First impressions dictate our professional careers. The first impression you make on your interviewer could determine whether or not you get hired for a job. The first impression you make with your coworkers could affect how well you fit into the culture. The first impression you make on a new potential client could make or break your ability to close the sale. Unfortunately, some elements of a first impression come down to luck and are impossible to control, but let's not focus on those.
Instead, let's focus on the elements of a first impression you can control. These seven keys to landing a great first impression will help you in every stage of your career, from job interview to ongoing success in leadership:
1. Nitpick Your Appearance. Appearance shouldn't matter as much as a personality or interaction, but it does. In fact, the way you appear often forms the very first impression in the other person's mind. This should go without saying, but practice good personal hygiene and make sure to dress appropriately for whatever event you're attending--and of course, remember overdressing is better than underdressing. Give yourself a double-check before entering the room, if possible, looking for any stains, stray hairs, or anything that might make you appear disheveled or that you don't pay attention to details. Those details matter, whether you like it or not.
2. Use Confident, Controlled Body Language. Your body language says as much about you as your spoken language does--sometimes more. Keep your posture open and inviting; otherwise you could come off as cold and distant. Use your hands and arms to gesticulate when you speak, especially to punctuate important points in your conversation, but be careful not to exaggerate your movements too much, or you could come across as a raving lunatic. Make eye contact occasionally, with multiple people if you're in a full room, without breaking too quickly or too slowly. Finally, make sure you stand (or sit) tall, with your shoulders back. It's a confident posture that can also help you breathe and speak better.
3. Loosen Up With Natural Conversation. Don't jump right into the super-professional conversation, and don't remain quiet either. When you first meet somebody, talk to them like you'd talk to a friend or a casual acquaintance--in other words, talk to them like a person. Loosen up the meeting with a natural, interpersonal conversation. Some people call this small talk, but it's actually a very socially important element of interaction. Ask how they're doing, talk about the weather, about sports, or about the venue where you're meeting. It makes you seem more personable, and forms a better overall first impression--as long as you don't ramble.
4. Be Mindful of Your Emotions. It's easy for your emotions to take over when you're having a bad day, even when you don't mean for them to. Let's say you're dealing with personal stress, you fought traffic on the way over, and you just got a text that your weekend plans are ruined. Your emotional distress can easily work its way into your voice, your actions, and your body language, even if you don't intend for it to. To avoid this, take a few minutes before any meeting to clear your head with mindfulness meditation or visualization exercises that help you quarantine those bad emotions and focus on the positives in front of you.
5. Smile and Laugh. These could technically be filed under the point on body language, but they're so important that I feel they deserve a separate entry. Smiling and laughing are contagious; the more you smile and laugh, the more likely it is that the person you're meeting will do so too. Then, that person will subconsciously associate meeting you with experiencing positive emotions, and he/she will leave with a much better impression of you. Plus, smiling and laughing shows that you're fun and easy to get along with.
6. Actively Listen. People like to be heard when they speak. Never interrupt a person or give an indication that you aren't paying attention; doing so can ruin their first impression of you. Instead, take careful effort to actively listen to that person. Show signs of listening like nodding your head, making eye contact, and giving verbal recognition between sentences, and summarize what he/she is saying to prove you truly heard what he/she said. Doing so makes you seem like a great listener, and therefore, a great person.
7. Be Yourself. This final, and most important piece of advice, is a bit of a clich, but it's all too often neglected by over-eager young professionals. Practicing good body language, small talk, and personable laughter is all good, but it can also make you seem over-rehearsed or robotic. Don't put on your corporate mask and bury your personal identity; be yourself! Act naturally, and show off the personality traits that make you who you are. People appreciate sincerity and loathe artificiality.
Put these seven keys for making a great first impression to good use, and don't be afraid to practice! Practicing these behaviors and habits in a mirror, or with a friend or family member, can help make them feel more like a natural part of you. In time, they'll become a natural part of your personality, and you'll have an ingrained tendency to make better first impressions no matter where you go.