Do first impressions really matter? Absolutely YES!
In a society where so much of our communication is done through electronic messaging such as email, text message and LinkedIn the importance of a good first impression is still relevant. With the increased use of electronic communication, the amount of time to make a first impression has shrunk because of the shortening of the actual social engagement. For example, before texting we were required to speak with someone on the phone for a few minutes in an interaction that can now be completed in seconds with a brief text message exchange. This brief exchange can be sandwiched into you completing a multitude of other activities, work projects, or even just grabbing a bite to eat. The benefits of rapid communication are quite numerous. Unfortunately, we are no longer concentrating on each interaction with the same focus as before. This has resulted in misunderstandings, poor communications and bad first impressions. The effect of our “text culture” spills into how we interact in business emails and sites like LinkedIn. Additionally, it is common that when meeting in person, one or both people are constantly looking at their phones, answering emails and text messages in a cascade of dings, beeps and vibrations. What kind of impression does this make? Does it convey to the other person that the interaction is meaningful? How does it reflect on the focus of a potential job candidate? What level of engagement does it show a client or prospect?
As a recruiter, we tell candidates that first impressions are very important. From the very first interaction companies start evaluating you on each and every engagement you have with them. The way that you conduct yourself tells a lot about you. The next question is often what does it tell us? The first engagement tells the hiring manager how professional you are in your phone etiquette which transfers to your etiquette when you will be calling on clients and/or representing their company. It also shows how you handle yourself in different situations. I know some clients that will take candidates to different locations and environments to have breakfast or lunch with them just to see how they interact with different types of individuals. All these things are helping the employer to build an opinion of whether you will fit in their environment.
Scientific studies have shown that you only have seven seconds to make a first impression. But if you think about it think about what all can be covered in seven seconds on phone call or an email for that matter. For example, I had a hiring manager follow up with me saying that he reached out to my candidate and he was very unprofessional in the way he answered his phone. The candidate said he would call him back later that he was in his car. The candidate did not call back. The hiring manager said that the way he spoke and conducted himself was not a good first impression. He was going to reconsider if the candidate was the right fit. The sad thing was that the candidate was perfect for the role, he had all of the qualifications and experience necessary to succeed and thrive. Even worse was that it was the candidate’s “dream” company and role. These two people engaged for less than five minutes and the hiring manager already has a negative thought on the candidate. On the flip side of the coin, do we know what the candidate might have been doing or dealing with in this situation? Sometimes even the best gets frazzled or have a bad day. If you are not in a good place to answer a call you need to send the call to voicemail. If you are not prepared to be “ON” when you answer your phone, then you might just need to take a break. How much better would this exchange have gone if the candidate had not hurriedly answered the phone call, sent it to voicemail, took a few minutes to compose themselves and then called back. This would have given him the proper time and ability to be in a good spot to return the hiring managers phone call and take notes etc.
The previous example was about a phone call, but poor first impressions can happen with texts, email, and social media. One of the big deal breakers in initial business communication is the use of “text slang” and emojis. Once you get to know the person, they may enjoy your emojis, Gifs, and slang, but generally it is a very bad idea to initially communicate that way. Spell the words out, do not use colored font, do not put silly emojis, and do not attempt to use sarcasm or wit in text or email because it is often misinterpreted.
Next time we will be talking about how to change a negative first impression. Stay tuned!