Whether you want to believe it to be true or not, people instinctively form a strong first opinion of you—even if they’re trying to be open minded, forming an opinion comes quickly and with minimal data—and they base it off the information you provide them with.
A first impression is formed in about 7 seconds—so you really don’t have a huge window to get it right (or, on the other hand, to get it wrong!).
This means that whether you’re heading into a job interview, you’re at a networking event, or even speaking at a Zoom conference, you only have a few seconds to ensure you’re showcasing the very best of your personality.
We spoke to a handful of career coaches, hiring managers, and image strategists to lock down exactly what you need to know in order to avoid making any mistakes that will ruin the chance of making a good first impression—and it’s actually a lot easier than you may think to get it right.
Not dressing for success
“The clothing you wear may seem like a trivial factor in the bigger picture of your life, but it’s far more important than you think,” explains Jordan Stolch, Image Strategy expert.
“How you dress represents who you are and tells people what to expect from you. Far too often a lack of attention to wardrobe holds people back. This is frustrating, because clothing certainly doesn’t determine one’s actual competence or credibility; it does however, influence others’ perception of those qualities—and that reality impacts opportunities.”
According to Stolch, it’s not about dressing in a 3-piece suit, it’s about presenting yourself in a way that aligns with what people expect of you and your role.
If you’re a doctor who wears flip flops to his practice, for example, a new patient will automatically negate your credibility and the negative impression will be lasting.
Holding your cellphone in your hand
“When interviewing, or meeting your co-workers for the first time, you’ll ruin your first impression by having your cell phone in your hand,” says Laura Handrick – HR, Benefits, Payroll, Training.
“Put the cell phone away to let those around you know that they are your first priority. If the phone does ring, or you get a text notification, ignore it. That will show your new acquaintances that you prioritize them and getting to know them.”
Taking a vape break
Handrick also suggests controlling your need to smoke or vape during your first meeting with new people—even if one of them is using a vape pen.
“Smoking and vaping when first meeting shows that you’re a person with little self-control,” she explains. “To prevent people from judging you or your tobacco addiction, keep your cigarettes and vape pen out of sight on the first meeting. Let them get to know you first.”
Giving a weak handshake
Yes, the age-old adage of a strong handshake is still relevant today (albeit not during the pandemic!).
“I think a handshake tells you everything about your personality. Your level of confidence, the warmth you possess, the willingness to socialize… literally everything.” says Achintya Kolipakkam Designation Content Marketer, Elegance Tips.
“Limp handshakes can be a real killer of the first impression. Research shows that people with a weak handshake are judged as being shy, anxious, less open, and lacking any ability.”
Forgetting to take time to listen
You have seconds to show that you are interested in the person you are talking to more than you are attached to your outcome.
“Most people are so caught up in driving the conversation that they miss the opportunity to connect heart to heart with the person they are talking to…they miss the chance to listen by asking superficial questions and not deeply connecting to the other person,” explains Jo Coburn, Functional Medicine Coach.
“When we connect heart to heart and are not interested in personal gain we can step into true listening and break down boundaries. It sounds simple but most people miss this simple piece of communication by misplaced focus.”