Although first impressions may not be reliable, you probably know that you only get one chance to make that initial impression. This applies to social situations and to your career and/or entrepreneurial endeavors.
When I was in corporate America, I was not very conservative when it came to my attire in the workplace once I was established in my role. However, when you are making a first impression – especially in a job interview – you will likely want to err on the side of conformity if you want to improve your chances for success. This starts but does not end with professional attire.
Typically, people are judgmental. People make decisions without having all the information. They make these judgments from their “gut” based on “programs” running in their subconscious mind.
What are these automatic programs? Let us look at a few examples. When I say “Democrats,” you have a certain way that you feel before hearing any other details. The same would be true when I say, “Republicans.” What if I bring up New Yorkers, Texans, or people from Southern California? Or England or France or Russia or China? The mere mention of certain sports teams and rivalries – Steelers vs. Cowboys, Bears vs. Packers, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Tar Heels vs. Blue Devils, Penguins vs. Capitals – can generate a strong reaction based on the automatic programs for how you feel about each team.
There are social norms in the business world. And these social norms provide – fairly or unfairly – the automatic programs that will be used to judge you. People will take less than 15 seconds to form their first impression of you based on your attire, hairstyle, posture, handshake, and smile.
Now, some will say, “I should be able to dress or wear my hair any way I want to. That has nothing to do with my performance on the job.” That may be true, but you probably want to maximize your chances of getting the job or winning the client if you are an entrepreneur. Know that you will get more latitude from bosses, colleagues, and customers after you are in the job or role and firmly established as a high performer.
You get just one opportunity to make a first impression, and a good reputation built over time can be ruined with one incident. Demonstrate appropriate speech, attire, and behavior in each situation. This applies both inside and outside of the workplace. And be on time when making that first impression.
Be aware that your interview (or sales call, if you are an entrepreneur) begins from the moment you arrive. You are being evaluated based on how you walk, how you look, and how you speak. This includes receptionist and administrative assistants – they are evaluating you, too.
The 12x12x12 rule from Dr. Ivan Misner, founder of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization, makes your networking or interviewing interactions more effective. For example, from 12 feet away, someone can observe your posture and attire. From 12 inches, grooming habits are noticeable, including bad breath, as well as eye contact. And the first 12 words you speak say a lot about you. Therefore, you want to have an introduction ready on the tip of your tongue. All these factors have an impact on your first impression.
What about the freedom to do what you want? Yes, freedom is a benefit of living in many western democracies, such as the United States. However, freedom and freedom from consequences are two vastly different things altogether.
Perception is often reality, rightly or wrongly.
The good news is that you can influence a person’s perception of you. While you cannot please every boss, customer, and colleague, you can choose specific attributes of your personality that you like and make sure you put an emphasis on those attributes, especially when you meet new people. Be yourself, specifically your best self.
When it comes to business, I try to highlight a set of qualities that I call “F-5”: Focused, fast, flexible, flawless, and fun. Being focused lets people know that I am serious. Being fast is important because success loves speed. I am flexible because you never know what humans will do, and the perceived needs of customers often change. While I am clearly not even close to flawless, I do project an air that is all about attention to detail. And finally, I am fun. What is more attractive – in business or in life – than someone who is earning money and having fun?
I am intentional when making a first impression to come across as genuinely focused, fast, flexible, flawless, and fun. It does not matter if I am in an interview, a client meeting, or just at a networking event. However, I am not suggesting that you use my “F-5”. Find the positive attributes of your own personality that you want to highlight and then exude those qualities with enthusiasm and authenticity.
And make sure you smile!
I am elated to be a Servant Leader who knows, goes, and shows the way, and because of this I am very wealthy for life.