There are many things in life that you can do multiple times. Making a first impression isn't one of them.
First impressions are lasting. Once a first impression is made, if it's less than great, unfortunately it takes a long time to change it.
Experts say it takes between five and 15 seconds for someone to form a first impression about a person. According to William Thourlby in his book "You Are What You Wear: The Key to Business Success," the first time we meet someone, we're trying to size them up. People look at socio-economic status, level of education, social position, level of sophistication, economic background, social background, moral character and level of success.
First impressions are influenced by our backgrounds, including our families, friends, education, religion, jobs and other factors. These include body language, dress and appearance, and voice. Your body language and appearance speak much louder than words. Use your body language to project appropriate confidence and self-assurance. Stand tall, make eye contact, greet with a firm handshake.
Quite possibly, one of the most important and terrifying times to make a spectacular first impression is when you are interviewing for or starting a new job.
The first day of a new job can be exciting and nerve-racking at the same time. Even if you never plan to leave your current job, you'll probably be promoted or switch to a new position at some point, and the experience will be much the same. There are some guidelines for relieving some of that stress on day one that you should keep in mind.
- Don't be late. In fact, it's best to be a little early. Double-check where you're supposed to be and what time you're expected to start. If it's a new workplace, test your route and give yourself extra time for a prompt arrival.
- Learn the lay of the land. Your manager will probably show you around, but make an extra effort to remember what you see so you don't have to repeat the same questions. Yes, you can always ask for directions later, but you'll impress people more by being a quick study.
- Master people's names. Again, you'll gain a reputation for attention and thoughtfulness by memorizing the names of everyone you meet. There are a variety of memory strategies that will help you match names and faces. There is no bigger compliment than using someone's name when you speak to them.
- Bring your lunch. Maybe the boss or co-workers will take you out to lunch on your first day, but don't count on it. Stay in the workplace and eat in the lunchroom so you get a chance to meet more people. Just don't waste too much time chowing down on your first day - demonstrate your eagerness to get back to work.
- Smile. Put a pleasant expression on your face. Be friendly. Show that you're glad to be there. People respond to smiles and sincerity. Ask questions and be interested in your new co-workers. They'll remember and appreciate your effort.
- Restrain your instincts. Your first day is a time to learn, not to show off what you think you know. So show you are glad to be there, but don't let your enthusiasm get the best of you lest you come off as insincere. Concentrate instead on what you can contribute and how you can fit in to the culture.
On the other side of the equation, when I hire people, I am acutely aware of the first impression they leave on me. Will a customer have the same reaction?
We've all had cringe-worthy moments hoping we came across as positive as we could. Remember the movie, "Pretty Woman"? Julia Roberts' character goes into a swanky Beverly Hills shop looking for a wardrobe upgrade, wearing a very casual and somewhat provocative outfit. The saleswomen ignore her, thinking she can't afford their clothing. She gets the message and walks out of the store as quickly as she came in.
But a couple days later, she returns, dressed to the nines. The sales staff is most attentive, anticipating a huge sale from this elegant woman. They obviously don't recognize her. So she reminds them that they had snubbed her and so she took her business elsewhere. Nothing could make up for their pathetic first impression.
Mackay's Moral: You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.