Have you ever felt that people are too quick to pass judgment on you? That’s because people are... and in a matter of seconds! Even television commercials are limited to less than 30 seconds to persuade the audience. When we meet someone for the first time, we make an immediate inventory of characteristics and specifics about that person. Psychologists call this “thin-slicing” which refers to the ability of our unconscious mind to find patterns in situations and behavior based on limited information. One of my favorite authors is Malcolm Gladwell and in his book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” he describes thin-slicing:
“Thin-slicing is not an exotic gift. It is a central part of what it means to be human. We thin-slice whenever we meet a new person or have to make sense of something quickly or encounter a novel situation. We thin-slice because we have to, and we come to rely on that ability because there are lots of hidden fists out there, lots of situations where careful attention to the details of a very thin slice, even for no more than a second or two, can tell us an awful lot.”
In other words, impressions are made when we meet a new person in a matter of seconds. The good news is that we can learn techniques to help us make a great first impression.
1. Be on Time.
No matter how many times you’ve heard this before, it’s worth mentioning again: If you are meeting with someone, whether for an interview or a meeting, show up on time. Approximately fifteen minutes is the right amount of time to arrive before a scheduled appointment. This allows you time to refresh in the bathroom and collect your thoughts. The person you are meeting for the first time is not interested in your excuse for running late. Always allow flexibility for possible delays in traffic, bad weather, or even finding a parking spot. When you arrive on time you send the message that you are responsible and respectful of others’ time.
2. Dress to Impress.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Whether you like it or not we are judged by our appearance. Make sure you are portraying the image that highlights your best attributes to help create the right first impression. Your clothes should be clean, fit properly, and conservative. Also, remember that proper hygiene is essential. Finally, be sure you are comfortable with what you are wearing sitting or standing – it’s a terrible feeling when your shirt is itchy or your skirt rides up when you sit. Your credentials are important, but when you look the part, you are more likely to get the part. Always look your best as you never know when an opportunity may present itself.
3. Pay Attention to Your Body Language.
Research shows that most communication with others is nonverbal, so when meeting someone for the first time it is essential to pay attention to your body language. Your posture, a firm handshake, eye contact, and facial expressions are all parts of how you carry yourself. Your body language should be secure and comfortable. I recommend that everyone videotape themselves to watch how they walk around a room and how others might view you. You should also consider videotaping a mock interview with someone you trust. Observing yourself in this way will help you identify how you can improve your body language. Looking people in the eye conveys that you are confident and interested in what they have to say, while a warm and positive smile will probably be reciprocated.
4. Do Your Homework.
It goes without saying that you should research any potential employer. This allows you to learn more about the company, its employees, any recent news releases, and commonalities with anyone you are interviewing with. But even if you are not interviewing, you should always be focused on self-improvement. Brush up on current affairs and attend training sessions to increase your knowledge in order to improve your chance of success. Even if you are bumping into someone for the first time, you should always be ready to give your “elevator pitch.” An elevator pitch is a commercial about you. It communicates who you are, what you do and what you want to do. It’s typically less than 30 seconds -- the time it takes people to ride in an elevator. It is important to have your elevator pitch rehearsed and practiced. Get comfortable with what you have to say so you can deliver it when the time comes. With practice, you will convey your elevator pitch with confidence.
5. Remember Your Manners.
Any time I observe good manners such as saying “please”, “excuse me” or opening doors for strangers, I immediately take this as a sign of a good person who will work well with others. Good manners always leave a great first impression and this will not go unnoticed. Remember to mind your manners with everyone from the CEO to the custodian. In fact, some companies specifically ask support staff to report back on their perception of interviewees who come through the door. Therefore it’s important to treat everyone you meet the way you would treat a potential employer.
The saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” so with a little preparation, your first 30 seconds can make that first impression a great one!