Your First Impression Matters


“You never get a second chance at a first impression,” sounds like a tired cliche  your mother used to get you to comb your hair as a teenager. But I must say that, too often, professionals lose big when they discount the value of a strong first impression.

First Impression matters

We all have heard someone say: “he was not what I expected,” or “I imagined her being different.” Often these comments translate into “he did not look like he had his act together,” or “I expected her to be more professional.” Before you call me shallow and too focused on the veneer of human existence, hear me on this one. I agree we are so much more than the sum total of how we look and dress like. I get that. But no matter how hard we try to get people we meet to see the real us, we will be categorized by our first impression–at least for a while anyway. During those crucial first seconds people will place you somewhere in their minds.  We can make a positive impression or a negative one. Most of the time, we hold the power on how that impression is made.

Regardless of our physical attributes, there are several things we can do about creating a first impression that will help us in life. Here are some thoughts:

1. Dress appropriately to your role. Be yourself, but understand that you’re representing your personal brand as well as your professional role. No matter your style, wearing clothing that fits goes a long ways. Ok, this is a pet peeve of mine: coat sleeves that are too long, specially on men, make you look like a child wearing an older sibling hand-me-downs. Scuffed and dull shoes tell people you don’t care about details or finishing a job. You don’t need new shoes to impress someone, just make sure the ones you have are shined.

2. Engage people with your eyes. Nothing says more about you than your eyes. They are true windows to your soul. If you fail to look people in the eye they might think you either have something to hide or you’re uncomfortable with them.

3. Smile. That seems so obvious, but I can’t tell how many people I meet whom will extend a hand but their faces tell a different story. A smile is always appropriate.

4. Get the other person talking about himself. Except for your mother,  no one wants to hear how wonderful you are.  You can never go wrong with focusing the conversation on your new friend.

5. Assume the person you just met could become a close friend and treat her accordingly. What type of first impression would we make if we approached new people not as strangers but as a new friends we might have for life?

6. Don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s nothing that endears someone to you more than some self-deprecating humor. My friend Wayne Elsey has a famous line. Every time someone compliments him on something he’s wearing, he often answers: Lane Bryant Catalog.

What am I forgetting? Do you have any other points?

  • Sally Epps

    I cringe when I see women wearing clothing that's too small for them. People think that might make them look thinner, but the opposite is true.

  • Sally, you said it, but I agree 100% .

  • Again, great thoughts, Maurilio. I would add – Dress for the environment you are going into. Yes, you may be the cool hipster in your office, but when you wear your ragged jeans and wrinkled, untucked shirt to a place that has a business dress code, you come off as uncaring.Lest you think I am dogging on the cool hipster, the exact opposite is true. If you wear a tie and coat into the cool hipster's office, then you are labeled as stuffy.Simply put – be aware of what the dress code is, and adjust your style accordingly.

  • BarbaraShantz

    Yes – great comments, as usual, Maurilio; some new for me to think about.I'd add: Dress is even more important for those who never talk to you and never hear you talk. Trade show buzz says that you have a split second to interest someone in your booth at a trade show and then three seconds to talk and engage them.So, not only is dress important, the words you use or don't use will announce your quality to others. And then there's the matter of having white towels available for overnight guests…..

  • Barbara, you nailed it. Specially on the white towels, it says so much. 🙂

  • I'm digging the Office photos!Merry Christmas!

  • Steven Shantz

    I think point #4 is very important and it’s one I need to work on. All too often I find myself talking about myself and forgetting that I need to be showing interest and learning about my new acquaintance. I remember meeting someone on a professional level who in a friendly way asked me if I had children.  I went on talking about my kids and where they live and what they do.  When I finally stopped, his comment was “I have 3 children”.  Ouch! I realized I had failed to reciprocate and  just sent the message that I was not that interested in him. 

    • Glad you recognized it. Sometimes it’s hard not to boast about your children though. 🙂

  • My life has changed drastically since I started following the items on this list. I never made eye contact because I was too full of shame. I kept putting weight on so people wouldn’t look at me. I certainly didn’t dress like I wanted people to talk to me. And you were lucky to get a smile. 

    So blessed that God has done a mighty work in me. Not only has it helped me as a person, but being active in this list has opened so many doors for me, both personally and professionaly. 

  • These were “concepts” that were taught to me by an assembly program company I worked for almost 30 years ago.  They put together young rock musicians and sent them on the road for 9 months each year.  It was always amazing to see how easy it was to win over a “stuffy” HS principal by dressing appropriately and looking them in the eye.  I’ve been trying my best to pass these traits along to my own kids.

  • I would add being genuinely humble. When people “bend the truth” a little to make themselves seem more important, or smarter, or more successful than they really are, it really damages your reputation in the long run. Know what you’re talking about, be ok with saying you don’t know the answer to something and don’t try to over-sell yourself. 

  • Interviews are another area of contention. It is difficult to know exactly how to dress anymore. For my current job, I was told that business casual was OK. I didn’t take their advice as that has many definitions, and instead interviewed in a comfortable suit, with a more casual shirt & tie. It worked. 

    While interview tips will often include “ask what dress is appropriate”, that strikes me as “what is the least I can get away with” for an office job. You can always take the jacket off later, but you cannot go back to the car and get one once that first impression has been made.

  • Always extend and treat others with respect to others in all matters of communications. Remember the golden rule.

    Prior to stepping into formal ministry I was a sales consultant. This always served me well. Especially when dealing with angry people.

  • Guest

    What a load of drivel, this is hardly sage wisdom; most of what’s above are the absolute bare essentials of how to relate in any sort of professional environment, (smile, engage the other person, take an interest etc) but written by someone who’s pet peeve is long coat sleeves.  When that’s your pet peeve it’s time to get some perspective in life.  I shouldn’t rant I know, but this is a poorly written shallow article that just doesn’t have any depth at all and is written by someone who styles themselves as an “image guru”.

    Not Very Good!

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  • Mark H Jeffress

    Great reminder Maurilio. I love the line “a smile is always appropriate”

  • Bret Pemelton

    Good to read this one again. Can never hear this information too much!

  • Katie Creel

    As a fresh college grad, these are all too true. Something I’m learning is, when you balance your personality with your professionalism, it is clear that you are confident, teachable, self-aware, AND down-to-earth. No one wants a bland cut-out, so always be yourself while still being appropriate.

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