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Preparations can pay off in making a good first impression

How long does it take to make a first impression?

Folks who study this say it’s within 10 seconds. Yes, 10 seconds.

So if we want to make a good first impression we must think about everything that happens within those first moments of meeting someone. Much of what goes into forming that first impression are things we can prepare for in advance.

What is the first thing you notice when meet someone for the first time? For most of us, it is appearance. We get a composite impression of the person—their gender, height, body type, hair color, and the like. Additionally, we notice what they are wearing, which is totally in the control of the person trying to make a good first impression.

What should be considered? Let’s assume that you’ve got a job interview and are trying to wear attire appropriate for the interview. Let’s further assume that the interview is for the type of job you would wear a suit daily. So the interviewer would probably expect the interviewee to wear a suit to the interview, right?

For men, what does this mean? Men are actually fairly easy to dress as they are limited in ‘acceptable’ suit colors (black, charcoal, navy) and most will want to wear a white dress shirt. The tie worn should accessorize well with the suit color and should be tied so that it is the appropriate length (to the belt).

Most people buying suits for the first time will probably want to go with a more conservative vs. trendy tie. A good retailer can help you pull everything together. Additionally, the socks worn should match the pant leg. Dress shoes are a must. The belt should match the shoes.

Women have tougher choices. There is quite an array of colors available in women’s suits, but a good rule of thumb is to stick with the men’s colors (black, charcoal, navy). Blouses/shirts should be conservative in color and look and jewelry should be minimal. Women should wear hosiery to an interview—when the job is secured perhaps a woman may eliminate hosiery. Pumps or similar shoes in dark colors are preferable, and low(er) heels are desirable.

There are a couple of other things to think about for both genders. Your clothing should fit you well. No, you do not need to have your suit tailored for you, but it should not be too tight, too long, too short, too low cut, etc. Also, it should not be wrinkled! Have your suit dry cleaned before the interview.

What about your hair? For women with long hair, it is recommended that you pull your hair back in a clip or some type of low pony tail. Men and women should both ensure that their hair is clean and trimmed. Some employers are not big fans of facial hair, so men should do their homework to see if the employer they are interviewing with is one of these. If you have a moustache, goatee, or beard, it should be trimmed.

What other things do you notice about a person within the first 10 seconds? As you approach each other, you will notice if the person is wearing too much cologne/perfume (DON’T!) and whether they have bathed/used deodorant (DO!).

The interviewer is likely to offer to shake your hand. There are many types of handshakes. Make sure you have practiced shaking hands with your family and friends and ask for their feedback. You do not want to be a crusher (many men have large hands and, unknowingly, grip the other person’s hand so hard as to hear bones crunch—even other men!). Other types of handshakes are the limp/dead fish (you know what this means), the politician (you grab their one hand with both of yours—DON’T!), and the ‘never let go’ (self explanatory—and sometimes this involves lots of pumping!).

Having a good handshake is something you can control through practice. Smile at the person when you shake their hand too.

Remember the old adage “you only get one chance to make a first impression.” This is true. While people who made a bad first impression have recovered, why go there? Plan ahead and make a good first impression.

When you know you look good your confidence level will be high. And in the job interview situation, assuming you are also qualified and interview well, maybe you’ll get the job! At least your appearance won’t eliminate you.

 This is one in a series of columns by University of Mary Washington College of Business faculty on various aspects of finance and economics as they affect our readers. Send suggestions for future topics to