5 Secrets to Making a Positive First Impression

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You may have heard that you only get one chance to make a positive first impression and that first impressions are lasting. Research has shown that people form mental conclusions—which rarely change—the moment they see or hear another person for the first time. A study conducted in 2006 by a Princeton psychology professor found that it takes as little as one-tenth of a second for a person to determine whether someone is competent, trustworthy, likeable, or possesses other defining attributes.

The workforce is full of opportunities to make first impressions, and these crucial interactions can either make or break your ability to get hired and succeed. In addition to job interviews, consider the impression you make when meeting new clients, interacting with customers, introducing yourself to a new team member, leading a meeting, or speaking to a manager for the first time. However, not all first impressions take place face-to-face: emails, phone or video interviews, and your social media presence are also sources of first-time contacts. To present yourself positively and professionally, carefully consider the tips below.  

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1. Have a Positive Outlook

Your outlook reflects your emotions, desires, opinion of yourself, and personality. It is something that others will easily pick up on, and it can greatly affect the way they perceive you. You are who you think you are, and if you think of yourself as inadequate, underqualified, too old, or inexperienced, then that’s the type of person you will appear to be. But if you have the mindset that you are capable, hardworking, confident, and dependable, then others will tend to perceive you in this way.

A negative mindset can cause a negative first impression, no matter how well dressed or talented you actually are. If necessary, work on improving your outlook so that it is congruent with your actions and what you hope to accomplish. Think positive affirmations about yourself: I have great skills to give; I am dependable and reliable to all those I work for; I am a valuable asset because of my experience. Be consistent and maintain a positive outlook that reflects who you are, what you’re seeking, and what you can contribute.

2. Maintain Your Appearance   

“One cannot not communicate,” according to communication theorist Paul Watzlawick in his book Pragmatics of Human Communication ([1967], 30). Everything about you sends some kind of message, and your appearance is often one of the first things others will notice. Always dress the part, especially at job interviews and networking events. Research the dress code beforehand and match your appearance to the company or industry culture. For example, if you are interviewing for a position in with outdoor recreation management, then a suit and tie might not be the best choice for your interview. If you are unsure about what to wear, a general guideline is to dress a step above the dress code of the company.

Remember that appearance is much more than what you wear; it also includes your posture, personal hygiene, use of jewelry and makeup, environment, and behavior. Make sure these things aren’t a distraction and that they add to your overall appearance. Think about it this way: if someone asked you to describe yourself, what would you say? Every aspect of your appearance should communicate those same characteristics. 

In video interviews, be attentive to your surroundings. Consider the environment of the area within sight and sound of the web camera, such as what is hanging on the walls, exterior noises, and the cleanliness of the room.  

3. Control Your Voice and Listen

The tone and volume of your voice can often say much more about you than the actual words you speak. Be confident in your tone, and maintain a volume appropriate to your environment. Speak up if you know your voice doesn’t carry, and practice saying your “Me in 30 Seconds” and power statements so that you can clearly communicate when meeting someone new. Avoid using filler words such as um and like, and remember to speak calmly and at a speed that others can understand, especially during phone interviews and conference calls. This helps those who are listening since they don’t have the context of your presence to help with visual communication cues.

Be comfortable with silence and find an appropriate balance between listening and speaking. Practice reflective listening techniques in which you first seek to understand a speaker’s idea, and then relay the idea back to the speaker in order to confirm that you correctly understood him or her.  

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4. Smile and Make Proper Eye Contact

Facial expressions are a key element to making a first impression in person. Smiling, for example, is a friendly way to connect with others, break the ice, and influence how others perceive you and remember your attitude. Employers hire people they like and can easily get along with.

Eye contact is another cue that others will instantly notice. In many cultures, good eye contact expresses trust, confidence, interest, understanding, and a mutual connection between two individuals. However, the respectful amount of eye contact varies among different cultures. Be sensitive to these differences in all forms of your communication.

5. Observe and Adapt to Others

Observing and adapting to the way others communicate can increase your success in making a positive first impression. By tactfully reflecting the other person’s eye contact, body language, and tone of voice, you become more relatable and help the other person feel more relaxed. This technique is often referred to as “mirroring” or “mimicking” and is something people often do subconsciously. For example, if you are being interviewed by someone who is speaking in a softer tone, avoid overpowering or drowning out the other person by speaking too loudly. You will appear more approachable by being aware of others and adapting your style of communication to theirs.

As you follow these tips, you will be able to present yourself in a positive and professional manner. Remember, it only takes a fraction of a second for others to make up their mind about you, so make it count.


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