How Important to Your Career Is a First Impression?

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You may have heard, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." Does your first impression have to be perfect ... or else?

When we first meet someone, we form immediate impressions of them. Those impressions are largely made up of what we see, hear, feel and generally imagine the experience of meeting them to be. We also bring biases, beliefs and emotional filters to that impression which can be hardwired into our values and opinions from childhood.

Today, first impressions are not just in-person experiences. We have online impressions which mean that someone else can be forming opinions of us without our knowing it.

Tips for a Positive First Impression

Aside from personal, emotional and cultural beliefs and biases, there are many aspects of how you come across to others when you first meet them that are within your control, such as:

1. How you speak. Do you talk really fast or super slow, causing the other person to struggle to keep up with your message? Is the tone of your voice confident and engaging or hesitant and fearful? Are you using words that elevate you out of being relatable, and therefore seeming "pompous" or "arrogant?" Your words, tone and tempo should support the impression you seek to make.

2. What you wear. When you leave the military, you are no longer wearing a uniform that displays your rank and status. Now you'll choose a wardrobe that reflects your personal brand and desired reputation. It's important to dress appropriately for the situation (for instance, dress up for a job interview, dress more casually for a social gathering). The goal is to dress consistently with the way you want to be perceived, and not distract from your value or the position you hold.

3. How you carry yourself. Posture, gestures and body language are critical non-verbal ways to communicate that make strong impressions. The person who professes confidence and excitement, yet stares at the ground when they speak, or rounds their shoulders forward, displays a lack of confidence and happiness. Your body language should match your words and beliefs because the person viewing you will instinctively trust what they see, rather than what they hear.

4. How strategically you position yourself online. For many individuals, their first impression comes in the form of a digital profile -- on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or even a website or news article's comment section. For these reasons, it's critical to have a strategy for positioning yourself online, just as you would for in person. Consider how you sound, appear, and carry yourself online and the relationships you form. All of these give an impression to others who may want to connect with you.

5. Online and in person, you should feel the same. Who you profess to be, what you say you care about and how you handle yourself online should be consistent with how someone experiences you in person. You can make a great first impression online by having excellently prepared social media profiles, but if the experience in person falls short, then a more lasting impression could be negative.

A first impression can feel like a lot of pressure to be perfect. It's anything but that! When you create a positive sense of who you are and what you can offer, your first impression is just the beginning of a great reputation. Don't strive for perfection, but rather consistency with how you want to be perceived.

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