The 4 Basics of That All-Important First Impression

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Sergeant Eugennie Bednarz has spent her military career as a corrections officer. The next chapter of her life will be transforming civilians into combat-ready Soldiers as a U.S. Army drill sergeant. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Tom Brading)

You can be a perfect fit for a position, with all the skills, education and experience required, but a bad first impression can spike everything and leave you without a job.

Like it or not, employers don't just look at a body of work or the ability to execute it. It's impossible to judge every candidate in a vacuum and, once an HR professional meets with you, that first impression will shape their judgment of you and your ability.

Here are some interesting facts about first impressions:

With these in mind, make sure that you've squared away yourself and your online presence long before you apply for a job. After all, a positive first impression makes people more receptive to getting to know you. Here are four basic areas in which to start:

1. Reliability

This area shouldn't be a problem for most veterans and, if it is, it's the first thing you need to turn around. There's a good chance the employer may have even given you the interview because of the reputation military veterans have for reliability!

Luckily, reliability is easy to demonstrate, especially when applying for and interviewing for a job. The first thing is to meet application deadlines and include your cover letter with your up-to-date, accurate and proofread resume. Be sure to include any other information the employer asks for in the listing. If you get an interview, arrive on time, prepared to answer -- and ask -- questions.

2. Ethics

While a job candidate's ethics may not be on full display in the resume review process or the interview, remember you never know when it might become a factor. Ethics are a reflection of someone's honesty and morality. Employers want to hire someone helpful and kind, who can help spread a good work environment.

If all goes well, at some point, an employer will have to check your background. The education, experience and probably references will all have to be reviewed and confirmed. If anything on your resume isn't based in reality, the job offer you received can be revoked in a hurry.

The integrity issue also extends to social media profiles. While the recruiter may not judge you solely on social media photos and profiles, if they see a dealbreaker, rest assured, the deal will be broken.

3. Demeanor

Has anyone ever told you they like the "way you carry yourself?" That's what demeanor is all about. Good posture, a firm handshake and an articulate answer to questions exudes high personal confidence, which in turn breeds confidence in a candidate from the employer.

But don't wait for the interview to walk into the building with your head held up high. Extend this behavior to when you write your cover letter, when dropping off paper copies of either (if the company requests it) and when waiting in the lobby for the interview to start -- you never know who might be watching.

4. Appearance

Looks aren't everything, but they're something. In any situation where your appearance might be conveyed to a potential employer, from interviews to LinkedIn photos, there are some basic things you need to cover. Start with being neat, clean and appropriately dressed. When people aren't distracted by what you're wearing, they're more receptive to what you're saying.

Try to remember that your resume and cover letter should be as neat and clean as your dress and appearance. Proper grammar, usage and punctuation will be used as a proxy for your intelligence, ability and education.

U know wut I mean.

-- Blake Stilwell can be reached at blake.stilwell@military.com. He can also be found on Twitter @blakestilwell or on Facebook.

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