Talk to anyone about an upcoming job interview and you’re likely going to be reminded to make a positive first impression. Mention you’ve got an important meeting coming up with people you’ve never met before and you get the same advice; you’ve got to make a strong first impression.
The first impression we have on others is so critical to our ultimate success whether it’s landing a job we really want, getting the nod of approval from the parents of the person we’re dating, finding a place to buy your groceries in a new community and the list goes on. That first impression we have or others have about us is huge.
One thing to remember if you’ve got an upcoming interview or important first meeting of any kind and you’re overly nervous is that you can take steps beforehand to shape that first impression they’ll form about you. While you can’t guarantee that your preparation will create the impression you hope for, you can turn the odds in your favour. Pay little to no attention to the kind of impression you want to make and you’re risking a lot if the outcome of that first meeting is important to you.
Consider the overall message you want to convey. Are you hoping to come across as confident, friendly, aloof, intellectual, down-to-earth, mainstream, provocative or a leader? If you were limited to two words in describing what first impression you’re hoping to make, what two words would you choose? The importance you attach to making a good first impression will decide how little or great effort you put into preparing for that first hello.
First impressions are shaped by the clothes you wear; their design, colour, choice of material, fit, appropriateness for the occasion and cleanliness. Often it’s a good idea to get close enough to an organization where you can pickup the clothing choices of the employees who work in similar roles to one you’re competing for. Are they dressed formally, casually or do they opt for business/casual? While you want to fit in with their existing workforce, you need to also consider that dressing up for that interview demonstrates respect for the importance of the conversation.
While clothes might set you back a bit in the wallet, a warm smile, good eye contact and a firm but not overpowering handshake just require the effort to produce them and nothing more. Same goes for your posture. Standing with both feet firmly planted and not leaning on one leg will create an impression of strength. Put both hands on your hips at the same time as you stand with your feet firmly on the ground and you’ve assumed the ‘Superman’ pose of power. Of course this may or may not be the first impression you hope to create. You see it depends. You might not want to be misrepresented as arrogant or intimidating if you’re meeting the potential future in-laws!
Posture is just or equally important when seated too. Sitting too rigid could make you feel uncomfortable and communicate tension and inflexibility. Get too comfortable and your slouch and crossed legs might send the message that you’re not attaching the level of professionalism this meeting requires. Lean forward slightly in your chair and focus your eyes on those speaking and the message you send is that you’re engaged and attentive.
Grooming is essential too. Clean-shaven, scruffy first few days without a shave or trimmed beard? Light or heavy makeup? Subtle or strong lipstick? Scent-free deodorant or a few dabs of cologne or perfume? Is this a job interview your preparing for or a first date?
Now despite all the above – and there’s much more that goes into crafting this first impression by the way – there’s a limit to what you can do. Just as we shape our opinions of others largely based on our past experiences with people who seem like those we meet, the same is true of others who are shaping their opinions of us. Our height, weight, shape, tone of voice, hair colour and style, smile, smell, choice of words and expressions, etc; each of these communicate information to those we interact with. This information others receive is quickly checked against their past encounters with others they’ve interacted with and they’ll take that information and put it all together coming up with a first impression of us. All in just a few seconds!
Make what we call a good first impression and your goal is to keep this up for the duration of the encounter. Get off creating an impression other than the one you’d hoped for and you have to invest energy and time persuading the person that the first impression they have of you isn’t accurate. This can be impossible or difficult depending on the length of time you have available. If you think it’s not fair that a job interviewer has you sized up in the first 4 minutes, don’t forget you do it too. You’re sizing up others, forming opinions that have you judging them; meet enough people and you’ll judge that workplace, and make inferences about the entire organization and culture based on limited interaction.
First impressions can turn others off, get them excited about having us around, leave them indifferent or leave us memorable in their consciousness. It is because of this that putting some thought and effort into creating the first impression we want is worth all the effort.