“You never get a second chance at a first impression,” sounds like a tired cliché your mother used to get you to comb your hair as a teenager. But I must say that, too often, professionals lose big when they discount the value of a strong first impression.
We all have heard someone say: “he was not what I expected,” or “I imagined her being different.” Often, these comments translate into “he did not look like he had his act together,” or “I expected her to be more professional.” Before you call me shallow and too focused on the veneer of human existence, hear me on this one. I agree we are so much more than the sum total of how we look and dress like. I get that. But no matter how hard we try to get people we meet to see the real us, we will be categorized by our first impression–at least for a while anyway. During those crucial first seconds, people will place you somewhere in their minds. We can make a positive impression or a negative one. Most of the time, we hold the power on how that impression is made.
Regardless of our physical attributes, there are several things we can do about creating a first impression that will help us in life. Here are some thoughts:
1. Dress appropriately to your role. Be yourself, but understand that you’re representing your personal brand as well as your professional role. No matter your style, wearing clothing that fits goes a long ways. Ok, this is a pet peeve of mine: coat sleeves that are too long, especially on men, make you look like a child wearing an older sibling’s hand-me-downs. Scuffed and dull shoes tell people you don’t care about details or finishing a job. You don’t need new shoes to impress someone, just make sure the ones you have are shined.
2. Engage people with your eyes. Nothing says more about you than your eyes. They are true windows to your soul. If you fail to look people in the eye, they might think you either have something to hide or you’re uncomfortable with them.
3. Smile. That seems so obvious, but I can’t tell how many people I meet whom will extend a hand but their faces tell a different story. A smile is always appropriate.
4. Get the other person talking about himself. Except your mother, no one wants to hear how wonderful you are. You can never go wrong with focusing the conversation on your new friend.
5. Assume the person you just met could become a close friend and treat her accordingly. What type of first impression would we make if we approached new people not as strangers but as new friends we might have for life?
6. Don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s nothing that endears someone to you more than some self-deprecating humor. My friend Wayne has a famous line. Every time someone compliments him on something he’s wearing, he often answers: Lane Bryant Catalog.