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7 Ways to Improve Your First Impression

Many forget the importance of a first impression. Here are 7 tips to help you get off on the right foot.
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I am amazed how little most people care about the initial impression they make. Are they unaware or just simply uninterested? Recently, I have been helping a few clients with business development and hiring. In that process, I have interviewed potential partners, vendors, management candidates and entry-level applicants. Across the board, I am astounded at how poorly people present themselves in person, online and by phone.

So many express dissatisfaction with their ability to close deals, make the right contacts or attract powerful opportunities. But for many, it's not the economy, their financial status or even Congress getting in their way. It's their inability to leave the kind of first impression that would make other people want to come back and spend more time, money or effort.

A little thought and intent goes a long way toward improving how people see you. Here are seven tips to help you wow them from the start.

1. Dress Well

Your outer appearance is your packaging. If you look cheap and unappealing, people will have a negative reaction. You don't have to spend a lot of money to look groomed and well-dressed. Every city, including New York, has places where you can get a decent haircut for less than $30, and there's an abundance of affordable, stylish clothes in stores and online. But grooming takes time and attention. You have to care about details like hair and nails. Being appropriately stylish doesn't mean you have to spend a fortune on Armani, but you need to understand color, material and effect. Every industry has minimal appearance standards, and you owe it to yourself to meet or exceed those--down to your shoes--regardless of your position. If you put in the care and effort, others will notice and respect you for it.

2. Get Current

It's easier than ever to stay in tune with what happens in the world. People who don't know what's going on appear ignorant and unaware. Of course everyone is busy, but those who can't make a little time to check out the news come off as unorganized and uncaring. This is a very simple fix. Just set your computer or mobile browser homepage to Yahoo.com. That way, every time you go to the Internet, you can see what's happening in the feed. Spend 10 minutes a day looking at something other than sports scores and the latest on the Kardashians. Knowing what's going on will help you be a better conversationalist and find common ground with whomever you are trying to impress.

3. Learn Etiquette

My sister-in-law recently came here from Vietnam to start boarding school in the Northeast. Her new school offered an etiquette course for all the international students. I am sure the kids who took the class ended up knowing more about proper manners than their American peers. Appropriate behavior is constantly changing, so not every man needs to throw his coat over a puddle. But consistent acts of respect, chivalry and decorum elevate your impression on others from the start. Think about simple details like having a firm handshake, removing a hat indoors, using "please" and "thank you," and excusing yourself when ready to leave--all of these will show new acquaintances that you are thoughtful and considerate of others.

4. Master the Language

Thanks to social media and email, first impressions are being made through writing more and more frequently. For a few, this creates advantage, but for many it simply demonstrates their ignorance. I have been shocked at the poor grammar and coarse language I've experienced both verbally and in writing from others' first contact with me. I am as comfortable with expletives and slang as anyone, but I want to see the best of people at the beginning of a relationship. Brush up on your vocabulary and grammar. Practice your writing and make an effort to think before you speak.

5. Read More

Nothing impresses people more than someone who loves to learn. Smart people want to be involved with those who are even smarter. Books and articles are still the greatest way to learn and there is more access than ever before. Sharing an exciting new concept with someone is like giving a gift. Commit to reading a new book every month and a few articles every week. Fiction or nonfiction, it doesn't matter. Just be ready and willing to discuss the contents and value with those interested. You'll better yourself and impress others.

6. Take a Genuine Interest in Others

I was recently on a call with my client, interviewing a recruiter. A week prior, my client had made the appointment. The recruiter started his pitch and asked questions to assess the deal. It was immediately clear he wasn't a serious option. To start, his responses weren't directly relevant to the answers we gave him. Worse, many of the answers were already on my client's website. It was obvious from the call that the recruiter was interested in the deal, but not interested enough to listen or even do some research. Needless to say, my client also was not interested.

7. Make Your Online Presence Respectable

Unless you meet a person while networking, odds are your first impression will be made online. Nearly everyone will look at your website, LinkedIn profile or Facebook profile before they engage by phone or in person. If they are treated to errors, inaccurate or outdated information, embarrassing photos or inappropriate humor, their impression of you will be doomed from the start. Live in the 21st century. Dedicate time and effort to keep everything accurate, appropriate and up-to-date.

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IMAGE: Shutterstock
Last updated: Oct 21, 2013

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York. Sign up here and never miss out on Kevin's thoughts and humor.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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