As we all know, first impressions mean a lot when trying to meet people. A first impression can make or break any chance you have for that job interview. It can cause people to dislike you even if you’re a nice person. It can make people like you even if you’re a mean person. The first impression you give to someone goes a long way in how that person will remember you. Granted, we shouldn’t judge people, but first impressions do matter. So in an effort to help everyone out, I figured I’d put together a short list based on my own personal observations and from a business etiquette class I took my senior year at Illinois.
1) Looking sharp! – In most cases, before a person ever hears a word you say, they’ll see what you look like. So help yourself out and look good. For those that aren’t big on personal hygiene, then this is an opportune time to shower! Make sure you lather and rinse multiple times to get rid of any funky smells as well. After being clean, you’ll want to look presentable. Depending on the situation you’re in, you’ll want to dress accordingly. If you’re going to a job interview, then wear a suit or at least a shirt and tie. If you’re meeting new people, dress casually but sharp. You want to stand out and blend in all at the same time. So this would eliminate sweats, clothes with lots of holes in them, or anything that your parents typically wouldn’t let you wear. As I learned in my business etiquette class, it’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.
2) Cheese! – No, I’m not talking about bringing cheese with you, unless it’s to a cheese convention or to a Green Bay Packers game. I’m talking about smiling! The first facial feature that most people see, even before what you’re wearing is your smile. After they see your face, they’ll usually take a look at the rest of you, which is what makes the smile so important. By smiling when you go into the situation, you’re not only easing any tensions that may be present, but you’re presenting yourself in a positive manner. You’d be surprised how far a good smile can take you, so make sure you brush those teeth and floss as well!
3) Walk the walk! – Now that you’re dressed for the occasion and looking good, as well as having a good smile, the next important thing is showing confidence. By the way you stand, sit, or move, a person can tell a lot about you based on your body movement. In showing confidence, one would typically walk with back straight, and looking forward. Slouching will only cause people to think that you’re weak. Looking down at the ground when you’re walking will make people think that you’re afraid. Eye contact is also critical. Make sure you look at the person you’re meeting, and that you’re looking at them right in the eyes. You don’t want to be staring them down, but you don’t want to be looking at everything but them. Don’t be like my brother and lose an inch of height by slouching. Stand tall! By using your body movements to show confidence, you’ll be well on your way to making a good first impression. However, there’s a difference between confidence and cockiness. You want confidence, not cockiness.
4) Firm, not wimpy! – A good handshake is very very important. Many things can be determined just from shaking a person’s hand. When you go up to shake someone’s hand, you’ll want to move your hand forward, moving into their hand. It’s kinda like grabbing a tennis racquet. That’s how you’ll want to shake hands. If you don’t go in far enough, you’ll be squeezing their fingers and it’ll be a weak hand shake. If you go in too far you’ll be grabbing their wrists. When shaking their hands, you’ll typically want to give 2 pumps. Not 3, not 1, 2. Any more you’re trying to be overbearing, any less and you’re shying away. Now you may be asking what does a handshake have to do with anything? If you give a person a weak handshake, they’ll think that you won’t know how to handle yourself. If you go and give too strong of a handshake, they’ll think you’re too dominant and overbearing. A good handshake can only help you out when trying to make that good first impression. Oh yea, make sure that your hands aren’t sweaty, cause that’s just gross.
5) E-nun-ci-ate! – Now that you’re looking good, smiling, and are showing good confidence, you’ll need to begin talking. While you may be doing well so far in making a good first impression, you can’t slow down here. You’ll need to also make a good impression with your words. Speak clearly, and speak in an appropriate voice level. If you’re going in for an interview, you don’t want to be talking to the interviewer the same way you talk to your closest friends. Just like if you’re meeting a new group of people, you don’t want to talk like you’re at an interview. Adjust to the situation you have in front of you and act accordingly. It’s generally not good if the person has to constantly ask you to repeat yourself because they couldn’t understand or hear what you were trying to say.
6) Plan ahead! – This may not always be possible, but in cases where you do have a chance to, make sure you plan ahead. One of the worst things you can possibly do, is to sound stupid or uneducated. If you know you’re going into a situation where you’ll be making a first impression on someone, figure out what you need to do, what you need to talk about. Become knowledgeable and use it to your advantage. Do what you can to be prepared, as you don’t get another chance at making a good first impression. While this may sound like it’s more applicable to job interviews, I say it’s equally as applicable to when you’re just meeting a person for the first time. You can look good, and impress at first, but if you’re no prepared, the moment you talk you’ll just make yourself sound stupid which will more than likely turn off the other person and give them a bad impression of you. So make sure to plan ahead!
7) Just be yourself – In the end though, even if you’re looking good and sounding good, it’s important to still be yourself. This is even more important than any of the other 6 items in my opinion. If you’re able to give that first impression, but you did it being somebody that you’re not, then when you have to meet that person again in the future, they’ll eventually find out what kind of person you really are. If the person you really are is less than that first impression you made, then it’ll be impossible for you to recover. I’d say it’s easier to give a bad impression, but by being yourself, changing their first impression of you later on because they find out who the real you is. By being somebody you’re not, and then letting the person find out later, you cause them to lose all sense of trust in you which you can never get back. Don’t be fake, don’t try to sound interested when you really could care less, and most importantly, don’t lie. Be honest with what you say, and also be honest with who you are. In the end, that is what will mean more.
While these are 7 keys that I think are important to making a good first impression, they are by no means guaranteed. In most cases, they will help, especially when you only have one shot, like at a job interview, but in the end, the first impression is determined by someone not yourself. If that person just doesn’t like you for some reason, then no matter prepared or how good looking you are, it just won’t matter. They were already against you from the beginning, and more than likely, there’s not much that you can do about it. But remember that in the end, as long as you’re honest with yourself, it won’t matter what other people think of you.