making conversation, I might say, where are you parked and they’ll point in the direction so we’ll start walking towards their car.

Now we get to the controversial part. I know some people might think – “He’s from Southern California and wants to see someone in a BMW or Mercedes in order for him to think they’re a credible candidate.” Well, not entirely true. The first thing I look for in a car is cleanliness. If it has rained recently, all our cars are dirty, so I take that into account. If it hasn’t, and the car has enough dirt that the kids wrote “wash me” on it, it’s not a great first impression. If the inside looks like you live in it, with fast food bags, clothes, books, etc. all over the place, also not a great first impression.

Vance has taught me that the person we interview in our office might be well informed in the art of interviewing and might have shown up looking like a million bucks. When you walk them to their car and see something that tells a different story, the car might be the truth. It says, “I’m organized, and I respect myself enough that I don’t want to drive around in a rolling trash can.” Or, it says the opposite and is a reflection on the amount of order they keep in their lives, beyond what they wanted you to see in that interview.

At first I didn’t buy this argument. However, after looking back on my history with my own employees, it has played out almost to a tee. I have only ever had one key employee that has done an excellent job for us, that doesn’t have their car in spotless condition. All the others that had disheveled cars conducted their jobs in the same manner, and we were always less than impressed with them as employees. The reverse is not 100% true but pretty close – all our employees who kept their cars impeccably also, for the most part, conducted themselves the same at our company. It’s a strange tell (poker line), but it works.

Ok, the elephant in the room – does the kind of car I drive make a difference? Yes and no. If you’re interviewing for a senior executive position that pays over $200K per year, and you drive a Honda Civic, it’s probably not a great reflection on you. Do you need to drive an S-Class Mercedes? My first boss in executive search asked me, “Would you buy a $2MM home from a realtor driving a Camry?” It says – the person in which you’re entrusting this major purchase either doesn’t see themselves as worthy of nice things reflective of their success, or is out of their league and should be selling $500K homes. (OK, bring on the comments!) I personally think there is some truth to that, however, I have never met a realtor that sells $2MM homes and drives something other than a luxury car – really!

Does the car make the candidate? If the hiring manager walks you to your car after the interview and sees something you’re not proud of, consider it points lost. If, on the other hand, you can be proud when this happens because the car is clean and well-kept, then you’ve probably done yourself some good in confirming for the interviewer that you are organized and think highly enough of yourself not to be driving around in a rolling trash can.

Have a comment? Please share it and let’s get the best ideas out to our readers.

In my next post, I’ll discuss the ever elusive 30 second elevator pitch (elusive because it’s always 2 minutes or longer).

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