People form impressions of your personality in a matter of seconds.
It's not necessarily fair, but it's reality.
Especially in a professional setting, one thing you'll want to immediately appear is competent: knowledgeable, skilled, and capable.
Fortunately, there are ways to make yourself seem competent as soon as you meet an interviewer, coworker, client, or boss (and sometimes even as soon as they see your photograph).
Here are seven easy, sneaky strategies for appearing as competent as possible:
1. Speak quickly
If you've got something to say, say it fast.
In one study, Brigham Young University researchers had 28 university students listen to recordings of six people whose voices had been manipulated to sound slower or faster than normal.
The student volunteers rated the speakers most competent when their voices had been sped up and least competent when their voices had been slowed down.
2. If you’re a woman, consider wearing makeup
Research suggests that wearing makeup can make women seem more competent.
In 2011, Nancy Etcoff at Harvard University led a study in which more than 250 adults looked at photographs of 25 women with different types of makeup. One-quarter of them wore no makeup; one quarter were made to look "natural" (some makeup); one quarter were made to look "professional" (a bit more makeup than the "natural" group); and one quarter were made look "glamorous" (the most makeup).
As it turns out, judges rated the "glamorous" women the most competent and the barefaced women the least competent.
3. Ask for advice
You might fear that asking for help will make you look stupid.
In one experiment, 170 university students worked on a series of computer tasks and were told they'd be matched with a partner who would complete the same tasks. (The partner was really a computer simulation.) When they'd finished the tasks, the "partner" either said, "I hope it went well" or "I hope it went well. Do you have any advice?"
As it turns out, students who'd been asked for advice rated their "partner" more competent than those who hadn't been asked for advice.
The researchers explain that when you ask for advice, you're validating the person's intelligence and experience, so they feel good about you in turn.
4. Unless you're man in a leadership position
While soliciting advice can generally help you look more competent, a 2015 study found that asking for help might make male leaders in particular seem less competent.
Researchers recruited 65 business students to answer questions about their experiences in "leadership ventures," in which they participated in challenges like mountaineering in Antarctica and climbing a volcano in Ecuador. Students took turns acting as the "leader of the day."
The researchers asked students to reflect on the behavior of the leader of the day: Some students answered questions about how often the leader sought help, while others answered questions about how competent that same leader seemed.
As it turns out, male leaders who reportedly asked for help a lot were rated less competent than male leaders who asked less often.
5. Act a little cold
We tend to judge people on two main traits when we first meet them: warmth and competence. But is it possible to be rated highly on both?
A 2009 study led by Belgian and American psychologists suggests that groups of people who are warmer are also judged as less competent.
About 80 undergrads at an American university read descriptions of two different groups. Each group fell into one of four categories: high on competence and high on warmth; high on competence and low on warmth; low on competence and high on warmth; or low on competence and low on warmth.
The participants weren't told that the groups were competent or warm--instead they received descriptions of each group that implied these traits.
Participants were then asked to rate each group on a number of traits. Results showed that high-competence groups were seen as more competent if they were also low on warmth.
6. Post a profile photo taken from a distance
If you're choosing a Facebook or LinkedIn pic, consider selecting one where you're standing a few feet from the camera.
In multiple experiments with hundreds of participants, conducted in 2012, researchers found that 18 white men were considered more competent, trustworthy, and attractive when they were photographed from about 4.5 feet away, as opposed to about 1.5 feet away.
7. Make your face look slightly wider
That's because perceptions of competence--at least when it comes to physical ability--depend largely on your facial structure.
In the study, participants looked at male faces whose proportions had been digitally altered, so that some looked wider than others. They were asked to choose which man they thought would win a weightlifting competition. (Presumably, they were choosing based on physical ability, or competence.)
Sure enough, men with wider faces were considered more likely to win the weightlifting competition.
While you can't physically alter your facial structure (without getting cosmetic surgery), you can probably work a little Photoshop magic to make your face look slightly wider than it really is.