by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Life is all about making good first impressions with the people we meet. This article provides tips for making good first impressions in business and networking situations; with business cards, cover letters, and resumes; in job interviews; and when you are starting a new job.
Making Good First Impressions in Business and Networking Situations
When meeting people for the first time, whether for career networking or client meetings, it’s essential that you look the part. In other words, you must dress for the specific occasion. Conduct a little research or contact the organization responsible for the event to uncover the proper attire. In a pinch, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed. And it’s not just what you are wearing — but how you’re wearing it, so make sure your clothing is clean and well-pressed.
Grooming is also an important part of first impressions. Hair should be neat — and certainly not the wind-tunnel look. For men, facial hair should be either non-existent or well-maintained. For women, less make-up is always better than too much. A light perfume or cologne is acceptable, but be careful of overwhelming the people in the room. Finally, a minimal amount of tasteful jewelry is best.
A small, but relatively unknown fact about name tags — they should be worn on the person’s right shoulder area so that when someone approaches to greet and shake his/her hand, the person’s eyes follow the arm right up to the name tag, making it much easier to greet the person — rather than looking all the way over to the other side of the person — or worse, toward a woman’s cleavage.
Next up for first impressions are the handshake and greeting. Handshakes should be simple — extend right hand and grasp gently but firmly. No bone-crushers and no four-handed, one-hand over the other shakes. And no sweaty, clammy, or wimpy handshakes. If your nerves cause you to get wet palms, carry a handkerchief in your pocket and wipe your hand before you do the meet and greet.
The greeting should be short and simple, making certain you listen for the other person’s name. For example, I might greet someone in a business setting as, “Hi. I’m Dr. Randall Hansen, founder of Quintessential Careers.” Be certain to speak clearly and enunciate.
To nail the good impression you’re trying to make, the last tip when you’re in this setting is not to make the conversation all about you. You want to engage the other person in conversation, making certain to use his/her name for emphasis. You can, of course, talk about yourself, but don’t make the whole conversation about you — and keep anecdotes short. Look for common ground with the person you’re talking to, and share stories about that common interest. And, of course, avoid talking about controversial subjects, such as religion, politics, and sex. If you’re naturally funny, use humor, but nothing off-color, and show your serious side also.
Learn more about the power of networking, how to develop and grow your network, and much more in the Art of Career and Job-Search Networking section of Quintessential Careers.
Making Good First Impressions With Business Cards, Cover Letters, and Resumes
For first impressions, the most important element of printed communications is the design and format. Except in very creative professions, colors — of the paper and the text — should be conservative. The same holds true with the typeface — use normal, readable fonts.
Business or networking cards should be simple and tastefully designed, and include key contact information. For some professions, such as sales, you can use a picture, but make certain it is a good photo.
Most resumes these days are submitted to employers electronically. A print resume, however, is still used at job interviews and in networking. Your print-resume format should be original and inviting to the reader. Don’t cram every single detail into a resume with no margins and tiny type. Use white space and go to additional pages — or cut material. I have a true “rule of thumb.” If my thumbs cover parts of your resume when I am holding it, then the margins are too narrow and I immediately have a negative impression of the resume. You should also know what is trendy in resumes and include those things in yours.
Keep cover letters (also usually submitted electronically) to no more than five short paragraphs, though four is better. The letterhead should match your resume, as should the paper and font(s). The way to make the strongest first impression is to address the letter to the recipient by name. The worst thing you can do is misspell the person’s name. The second best way to make a good impression is to begin with a dynamic and powerful first paragraph that explains why you are writing. (Many job-seekers waste the first paragraph by writing a dull first paragraph.)
Gain more insights into cover letters and resumes in these sections of Quintessential Careers:
Making Good First Impressions in Job Interviews
Because the job interview is usually your first face-to-face with the employers, first impressions are especially crucial. Arrive about 15 minutes early so you have time to find the exact office, perhaps with a stop at a restroom to conduct a final grooming check — as well as possibly complete some paperwork before the interview starts. Always be polite to the support staff, as the impression you make with them will often be factored into the hiring decision. Of course, dressing for success and proper grooming are essential. Never arrive with any kind of food in your mouth or on your teeth, and try not to smoke right before the interview. Turn off your cell phone on the way to the interview. In the interview, smiling and making strong eye contact are important elements to establishing a good impression. Answering interview questions with ease (showcasing your interview preparation) and asking questions of the interviewer are vital to making a good impression. A great way to cement a strong first impression is writing a thank-you note after the interview.
Find vast amounts of information, tools, and resources on all aspects of interviewing by going to this section of Quintessential Careers: Guide to Interviewing Resources.
Making Good First Impressions When Starting a New Job
The first impressions you make with your co-workers and supervisor will go a long way to building a solid reputation for yourself. In those first days and weeks, you’ll want to arrive a bit early, take no more than your allotted breaks during the day, leave no earlier than when the majority of the others in your area leave, and avoid calling in sick or taking personal days. In terms of actual work, you’ll want to show your team spirit by supporting team members, perhaps even offering to take on a bit more than usual. Listen more than talk in those early days, and certainly do not showboat before you have firmly established your reputation as a solid worker and team player. And it should go without saying, but stay clear of all office politics and gossip. Finally, remember to keep your personal communications — email, texting, and phone — to a minimum while at work.
Final Thoughts on Job-Seeker First Impressions
You might think that making a good first impression is really about using common sense — and you would be correct. At the same time, we constantly hear horror stories from recruiters and employers about the unfortunate things job-seekers do — resulting in extremely poor first (and often last) impressions. Use your common sense — and follow the tips in this article — and you will go far in making a good first impression.
And if you have not done so already, consider taking the Quintessential Careers First Impressions Quiz.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
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