This article is for anyone preparing for an interview, the first day of a new job, a presentation or any other situation where making a good impression is important.
First impressions count
Not many of us can put our hands on our hearts and say ‘I really don't care what people think of me'. If you don't care, then you're either in solitary confinement or you may never be in situations where you have to care. Most of us do care, and with good reason. It matters.
Like it or not, the first impression you make is important, and it takes some shifting if you present yourself badly to start with.
What is an impression?
An impression is a ‘picture' in another person's mind. For everyone, forming an impression is an automatic function that filters information about a person or a situation from all the senses and arrives at a conclusion. We do it all of the time, unless we consciously try to delay judging.
That ‘picture' or impression consists of:
- What you look like and how you are dressed (over half of the impact you create is visual)
- How you express yourself. Your attitude shows in the way that you stand or sit, your facial expressions and your tone of voice. If your attitude is positive, open and friendly, you won't have to think too hard about this. If it's not, you may be in trouble.
Jay's presentation was well-prepared. He looked sharp, he had rehearsed and was word-perfect and his slides were good and in the right order. The problem was that it wasn't his own idea and he didn't really believe that it would work in practice. He got through it, but he felt unenthusiastic and he knew he wasn't giving it the commitment it needed. As he had thought, it didn't go down well with the board. They were unconvinced... just as Jay wasn't.
- Confidence in yourself (which can so easily be knocked if you feel poorly dressed)
- Confidence in what you are saying (be well-prepared).
How much time do you have to make an impression?
Research shows that most people form an impression in the first few seconds of meeting someone. That impression can be modified over time, but not in the amount of time you have in one interview, meeting or presentation or even in one day.
All is not completely lost if you're nervous, or your confidence deserts you and can't get your words right at first. If you ‘look the part' you may be able to get back on track with no harm done.
How do you create an impression?
Think about the people you want to impress then match your dress and delivery to the situation and to your audience. You don't have to conform completely and loose all your style and individuality. Of course, you do need to fit in, but there isn't a ‘right way' to dress or behave in any given situation, as that's unique to you.
Ben had to do two presentations in one day. The first was part of an assessment interview for a new job in a bank. The second was part of an IT training session for a design company. He decided not to take two sets of clothes, so he did both presentations in a smart new suit, clean shirt, formal shoes and a tie.
He felt fine in the presentation at the bank, and did well, getting through to the next interview with flying colours.
The training session in the afternoon didn't go so well. He felt uncomfortable - nobody was wearing a suit and he felt out of place in the relaxed atmosphere. It surprised him how much his awareness of being inappropriately dressed affected his confidence and how difficult it was to get over that feeling.
That's the other good reason for making sure that you dress appropriately - it's not just about what the other people are thinking. The way you look affects your confidence and your ability to perform.
Be clear about the impression you want to create
Start with what you will wear. There are three things to consider carefully:
- Is it appropriate?
- Is it comfortable (within reason)?
- Does it convey the image you want to present?
How you look and how you present yourself all builds an image and a statement about yourself. Think about what you want to ‘say' about yourself and check that what you're wearing and your style says it. If you're preparing for an interview, read the job advertisement very carefully to find out what the interviewers are after. The clues are in the words they use, like ‘busy working environment' which probably means they want someone who is calm, composed and efficient. So don't arrive late, looking arty and all over the place!
Beware! One important detail can spoil the impression
Wearing jewellery or a wacky tie makes a statement that may be completely in keeping with your image, but it may also be considered to be ‘over the top'. Too much jingle-jangle-dangle or a wildly unconventional tie can distract the interviewers. You'll be referred to as ‘the one with the jewellery/tie' and not much else.
Put it all together - and check
Once you've decided on the image you want to put across, put it all together and ask yourself:
- Is this the image I want to present?
- Does anything leap out and overshadow everything else?
- Am I comfortable with it?
If you aren't sure - and even if you are - run it by someone you trust.