First impressions matter.
Your brain can form its first impression of someone within one-tenth of a second. It took you longer to read the first word of this article than it does to develop an impression of someone new, based on little more than what can be seen in a literal blink of an eye.
And first impressions can last.
It may not matter if you smile more, get a better haircut, go on a diet or start wearing the right clothes. If your first impression leaves the wrong impression, you’ll face a mountain-sized uphill battle to change minds and win hearts.
By the time someone has formed a first impression of you, they’ve effectively answered these four questions, according to body language expert Eliot Hoppe:
- Do I like you?
- Do I trust you?
- Are you safe?
- Who do you remind me of?
Knowing how human minds work — and how to influence them to your favor — can help if you’re interviewing for a new job, taking someone super-cute on a first date, meeting a client to close a big deal or **gulp** making that first pilgrimage to your significant other’s family home for the holidays.
Understanding the nuances of human psychology allows you to anticipate the first (and subsequent) messages your appearance and presentation sends to strangers. If you can master the art of tailoring what that message looks like, you can make the right first impression every time you need to.
Take a look at our infographic for some top tips on creating a great first impression anywhere, and keep reading below for some more targeted tips for situations where there’s more at stake.
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Making a good first impression at a job interview
Simply getting to the sit-down interview stage often involves beating out dozens or hundreds of other applicants. You’ve made it to the playoffs, but the umpires aren’t going to be impartial. Here’s how you can push your name to the top of the pile from the moment you walk in:
- Do your research
It should go without saying that you’re more likely to be hired if you demonstrate an understanding of — and appreciation for — your prospective employer’s operations.
Read and re-read the job posting, the company website, the company’s Glassdoor (and other employee reviews!), any important articles that have been recently published about the company and even check out the LinkedIn and other social media profiles of anyone you know will be involved with the interview.
By the time you walk in, you’ll understand who you’re talking to, what they’re looking for and why they need you and your professional talents.
- Dress and accessorize appropriately
Find out what employees typically wear to the office and try to dress roughly one “level” of formality above it, if possible.
If you’re interviewing with a startup where everyone wears jeans and hoodies, a dress shirt and a good pair of slacks will show your seriousness without making you look overdressed. If you’re interviewing at a prestigious law firm, you won’t be able to overdress unless you show up in a top hat and tails, so wear a good tailored suit.
Don’t overdo it when accessorizing your outfit, either.
You probably won’t need personalized cufflinks or patent leather shoes. Stick to more conservative colors and patterns and avoid gratuitous flashiness.
- Show up before “on time”
Punctuality matters when trying to demonstrate your trustworthiness to a potential employer. Plan your trip to the office in advance, account for potential traffic and make sure you arrive early — but not too early. If you show up five to fifteen minutes before your scheduled interview, you’ll look eager without appearing desperate.
- Confidently introduce yourself
The smile-and-a-firm-handshake trope is so persistent because it’s so effective. An assertive, positive introduction, accompanied by a firm handshake and a warm, genuine smile, can go a long way towards making you likeable right off the bat. Make sure you stand up straight as well — your posture sends a message just as surely as your smile and your style.
Making a good first impression on a first date
We’ve all been there. You’ve matched to someone super-cute, you’ve developed a good texting rapport, but when you’re finally face-to-face for the first time, something just feels... off.
If your first face-to-face impression falls flat, it could be because your presentation didn’t match your date’s expectations, which developed based on whatever limited information they had before your meeting.
When going on a first date with someone you’ve never met before in person, try these tips to align your date’s perceptions with a reality you can control:
- Make sure photos on your dating profile are current
No one wants to be catfished, but even if you still look a lot like your five-year-old pictures, the discrepancy can leave your date feeling a little hoodwinked.
Try to use the most recent flattering pictures of yourself you can, but don’t go out of your way to hide anything that’ll be obvious in person (e.g. that beer belly you’ve been cultivating!). The person who walks in the door should be the same person your date’s been envisioning since they swiped right.
- Put some effort into your appearance
A date isn’t a job interview, but the stakes can be similarly nerve-wracking. Groom yourself and select attire that looks appropriately put-together for whichever place you’ve agreed to meet your date.
Always get clean before a date. Don’t half-ass it in the shower — wash your whole ass, and everything else for that matter (including your hair). Make sure any facial hair is styled and/or trimmed, style your hair, lightly moisturize any problem areas on your face or visible areas of skin, and don’t be afraid of a little cologne.
Don’t do anything too drastic to impress. Wear clothes that you’re comfortable in that match your surroundings (if you’re going to a dive bar, we probably wouldn’t recommend showing up in a tuxedo), and be the best and most honest representation of yourself.
- Be open and positive
When you first meet your date, greet them with the same sort of confident, warm introduction you’d have for a job interview. It may be socially acceptable to greet your date with a hug rather than a handshake, but make sure to read your date’s body language before going in for a squeeze.
Positivity extends to your body language. Try not to slouch, hunch over, cross your arms or adopt any other postures that signal being closed off. As the infographic notes, expressive hand gestures can make you appear more open and welcoming to your date... whatever that might involve before the night’s over. Oh, and don’t forget to smile every once in a while.
If you’re feeling particularly socially awkward, “mirroring” someone’s body language can make you seem more relatable, as your date might begin to see more elements of themselves in you. Does it sound a little creepy? Sure. But does it work? Damn right it does.
Making a good first impression with your partner’s parents
Meeting the parents. It’s such a major, defining moment in many relationships that Ben Stiller made a whole trilogy of movies based on the premise.
You might luck out and meet the coolest parents — or future in-laws — ever, but you’re just as likely to be received with some skepticism. Your partner’s parents want what’s best for them, so winning them over is important.
- Know what you’re getting into
Make sure you understand what type of people your partner’s parents are. Have a conversation with your partner and figure out what makes their parents tick.
Unlike a first date (hopefully), meeting the parents can feel a lot like a job interview. So, many of the tips from that section can also help in this situation.
Dialing in your approach to suit the people you’ll meet is a time-tested method for making a great first impression. Be the kind of person whose company they’d enjoy even if you weren’t trying to bang their progeny.
- Bring a small gift
If you’re going to dinner at your partner’s parents’ house, consider bringing something modest but thoughtful — like a tasteful bouquet of flowers or a nice bottle of wine.
Knowing who you’ll be meeting is helpful here. If your partner’s mom is deathly allergic to pollen, flowers probably aren’t the move. And if their dad would rather drink whiskey than wine, a bottle of red might get you tossed to the wolves.
If you live in Colorado or California, and you know your partner’s parents are more free-spirited former hippie types, you might even consider bringing some “edibles” for dessert.
[Editor’s Note: Please, for the love of God, don’t bring edibles to your partner’s parents house the first time you meet them. This is a terrible idea.]
The point is, discuss your gift options with your partner. No one will have better advice for getting parents a gift than their own child.
- Avoid excessive PDA
Sure, you’re sleeping together. That doesn’t mean you need to broadcast the fact to everyone — especially the parents of the person you’re sleeping with.
The truth is, everybody’s parents are different. This means your partner’s folks may have different values, beliefs, expectations, etc. Rather than assume what is and isn’t cool, feel out the situation.
It’s probably best to save the affection for when you and your partner are alone, or at least until you have a better idea of what may or may not be offensive to their folks.
Affection is appreciated, but keep it in well-regulated moderation.
A good policy is: If you wouldn’t do it to your partner in church, you probably shouldn’t do it in front of their parents.
- Be respectful, but confident
As we said above, your partner’s parents may have wildly different beliefs. They may come from a different culture where relationships are guided by expectations with which you’re unfamiliar. They may simply view you with suspicion for any number of reasons. They’re parents.
Your first time meeting your partner’s parents is never a good time to unravel a detailed criticism of politics, religion or other sensitive topics. If mom and dad want to talk about Area 51 conspiracies all night, by all means, engage politely. But avoid making any loaded statements or drawing any lines in the sand.
In other words? Play it cool, Fonzie. Leave your ego and predispositions at the door, go with the flow and roll with the punches.
From the first to the last
These tips can help you in several critical situations, but few of them are limited solely to the instances in which they were discussed.
Preparation can help in any situation, but it’s particularly beneficial when you’re trying to make a good first impression.
Taking control of your appearance, understanding your body language and having the ability to work a room are things you can only really learn from experience, but knowing how to approach a given situation and influence peoples’ perceptions of you is half the battle.
A little self-awareness goes a long way. Good luck out there!