When I was a kid, Head and Shoulders had an ad campaign which used an old Will Rogers saying as its tagline: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Of course, they were targeting people with dandruff issues. But it’s a pretty accurate assessment of how important a first impression can be.
Most people make a judgement on a person within seconds of first seeing them. Sadly, if you’ve given off a bad first impression, it takes quite a while to undo the damage you’ve caused yourself. Research suggests it takes several additional interactions in the same context to overcome that person’s first impression of you. When it comes to networking or interviewing for a job, how many chances do you have to make a positive impression? One. So, the key is to do things right the first time.
Tip 1: Do Your Homework
Whether you are going to a job fair, sitting down for an interview, or taking someone in your network out for lunch, it’s important that you learn as much as you can about the person you’re meeting and the company they work for. Don’t just go on their website and read their mission statement. Do a full study on the business and industry as well as the job field you’re pursuing. What do they do? How do they do it? How are they different than their competitors? What are some of their biggest challenges? How could you help them with those challenges?
By doing this, it achieves two things: (1) you will demonstrate your genuine interest in them because you’ll have more to contribute to the conversation and have more thoughtful questions and (2) you suddenly sound and look like an expert and you’ll give them the impression that you’re an authority on the matter.
This also helps you when you develop your sales pitch to them.
Tip 2: Prepare Your Sales Pitch
Whether you’re in sales professionally or not, when you’re looking for a new job or career, by necessity, you are in sales. Your job is to sell employers on the idea that they should hire you instead of everyone else that they talk to. How do you do this? By giving them a good sales pitch.
After you did your homework on the employer you’re planning to talk with, it’s time to find ways to make your skills, experience, and strengths mesh with their needs. To accomplish this, you need to make your pitch:
- Personalized to them – although it’s good to have a skeleton of your pitch that can fit to many employers, it’s important to also modify your message to the person in front of you and the company they represent.
- Focused – you can’t fill an employer in on your life story in less than a minute. Don’t even try. You should make whatever you say to that person have single focus on how you can help them.
- Sound like it wasn’t rehearsed – great actors practice their lines incessantly until they have them down pat. That way they don’t have to focus on what they are going to say anymore, but how they are going to say it. They can make their lines sound natural. Your sales pitch needs to come off the same way. It should sound like what you’re saying isn’t rehearsed and canned, but a natural part of your discussion.
Tip 3: Dress for Success
It seems superficial, but being well-dressed and looking sharp is important. People take a person who is dressed professionally more serious than a person dressed in street clothes. And yet, so many people put comfort before style, even at a job fair. Whenever I attended job fairs as a Recruiter, I’ve always been amazed by how many people I see, who are actively looking for work, come in a t-shirt and jeans. When I see them, I honestly wonder if they are more interested in the free pens employers are handing out than the jobs they are hiring for.
I understand you’re probably on a tight budget and you can’t afford an Armani. But trust me, there are options that will make you look great for a price you can afford. Search the internet, shop at the outlet stores, go to the bargain racks, and find a good tailor. Ultimately, you only need to invest in a few pieces to achieve a professional look.
You also want to pay attention to the details. Iron your clothes so they always look fresh. Don’t wear too many or too extravagant accessories. Stick to traditional blues and grays for your suits and complimentary colors for your shirts. Avoid patterned socks or hosiery. Don’t just shine the front of the shoe, shine the heels too – they are one of the last things a person sees as you walk away. Avoid wearing cologne or perfume – you don’t want to set off an allergy attack. Always have breath mints on hand and if you are a smoker, don’t smoke until afterwards. Finally, take one last look at yourself in the mirror before you enter the room to make sure everything is on straight and to check for food between your teeth.
Tip 4: Give a Good Handshake
To make things start off right, you want to give the other person a good handshake. As your hand approaches theirs, it should be perpendicular to the floor. Your goal is to be the other person’s equal. You don’t want to be aggressive (palm down), but you also don’t want to be submissive (palm up). If the other person comes in aggressive or submissive, as soon as your hands meet, try to subtly turn the hand so they are equal.
You also want to approximate the other person grip strength. Don’t give the other person a limp hand or a vice grip. On a scale of 1 to 10 (ten being bone crushing), most people are sitting between a five or seven in their grip. Sticking to that range in your own handshake, will be good a majority of the time.
If you’re a palm sweater, always wipe your hand before extending it. Some people carry a handkerchief with them that they hold under their notebook to discretely use before shaking. Others nonchalantly rub their hand on their pants as it motions up to the shake position. Whatever strategy, just make sure you remember to do it!
Tip 5: Use Good Body Language and Read Body Language
Body language is just as important in conveying your message as the actual words that come out of your mouth. In your first interaction with someone, your goal is to come off as friendly and capable. This can be achieved with good eye contact, a full smile, and an open body stance.
Making eye contact gives the impression that your trustworthy, interested, and friendly. Unfortunately, for people who are extremely shy or nervous, having good eye contact can be a challenge. You must consciously do it, but don’t stare. That is aggressive. A couple of seconds of eye contact, glancing away while you’re thinking of what to say next, and then resuming eye contact is about right. Likewise, observe how the person you’re speaking to is giving you eye contact. If they continue to give you good eye contact and nod throughout your conversation with them instead of appearing to be looking for an escape route, you’re doing well.
When you approach someone, always smile as you look them in the eye. Most of the time it will make the other person smile in return. Usually, this alone can make you both feel relaxed and friendly towards each other. During the conversation, you’ll be able to tell if a person is genuinely interested in you if their smile moves up into their eyes. If you see the smile wrinkles at the corners of their eyes, you are probably hitting all the right buttons for them. It’s a good sign.
Finally, try to use open and submissive body signals as you communicate with the other person. Don’t cross your arms or legs, keep them to open – gated stances are defensive positions which can seem like you either disagree or are unsure of yourself. When you use gestures, go with gestures that are palms up instead of palms down – a palms down gesture conveys orders whereas the palms up gesture is more inviting. Never, ever, point – no one wants to feel like they are being lectured to. Again, while you are paying attention to what you are doing, observe the other person’s posture and stance.
Body language is largely unconscious. You can’t hide everything. However, being aware of the signals it conveys will help you as you try to not send the wrong message. This knowledge will also help you read the other person and decide whether you should keep going in your conversation or cut things short and move on. There is a lot of literature out there about the topic, but one of the best books is The Definitive Book of Body Language by Allan and Barbara Pease.
Tip 6: Use Stories and Visual Language
People are naturally drawn to a good story over simply hearing one fact after another. My most enjoyable interviews have been with people who can convey a point they are trying to make with a related anecdote they experienced. I can see what they are saying in my mind and it’s compelling. The only warning to this advice is to just be sure that the stories you use are putting you in a positive light! Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to hear stories where you bad-mouth past employers or co-workers. Why? Because if you bad-mouth them, you’ll probably do the same thing to us.
Tip 7: Ask for Their Card and Follow-Up
Regardless of what the situation is. When you talk to someone for professional reasons, you should always ask for their business card. It’s a detail that is forgotten many times, which is a missed opportunity.
No later than the next day, you’ll want to write a brief thank you note for their time. And because so few people take the time to correspond with thank you notes anymore, you’re going to stand out in a positive way if:
- It feels genuine
- You can reiterate why you are interested in them and why they should be interested in you
- You can show how you provide a solution to their need
So, go out there and make a good first impression! If you want some extra help and guidance on this or anything else career related, RockIt Career Consultation Services is here for you. We offer several workshops and personal consultations regarding how to create an effective pitch, how to build and use your network, and how to improve your interviewing abilities. We’ll work with you so that you’re prepared for any of those situations and make the best first impression possible. If you are interested in learning more, visit our website and schedule an appointment with us today for a free initial consolation!