You’ve probably heard the phrase, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” It’s absolutely true—and especially in the workplace. Whether you like it or not, that very first interaction with a prospective employer, new boss, coworker or client gives them a sense of who you are. If you want to put your best foot forward, here are six ways to make that initial impression the best it can be:
1. Smile and shake hands. A good handshake is critical when first meeting someone. Done right, it makes you appear confident and professional. Done wrong, it can make you seem timid, overbearing or just plain awkward. Shoot for a firm but not overpowering grip—and greet the other person with a smile as you shake. You will put people at ease and appear relaxed.
2. Speak with confidence. In an interview or introductory situation with someone important, it’s understandable that you might feel nervous, but don’t let your voice give you away. Maintain an even tone as you talk and avoid ending sentences as though you’re asking a question. Talk at a conversational speed—not too slow or too fast. Minimize crutch words and phrases (um, like, I mean, so, well, you know, I guess, I think, right, to name a few). Pause before you speak, think about what you want to say and then talk.
3. Make eye contact. Nothing makes you seem aloof, apprehensive and distracted like looking past someone or at the ground. During an opening conversation with someone, show respect by maintaining a comfortable amount of eye contact. Short breaks are fine, but looking people in the eyes lets them know that you’re engaged and interested in what they have to say.
4. Watch your body language. If you’re seated, take note of your posture. Don’t slouch, but also don’t sit so rigidly straight that you come across anxious or uncomfortable. Avoid fidgeting or shaking your foot. If you’re having a conversation while standing, try to plant your feet and avoid shuffling or shifting your stance. When someone is speaking, nod to show that you’re listening.
5. Listen actively. Speaking of listening, make sure you’re paying attention to what others say and that you respond with appropriate verbal and non-verbal communication. When asked a question, quickly summarize the important parts to confirm you heard things correctly before you answer. And remember that part of active, engaged listening is asking thoughtful questions back.
6. Show interest. As Dale Carnegie said, “One can win the attention and time and cooperation of even the most sought-after people by becoming genuinely interested in them.” Too often, people focus only on themselves in conversation. There are certainly times when you should be the focus—in a job interview, for example. However, you will learn and grow by concentrating on the person to which you’re speaking and asking questions that convey your interest. Bonus: you’ll set yourself apart.
The impression you leave upon those you meet can have a big influence on the way your career unfolds. Exude confidence and poise. Be sincere and friendly and express interest in others. You will be memorable to those you meet and will lay the foundation for a great working relationship that has a positive impact on your career.