Presenting a positive and powerful first impression is important to many aspects of your personal and professional life. In a job search, however, it is the critical factor determining your potential for success.
Experts disagree as to the amount of time it takes for people to form an initial impression, but this earliest encounter tends to linger. In fact, some communication specialists claim that it can take as many as 12 follow-up meetings to counteract a poor first impression. As a result, if you are not conveying the professional image you need to project, this will translate into loads of lost opportunities for you.
Here are five pillars to success in creating your own powerful first impression:
1. The Eyes Have It
Job interviewers report that eye contact influences their sense of an applicant more than any other nonverbal behavior. Maintaining the appropriate amount of eye-to-eye connection builds rapport, communicates your level of self-confidence and expresses the fact that you are a person of integrity. For some, prolonged eye contact can be difficult, yet it is an essential trait you will need to master. So practice making eye contact whenever you interact with others (shopkeepers, wait staff, neighbors and friends) and see how this one act improves your relationships -- both close and casual.
2. Set the Tone: Be Aware of Your Vocal Inflections
Vocal inflections are the way you vary your speech -- your pattern of speaking -- and they convey a number of specifics about you as a candidate. True or not, people will believe you are low on energy if you speak slowly and tend to converse in a monotone. If you are quiet and soft-spoken, they will generally assume you lack confidence and, therefore, bring with you an inadequate skill set. A high-pitched voice is also likely to suggest a lack of self-assurance and ability. And -- if you are naturally given to speedy, somewhat boisterous speech, people might figure you for a "fast-talker" -- someone who could either be somewhat shady in their dealings or an arrogant braggart.
For that reason, you will need to be aware of how you present yourself verbally. Try to lower your pitch and modulate your speech so that you come off as a supportive, contributing team player (or an inspiring, self-assured leader) as well as poised, competent and truthful.
3. Watch the Warmth Factor
There is no doubt that you want to be engaging and warm whenever you meet someone new. Yet, regarding a number of careers (most notably those that are technical in nature), an abundance of personal charm has an adverse effect on the perception of one's capability and intelligence. In other words, too amiable and/or bubbly may play out as loads of personality but little competence. So be sure that you are exuding the right amount of warmth. Moreover, be certain to have plenty of examples of your solid accomplishments to share. You want to come across as someone who is both a pleasure to work with and who brings with him/her the necessary skills and smarts to do the job well.
4. Diffuse the Age OLD Stereotypes With Your Body Language
Nothing says over the hill like slumped shoulders and a hesitant gait. So, especially if you are a job-seeker of maturity, make sure you hold your head high, walk with confidence, present a firm handshake and keep your body language open. Uncross your arms and use your hands to make your points. Appropriate gesturing projects emphasis and energy -- this will help to dispel some of the negative stereotypes of age.
5. Take Two Minutes to Unleash Your Confidence
Before you enter the room for a networking meeting or job interview, take a couple of minutes to practice power posing. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy studied candidates who practiced power posing (assuming an erect, open, and expansive stance) for two-minutes just prior to a job interview. The results were astounding! Candidates who power posed increased their level of testosterone by 20 percent (both men and women), were perceived as more confident and more competent, and were far more likely to land the job.
Therefore, in a job search especially, you will need to be aware of how you come across to others. One of the best ways to do this is to practice and record a mock interview session. Seeing yourself on camera can help you pick out mannerisms and speech patterns you want to change.
And don't forget the most important principle of them all -- your attitude. Being upbeat, positive and confident forms the essential foundation for presenting yourself at your best. So, straighten your shoulders, put a smile on your face and anticipate success. You are now poised and fully prepared to make a powerful first impression!
Mary Eileen Williams is a Nationally Board Certified Career Counselor with a Master's Degree in Career Development and twenty years' experience assisting midlife jobseekers to achieve satisfying careers. Her book, Land the Job You Love: 10 Surefire Strategies for Jobseekers Over 50, is a step-by-step guide that shows you how you can turn your age into an advantage and brand yourself for success. Updated in 2014, it's packed with even more critical information aimed at providing mature applicants with the tools they need to gain the edge over the competition and successfully navigate the modern job market. Visit her website at Feisty Side of Fifty.com and celebrate your sassy side!