A positive first impression is worth more than a forever diamond. According to a Princeton University study, you get 100 milliseconds (1/10 of a second) to win someone over—that’s faster than you can text, “Like me.” Let’s look at 10 can’t miss practices for making a good first impression.
- Pay attention to your appearance. Everything about your appearance should broadcast “neat and meticulous.” Show, don’t tell—a neat appearance proves your attention to detail. There’s no need to mention it if you can show it. Arrive on time and mind your manners. We shouldn’t have to mention not to chew gum, but when elected officials meet foreign dignitaries while chomping on gum, it needs to be repeated. Nails should be trimmed and neat with neutral polish, if any—no “Long Island Medium” nails. As your mother probably repeated in an endless loop, “Don’t slouch.” Hold your body erect and look at the other person. Finally, turn off your phone. If someone died, the body will be just as dead in a half-hour. If a loved one is at death’s door, reschedule.
- Dress for success. In a job interview or a first meeting with a client, dress one step up the position you are seeking or up a step from the client will wear (do your homework), according to CBS Money Watch. “If your prospect is in denim, you wear khaki. They wear sport coats without ties; you are in suits without ties. The point is that you always dress one step further up the clothing ladder than your prospect, but not two.”
- Be yourself. People can see through phonies a mile away.
- Trustworthiness vs. confidence. We’ve all been led to believe that we must show confidence 24/7/365—or at least “fake it ’til you make it.” Wired magazine reports that social psychologist Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School says that in a first impression, trustworthiness and confidence levels comprise 80–90 percent of the overall impression we give. Studies have shown that people place more importance on trustworthiness than confidence because if a person senses that you’re competent, he or she will be interested in your intention (trustworthiness) toward them. If you’re a highly confident person, you might want to dial back the confidence a bit and show more of your trustworthy side.
- Victims are not winners. According to Psychology Today, “Feeling victimized is not adaptive.” You need to feel empowered to be nimble and to act proactively. If you are a bona fide “victim,” you’re also a survivor. Accentuate the positive and show your strength.
- Show integrity. Demonstrate that your actions are in line with your values. If you were the star salesperson, demonstrate it with metrics. When you’re asked to talk about a weakness, answer honestly.
- Prepare an elevator speech. You never know when you might have a chance meeting that could change the course of your life. An elevator speech takes 30 seconds. Address three things in the first 20 seconds: who you are, what you do, and what you want to do. That leaves 10 seconds to quiz the listener and show “what’s in it for them” and why you’re just the person to fill the need. Rehearse your elevator speech with a mentor who will tell you the truth and offer constructive criticism. Practice until you can give your speech in a natural, sincere manner, not as if you’re reading a teleprompter. End your speech with a call to action.
- Don’t let social media kill your chances at success. It’s simple to search someone online, and the Internet is forever. If you wouldn’t want it broadcast on the 6 o’clock news, don’t put it out there on the Internet. If you’re social media image is less than sterling, clean it up. Delete your accounts and start new ones that give a better impression. You can remove yourself from Google but start building better online profiles—people without a past are no longer mysterious, they’re questionable. Even if you take all these steps, there are other ways people can discover your past.
- Perfect your email netiquette. When you give your first impression via email, start with a succinct message header, an appropriate salutation and stick to business, according to Inc. Leave out off-colored jokes, private information, LOLs, OMGs and emoticons. Keep it short and write in complete sentences with proper capitalization and grammar. This isn’t Twitter. Before hitting “Send,” check your email for tone.
- Pay close attention to the other person. The University of Kentucky suggests that you listen twice as much as you speak. Only through listening can you pick up clues about what needs you can fill.
Bottom line: You are not going to make a good first impression every time. Everyone has a bad day, and someone could take an immediate visceral dislike to you. It happens. But if you think that first impressions don’t count, ask yourself if you would let a surgeon to whom you took an immediate dislike cut you open on the operating table? There’s your answer. People want to trust and like those with whom they do business.