We want to make a good first impression, yet certain behaviors may keep this from happening. Although psychologists caution we have only seven to fifteen seconds of interaction with strangers before they form an opinion of us, there are definitely certain steps you can take to improve your odds.
Here are five easy ways to not only get noticed in a business setting, but to come across as knowledgeable, confident, and above all, believable.
1. Do Your Homework
Whether you are on a pre-employment interview, meeting your co-workers in Internal Audit, starting a new job with a firm, or visiting a client for the first time, initial impressions are crucial in any professional setting. You can gain early and lasting credibility by learning everything you can about the company’s history, mission, and recent activities.
It’s simple. Company websites typically offer information on corporate leadership, strategic initiatives, financial performance, products, services, and even business culture. You might also try LinkedIn to find out if you are connected to anyone else at the company in order to get inside advice. Upfront research will be time well spent.
2. Mind Your Manners
In any professional setting—and particularly in a first-time meeting—it pays to be polite, courteous, and attentive. Project a positive attitude by being upbeat and interested (see the next tip on “Listening”). Avoid telling questionable jokes or making inappropriate comments. To give a colleague or client your undivided attention, put your mobile phone on “silent” during that important first conversation.
Want to know more? The Leadership Institute at Harvard College created a helpful “Professional Etiquette Guide,” and USA Today offers a fun, interactive “Business Etiquette Quiz.”
Good listening skills are key to making a positive first impression, so in an introductory professional setting, make a conscious effort to listen more than you talk. Good listeners maintain steady eye contact and help keep the conversation moving by providing positive verbal clues, such as: “That’s a good point” or “What did you do next?” By using the first name of your new associate once or twice, you can begin to establish a more personal and positive professional relationship.
Most business organizations seek professionals who are self-starters and take strong initiative. By doing your homework (see above!), you can be proactive and productive from the start. In your first days in a new situation, you are likely to be given smaller, basic assignments. Once you gain familiarity and confidence, don’t wait for another assignment; raise your hand and volunteer for a larger, more responsible workload.
A word of caution about initiative: Try not to come across as a “know it all,” particularly when you are new. Contribute early, but remember to listen and be polite.
5. Looks Matter
Yale University psychology professor Marianne LaFrance says 90% of a first impression is based on appearance, posture, facial expression, and tone of voice.
While proper business attire changes with the environment, we strive to blend in with co-workers and clients. Acceptable attire varies, of course, depending whether you’re visiting a top-drawer law firm or a start-up Internet client. It’s smart to avoid excessive jewelry, inappropriate ties, or sloppy clothing—even on popular “casual days.”
Good grooming, neatness, and personal hygiene are business basics. Positive body language projects self-assurance, so stand tall, make eye contact, and greet people with a firm handshake. In business and in life, a warm smile helps cement a positive lasting impression.
Bonus Tip: Be Yourself
While it helps to “fit in,” don’t sacrifice your individuality. You don’t want to come across as fake or patronizing. Instead, be true to yourself and who you are.
By considering these five tips, you will find more confidence to be yourself and make a long-lasting impression. A number of books offer advice on how to make a strong first impression in business and in life. Here’s a link to the Amazon.com search on the topic.
Remember: You only get one chance to make a first impression. Here’s hoping it’s a good one.