While the job world is rapidly changing and shifting, I think there are some things that still hold true and probably always will. What things? Making good first impressions, acting professionally, working with integrity, having a good work ethic, etc. Much of what I’m talking about are abstract concepts that can vary from industry to industry, but the underlying theme is the same: you have to present yourself in a certain way.
I don’t mean to say that you have to change yourself or tolerate bad behavior. I mean that acting as a professional and doing your job honestly and as best as you can are universally accepted and, I would say, expected behaviors.
I think a big part of how well you do is the first impressions you make…which brings me to this post.
A Story On First Impressions
I’d first like to tell a story. I have an acquaintance who reached out to me one day asking for job advice and had some questions about where I work and how the setup is here. At the end of our conversation, I agreed to pass on the phone number of someone I work with who could better answer the questions they had and told my acquaintance to give the contact a call.
One Week Later
I got a text message from this acquaintance telling me that they texted the phone number I gave them and haven’t heard back. I specifically told them to pick up the phone and call. The acquaintance said they would try again in a few days.
I haven’t heard about it since.
I was super embarrassed that this exchange had even happened.
Two Months Later
I ran into my contact one day and asked them if they’d ever received a text from my acquaintance. They hadn’t.
I ended up apologizing on behalf of my acquaintance and the fact that a text was sent. I told my contact not to worry about this person anymore.
An Explanation of My Reaction
I was horrified that this acquaintance had texted a potential employer that they’d never met. I found it super embarrassing, and I couldn’t understand why they would take that unprofessional step.
When you are networking, there is a certain business etiquette, I believe, involved. You must put your best professional foot forward. This is not your bestie from college that you haven’t spoken to in years; this isn’t your boss that’s super busy and so you’re afraid to call and interrupt their day.
This is a potential new employer, new contact, and someone who could hire you or make further introductions for you professionally. This may be someone you’ve never met before.
Texting a new contact, without ever having met, is not only rude, but it also makes the worst first impression you can imagine. Think about it, the first time you meet someone, there’s an introduction, there’s maybe a little something you say about yourself to give your new contact some context, and then there are all the questions you may or may not have for them. Exactly what, or how much, of that will you put into a text?
Imagine getting that kind of text from someone you’ve never met.
If the contact, or potential employer, texts you first, then you can respond.
Making The Best First Impressions
Because of that story, I wanted to jot down some things that I think can help with making good first impressions, especially when you’re looking for jobs, or even just meeting people at random through work or friends. The first impressions you make can make a huge difference in whether or not someone considers you for a job, whether or not someone thinks about you when they hear of opportunities, and how willing people are to introduce you to others.
To give a little context, I’m not an interview or impression-making expert. However, I’ve been on countless interviews throughout my career. In medical school, I interviewed at 17 anesthesia programs (most people do around 10) and 6 medicine programs (for internship). In residency, I did 2 phone interviews and one in-person interview for fellowship. I got my current job because I made a good first impression at a conference just randomly chatting at breakfast.
During business school, I participated in speed interview events where you had 5 minutes to make an impression and sell yourself.
On the other side, I run a fellowship and have interviewed applicants. I work with residents and medical students, and often my first impression of them is the most accurate.
So what are some ways to make a great first impression?
1 – Never Initiate Contact Through Text
Given the inspiration for this post, this is my first recommendation. Why am I against this?
Texting is a very casual form of reaching out to someone. Often when we text, we include textually accepted acronyms without thinking about it. Can you imagine if you accidentally said LOL to a potential employer?
As I mentioned before, the job world is changing. A lot of hierarchy is being dissolved and there is a much more casual approach to communication. HOWEVER, I don’t think that applies to first impressions.
I do think you still need to put your best foot forward and establish yourself as a serious candidate. Once you are employed, or get to know someone, then by all means, text away. Just don’t do this when you are introducing yourself.
What You Can Do Instead
If talking on the phone makes you nervous or you hate cold calling, get an email address. Make a professional signature for yourself to add to the end. Don’t write a novel. Just write a few sentences about who you are, how you found the person you’re contacting, and what you’re hoping to gain. Ask for a phone call appointment to discuss things in more detail. Then wait and see.
2 – Dress Appropriately
Yes, this is a thing. Again, no matter how casual the workplace may be, you should dress to impress and look the part you want. Even if they tell you to show up to an interview in flip flops, make sure your flip flops are clean. Make sure your clothes aren’t wrinkled. Please take a shower that day.
No, none of these things speak to your talents, your intelligence or have any bearing on how good of a worker you are. But again, people will make snap judgments about you when they see you. Someone who looks disheveled will not be taken seriously.
I’ll extend this to say, even for your Zoom meetings and interviews, the part of you that shows up on screen should look put together – whatever that may look like or mean for that job.
3 – Come Prepared
As a professional, you should always have a little blurb or elevator pitch as it’s called, about yourself ready in your head. Someone inevitably will ask you “tell me about yourself”. BAM, you’ll be ready with your blurb and you’ll be on the excellent first impression train.
In addition, you should be prepared to ask questions. Do your research and figure out what you want to know. The more prepared you are, the better impression you’ll make.
4 – Don’t Be Fake
This might sound like an oxymoron because I’m telling you to be a certain way to make a good first impression. But, I’m not telling you to change who you are. Your personality should not be suppressed. Tell jokes, just tailor them to your audience. Wear what you want, just make sure you’re clean and put together.
Speak your mind, but don’t give opinions that aren’t yours, and definitely don’t lie about your experience or abilities. If they say a joke you don’t find funny, it’s okay not to laugh. The thing with first impressions: you’re getting an impression of them too. So, don’t let yourself be intimidated; you’re allowed to be you.
5 – Consider Body Language
Nonverbal cues can have an impact on the impression you make of yourself as well.
Make eye contact. It is one of those things that show you’re listening, and it shows you’re confident and not afraid. Of course, you don’t want to stare someone down – this isn’t a staring contest.
If you’re trying to figure out how much eye contact to make, then try following the 50/70 rule. Per the rule, you should make eye contact 50% of the time while talking and 70% of the time while listening.
Use firm handshakes. A firm handshake also shows confidence and trustworthiness.
Determine your nervous habits, and try to reduce their presence. For me, if I’m super nervous, I may do the nervous laughter thing. I try my best not to let that enter the picture when I’m meeting someone new and trying to make a good impression.
Smile. Smiling is a positive sign and helps you give off positive vibes. You don’t need to have a permanent grin plastered on your face, but you should find some happy thoughts and channel that into your facial expressions.
Again, you don’t need to be fake or fake being super happy, but the idea here is to make yourself open and approachable. What you want to avoid is looking angry or unapproachable. A smile can go a long way towards helping the first impression you make.
6 – Follow Up After The Meeting
Hopefully, your meeting with someone will end well and you’ll get an email, or phone number (if you don’t already have it). I highly suggest you follow up after the meeting. Following up shows you’re serious and you can reiterate some of the things you talked about. It makes it much more likely that you will be able to maintain contact with the person, and accomplish anything you may have talked about.
Final Thoughts About First Impressions
People form first impressions within seven seconds of meeting you. These things I’ve mentioned are just the basics you should have covered. Each industry or employer will have additional characteristics that they look for. Along with those first impressions are subconscious judgments regarding how trustworthy you are, how much of a team player, and how much of a good fit you would be in the company. While first impressions can change, they can also carry on for a long time.
You don’t have to be perfect, but you should try to put your best professional foot forward. Take yourself seriously so that others do too. You never know who you will meet or where it can take you.
Images courtesy of unsplash.