The first things we say or do in the company of a recruiter, hiring manager, new boss, coworkers, and customers trigger what they initially think about us. And it sticks.
First impressions are about expectations.
The problem with first impressions is that we don’t always know what’s expected at first meeting. Consequently, what we give off is likely a reflection of what we’re really about.
People reveal a great deal about themselves without even knowing it.
A first impression shows us either an authentic or an artificial self. Our challenge is to figure out what we’re actually seeing.
When we do that effectively, we’re more likely to enter into business relationships that will turn out well. When we don’t, we may get burned along the way.
What do you see?
I’ve had some memorable first impression moments that were particularly revealing. I’ve categorize each by the personal brand label that I attached at the time. I never had reason to change any of them. What do you see? (I’ve changed the names.)
Ego-centered bully—I met Charlie, the guidance counselor, after I backed into his motorcycle. I’d just finished my job interview at a local high school where I was parked, with two other cars, in a small front lot. It was August.
After the interview I was preoccupied with my thoughts while walking to my car. When I started to back out of the space, I felt something against my rear bumper. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw handle bars falling to the side.
It turns out that I had unknowingly parked in Charlie’s space. To “show me,” he parked his bike with its front tire against my bumper. When I reported the incident to the principal who interviewed me, I was introduced to Charlie, who proceeded to, now verbally, “make his point,” as absurd as it was to me under the circumstances. Right then, I had his brand identity pegged. That was important since I got the job.
Caring professional—Carla wanted to grow her professional practice and hired me to help her develop a marketing strategy and also focus her employees around her values.
We met at her kitchen table and talked about possible approaches like presentations to professional groups, advertising, public events, networking, and activities for existing clients. We also covered incentives for employees, roundtable discussions, and training.
Everything Carla accepted or rejected was about her clients first. Would the initiative make them feel more or less a part of her practice’s community? Would it make Carla more or less available to serve them? Would it mean the staff would be more connected with clients or not? Carla has never wavered from her values, truly her brand identity.
Phony manipulator—Brent was a manager in charge of the customer service department’s interface with the IT department. His role was to define system needs and project-manage implementation. I was his new manager. He’d been passed over for the job.
Our first meeting was an opportunity for him to provide an overview of existing and pending projects and for me to “get educated” about his function. He spoke to me in acronyms, vagaries, and system jargon. When I asked about the status of deliverables, priorities, and resources in business terms, Brent’s answers were evasive.
It was clear to me from the get-go that Brent had no handle on the work but knew how to cover that up. His intention was to keep me befuddled, avoid accountability, and manipulate all the players. His first impression with me was consistent with what others told me later. Others had his brand number too.
What’s your experience?
What do you think your first impression is? Is it or isn’t it working for you?
Who has made a lasting first impression on you? What was behind it?
First impressions aren’t trivial things. They are a window into our natures. We can improve them or ignore them. That’s an important choice and our long-term brand identity is built on it.
Photo from Stephan Modry via Flickr