1st Impressions: Who Do You Think You’re Fooling?

Last week was the first of a two-week job searching class that I am facilitating. When the group first walked in on that Monday morning just over a week ago, I judged each and every one of the people who walked through the door and sat down. And don’t think they didn’t judge me either.

Now of course, judging others is not something that you might think you do; it’s as if the idea of judging someone else is a bad thing to do. I’m here to tell you that not only is it a very good thing to do, it’s absolutely necessary, and the faster you realize you are being judged the better if you are seriously job searching.

However, what I really want to get across is that you have to believe that some people are just better at judging others with a higher degree of accuracy than you might like to think. As each of these 12 people sat down, within a few seconds I had already formed an initial impression. As 20 minutes elapsed, I either revised or reinforced my initial impression of each person as they introduced themselves. I watched their faces to see who could make solid eye contact, looked at their posture as they were seated, felt their handshake and thought, “confident” or “insecure”, looked at their clothing and thought, “Not taking this seriously” or “Well done”.

As a week has now passed, I’m closer to the end of the program than the beginning with this group of people, and I can tell you honestly that my impressions formed after 3 seconds – that’s 3 seconds – was 100% accurate. Now if you think I’m sharing this to impress you, you couldn’t be more wrong. I’m sharing this with you as a person looking for work so you can fully appreciate the importance of that critical first chance to make a strong positive impression.

The good news is that the capacity or ability to shape the impression that others have of you is within your control. While anyone can extend a hand and shake the hand of another person, some will put no effort into the gesture and offer a limp hand, or worse, just a few fingers not even the entire hand. It’s not essential to squeeze hard, but a firm handshake is by far the best that shows you to be assertive and confident.

Take some time to groom yourself. So trim your facial hair, wash your hair and brush or comb it. Put on a clean blouse or shirt and yes you should tuck it into your pants if you want to come across as a professional, whereas a shirt hanging over your pants looks far too casual like you are going to the beach. Do your best to save your jeans for the weekends and evenings on your own time and either present yourself in dress pants or at least some khaki’s.

As for your footwear, sandals are once again for the beach and strolling down the street window shopping but never for job searching. Socks and shoes for the men, while the ladies have a few more options such as flats, closed or open-toed shoes with tights, hose, bare legs etc. And for the ladies only, don’t make the mistake of wearing your skirt too high or your top too low. Interviewers will not be impressed with your cleavage, and if anything it will work against not for you.

And it might as well be said here, that wearing the right bra for your body size is a must. If you haven’t already done so or don’t even know they exist, you might benefit from making an appointment with a knowledgeable salesperson in an undergarment department or store dedicated to women’s clothing. Tell the sales clerk you’re seeking advice on getting properly fitted in a bra that offers support. Don’t assume that you’ve had it right all these years. The difference between what you’re wearing now and what you perhaps should be wearing can make you more comfortable, keep things in place, and improve your appearance.

And then there’s the smile. A smile warms others up to you and visually tells others that you are warmer, more approachable and pleasant. If you don’t smile as a rule, you may come across in that first few seconds as cold, brooding, too serious, and someone to be cautious around. And it actually takes far less muscles to smile than it does to frown so stop working so hard!

Even how you walk will reveal you. Walk briskly and you’ll be deemed to be confident, perky, having a purpose, going places and on a mission. Walk with your hands in your pockets, slouched and shuffling your feet and you’ll come across as lazy, unmotivated, disinterested, even depressed.

I’m going to present two different initial greetings in writing only and you decide which of the two is the more assertive confident job seeker. Both are responding to meeting an interviewer. Person A says, “Good morning! Nice to meet you.” Person B says, “Hi.” Did you choose Person A as the more assertive? You can’t hear the tone or volume of the voice, but the words alone probably in your mind were heard nonetheless. A greeting just using a few more words makes a stronger positive impression.

Work on improving your own first impression. If you receiving some help from an Employment Counsellor, Career Coach, or Job Coach, maybe you might want to discuss what you’ve read and practice a few things.