The Importance of First Impressions: A Psychological Perspective

As we all know, you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. A strong handshake, eye contact and appropriate attire can attribute to one’s success in both the professional and personal realm. When Professor Keating spoke to CWIB prior to our spring break vacation she focused on the first impression, namely when meeting a potential employer for the first time. We discussed key factors such as physical appearance, nonverbal expression and emotional perception when preparing for or during an interview.

Keating studies the psychology of leadership among other areas. She discussed how to grab the attention and interest of your interviewer or someone you’re meeting for the first time. She noted how dominance and comfort can be expressed by leaning forward, using your hands and smiling. Humans innately read and interpret body language and posture in order to understand the environment and attitude of the person they’re with. A strong, warm handshake is crucial; not only does looking someone in the eye while shaking hands matter but also ensuring that one’s hands are not clammy or wet. These are negative circumstances and can suggest discomfort, nervousness and insecurity. These nonverbal communication signs all contribute to the perception others form and create.

Outside the direct realm of the interview Keating called attention to the Facial-Feedback Hypothesis and how women are perceived in the workplace. We are expected to smile, to speak with a higher pitch, and to have warm personalities. Women who do not portray these qualities are considered abnormal and therefore cold. Simple things to remember like a friendly nod, leaning forward, making eye contact and speaking at the same speed and tone as your partner can combat signs of discomfort or awkwardness in a first meeting.

One of the more profound topics Keating discussed was laughter and humor as a social bond. Laughter is a common expression of comfort, joy, happiness and friendship and it serves as a common identity to which everyone can relate. As I mentioned earlier both a warm, an inviting smile and infectious laughter are generally expected of women and those who are more introverted may find they experience the negative outcomes from this perceived “coldness”. Furthermore people respond to laughter regardless of age, sex and status. Laughter can simply create positive vibes which are always helpful in new environments.

Keating concluded her discussion by reminding the women of CWIB that a strong introduction and a little self-deception of one’s emotions can be helpful in an interview. Feigning confidence is not always a good thing, however it can be a crucial aspect of the job-search as well as navigating a new environment.