A good first impression will get you far in life and also in your career. At interviews, the first seven seconds of meeting people for the first time can be difference between success and failure. Here’s how you can make that first impression count.
- Put things into perspective
Interviews, networking events and presentations all deserve an effort on your part, but you also need to put the situation into perspective.
Remember that you’re meeting everyday people who are probably very nice. The old saying of ‘imagining everyone naked’ probably won’t work to calm you down, but trying to remind yourself that you’re in an every day, normal situation.
Try to relax and remember that all you have to do is be yourself; as long as you’ve prepared properly, you’ve got very little to worry about – we all have strengths, weaknesses and individual traits.
- Preparation is key
One way to put your mind more at ease and increase your confidence during ‘first impression’ situations is to make sure that you prepare ahead of time.
Research the person and/or company that you’ll be meeting, as you’ll invariably be asked questions about them.
Even if no questions are asked regarding the brand, the more knowledge you possess the better.
Research is especially important in interview situations. It will be expected that you know about the brand and role that you’re there to interview for – not knowing anything regarding the company or position may well ruin your chances of progressing further in the application process.
- Have a short intro about yourself ready, but not over-rehearsed
It’s important that, when asked, you have a clear and concise explanation about who you are. This could include your current situation, your interests and any other relevant details to the situation.
Don’t over-rehearse this, as if you would a speech, as it’ll come across as such. Remember to keep it quite short and to the point.
Even if you get asked something common like ‘tell me about yourself’, ensure you don’t answer this as if you’re tired of the question. Show passion and enthusiasm for your current role and, if in an interview, the role you’re applying for.
Every time you run through your introduction, take note of the responses you get. This is a great way to optimise it for the future.
- Be attentive and interested in others – remember 3 words, ‘how about you?’
Showing an interest in the person you’re meeting with is a great way to endear yourself to them. You may well be the one being asked the questions, but there’s no harm in asking ‘how about you’ at the end of your answer if appropriate.
If you show a genuine curiosity in someone you illustrate that you’re giving them your undivided attention and have an interest in what they’re telling you.
Relationships are built on this type of interaction and if you’re faking you’ll get caught out quickly.
The quickest way to learn from someone is to listen to them and pay attention to the information they’re kind enough to convey. In situations where you’re meeting people for the first time, you’ll want to find out about them – how can you accomplish this if you don’t listen and take in what they’re saying?
Recapping what they’ve told you, to ensure you have the information correct, is a great way to demonstrate that you’re genuinely trying to absorb what they’re telling you. Some other ways to demonstrate your sincere interest are:
- Maintain eye contact
- Use the other person’s name
- Ask the person to expand on certain points
- Ask questions and offer an opinion
- Offer compliments
- Be punctual. Always
Being on time isn’t, or shouldn’t be, considered a ‘skill’. Punctuality is something we should all be capable of as adults and a huge 96% of Managers agree.
Being late, especially on a first meeting, is a sign that you’ve either not given priority to planning your journey or simply don’t care enough about the event to get there on time.
If you’re late then, from the point you do finally arrive, you’ll be playing catch up and trying to prove you’re taking the meeting seriously.
Aim to arrive early and know your route. Being early just goes to show you’re enthusiastic and interested, it also affords you time to further prepare and research if needed.
- Be yourself and be honest
You’ll find and attract more success being yourself than you will pretending to be something you’re not. Try to relax and be natural, it’s much easier to deal with stressful situations than when you’re making things up or trying to portray yourself as someone you’re not.
Portraying a false or slightly fictional version of yourself might get results in the short term, but in the long run it’s far better to be honest and natural with new contacts or potential employers.
- Don’t forget your sense of humour
We’re all drawn to someone that has a good sense of humour. Of course we need to be professional, but there’s nothing like well-placed and appropriate lightheartedness to help us warm to someone.
In an interview, you’re being assessed as to how well you’ll fit in with a brand and its culture. If you’re too serious, you may not be seen as someone who will work well with others.
- Be positive and personable
An upbeat, positive attitude, and easy-to-talk-to demeanour will make your initial conversation easier and enable you to get the most from your discussion.
Awkward silences, short non-descriptive answers and negativity, will result in the conversation being cut short in order for the person you’re speaking with to find someone that has a bit more about them.
- Dress and groom yourself for success
Employers, customers or potential contacts, expect a professional to look the part when they first meet. Even if you’re in an industry that isn’t traditionally suited and booted during the day, you’re still trying to make a good first impression.
Making the effort to look smart and well-groomed for a first time meeting shows respect and professionalism, no matter what field you work in.
If you have tattoos and can cover them easily, then do. 50% of employers take a dim view and are put off by body art. A woman’s makeup also has a lot to do with first impressions, so ensuring that you don’t rush this side of things is important.
- Plan your time wisely
Make sure you leave yourself enough time to get to the venue; don’t double book and don’t try to cram too much into one day.
Rushing will result in mistakes and can affect your concentration and focus. Give yourself the best possible chance by removing any chance of feeling anxious about being late or missing an appointment.
Cutting someone off mid-sentence and leaving the conversation prematurely appears rude and is completely avoidable if you organise your time properly.
- Be conscious of your body language
You don’t have to be a psychologist, you just need to know the main do’s and don’ts of body language:
- Maintain a good posture, whether seated or standing (don’t slouch)
- Use hand gestures when speaking to add emphasis (don’t flail though, keep it under control!)
- Give a firm handshake (50% of employers will use this to judge you)
- Speak clearly and slowly
- Cross your arms
- Get distracted and start browsing the room
- Stand too close
- Manners cost nothing
Remembering your manners is something that you should do in any situation, but especially so when dealing with people that you’ve not met before.
Coming across as ignorant, arrogant or just plain rude, isn’t the best first impression you could give and will immediately scupper most of the potential opportunities that could have come out of a first time meeting.
Treat others how you’d like to be treated.
- Remove distractions (phone, watch alarm, etc.)
It’s extremely irritating when the person you’re trying to have a conversation with is continually distracted by their phone (or other device). If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you owe it to them and yourself to focus on the conversation and give it 100% of your attention.
Turn off your phone or at least switch it to silent.
- Master eye contact
Eye contact with the person you’re speaking to increases engagement and illustrates that you’re focused on what they’re saying. Don’t overdo it however, as never breaking your stare may come across as ‘standoffish’ or just a bit creepy!
Eye contact’s more important when you’re listening, rather than speaking yourself – aim for about 60% of the time to give a nice balance.
- Be there in person
Making an effort to meet someone for the first time says a lot. In an age where we have the technology to allow us to communicate and collaborate from anywhere without much effort, it’s all too easy to default to a web meeting.
In a similar vein to sending a hand written letter, when we could very easily email someone or ‘WhatsApp’ them, taking the time to travel to a meeting in person says a great deal about your intent and willingness to make an effort.
Communication via the internet is very one-dimensional, especially when compared to similar interactions in person. Gauging emotions, intentions, personality and general likability, is a natural stage in any first time meeting and more easily done when stood in front of that person.
When you’re confined to a computer screen it’s more difficult to convey the qualities that employers are looking for than it would be in person.
- Follow up
Regardless of whether you felt you made a good first impression, it’s important to follow up and show continued interest in new contacts. Whether this is a job interview, someone you met at an industry event or someone from the audience of your presentation that spoke with you.
Not only does this demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in maintaining contact, but it’s also an opportunity to learn more about the person you met and the the topics that might have been covered.
For further reading, there’s a great discussion on Quora about first impressions.
Some key statistics
- You only have up to 17 seconds to make a first impression
- 3/4 of manager agree that they’ve made a decision about hiring an applicant within 30 seconds of meeting them
- 55% of a person’s opinion is based on your appearance
- 7% of a person’s opinion is based on what you say
- 38% of person’s first impression is determined by tone of voice
- 93% of people’s judgements of you are based on non-verbal input
- When a college career planning and placement center surveyed 150 employers, they discovered that the number one reason for rejecting an applicant after the first interview was poor personal appearance