Whether it’s fair or not, within seconds of meeting you, or even seeing you, the people around you have made a decision about who you are, solely based on their first impression of you. There are people who will judge or even discriminate against you because of your gender, age, race, socioeconomic status, and so on, and there isn’t much you can do about it, but there are many others you can woo by making a great first impression, and here is how to do it.
Why do you want to make a great first impression? Before you discount the question by thinking, “Doesn’t everyone want to make a first impression?” The question is much more than that, it is about intentions, about being mindful about how you appear to others, and the reputation that you want to build. When you show yourself to the world, in different situations - networking events, a job interview, cocktail event, an informational interview, grocery shopping, at the gym, and so on - how do you want to be viewed by others? Your honest answer to this simple question will determine what you do next.
How will you dress and accessorize? The way you dress to go to the gym and grocery shopping will be very different from the way you dress for a job or informational interview. Think about the image that you’d like to project in any given situation, and dress accordingly. Most people know to dress conservatively for formal and semi-formal meetings, so the way you dress and accessorize is only a part of creating a great first impression. On the other hand, it wouldn’t hurt to call the human resources department to find out what’s appropriate to wear at the interview, then dress accordingly. Most job candidates wouldn’t do that, and common perceptions may not be correct for that particular company. Dressing to fit in also makes you more comfortable in the interview. For other important events, get a second opinion from a friend about what to wear and how to accessorize.
Are you punctual? No one wants to be kept waiting, so show up on time for all meetings and events. Contrary to what some might say, it is not fashionable to be late. At the same time, make sure that you do not show up too early, because others may perceive you as having too much time on your hands. When going to a meeting, add extra time for traffic delays and finding suitable parking. Or if you use the public transportation system, build in time for delays as well. Being punctual is one way to create a favorable first impression.
What’s your body language? When you enter a room, is your head bowed like you are looking for pennies on the floor, or is it held high, like you are the host of the event. When someone is speaking to you, do you make eye contact? Are your arms crossed or are they open to show that you are accessible? Do you smile to soften your facial features to show that you are friendly? Is your handshake limp or firm? Being aware of your body language will improve the way others perceive you, and it is an important way to create a great first impression.
Are your mobile devices turned off or on silent? It’s highly disruptive for your phone to ring, or your device to beep in a job interview or while in other important meetings. It is also very rude, and you may come across that way to others, which is the last thing you want to happen. And in the event that you forget to turn off your mobile devices, apologize for the intrusion, and do not be tempted to answer your phone or respond to a text message.
Having a bad day is not an excuse. The mark of a true professional is the way you carry yourself at all times, even in the most difficult situations. Everyone has bad days, but do not take it to meetings or to events. Find something to laugh about, to snap yourself out of your bad mood. Think about a funny experience you had, then enjoy and savor it a second time.
How can you be interesting? If you have a job interview, what are ways you can be interesting, to stand apart from your peers, in a positive way? What projects have you worked on that are unique, meaningful and valuable to prospective employers? What do you do better than others? Also, show that you are very interested in the job. Engage the interviewer and ask interesting questions to show that you have done your research on the company and position. Be a great conversationalist in the interview, which means not monopolizing the conversation, and giving complete, yet concise responses to questions. Being interesting in other meetings is also important, and do not forget to listen actively. Lean forward when the other person is talking, to show that you are interested in what he or she is saying. These little things help you to create a great first impression.
Good manners matter. Saying “please” and “thank-you” these days are very important because so few people remember to do it. Thank the interviewer verbally, as well as send a thank-you note. Thank people for taking the time to meet with you. Find ways to demonstrate that good manners is important to you. Having good manners is another way to create a great first impression.
As you can see, to make a first great impression is not about one thing. It’s about the image that you would like to create, which involves many things such as the way you dress, your body language, respecting other people’s time, having good manners and more. In the end, it is about your intention and the reputation you want to build!