Learning & Development, Recruiting

The Importance of a First Impression

For many people, networking events and other professional-social hybrids feel like torture. Even those who wouldn’t consider themselves introverts sometimes cringe at the thought of being forced to go up to strangers and make small talk.

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Still, professional networks can be extremely important for one’s career success, and connections made during quasi-informal gatherings can be useful down the road. This is as true for external networking as it is with internal networking with staff from the same organization.

Being Alert to First Impressions

First impressions are key with any kind of networking. While it may not seem fair to place such an outsized impact on someone’s first few words or one’s appearance in a first interaction, our brains are simply hardwired for efficiency, and first impressions are crucial.

Although much in-person networking has obviously been put on hold during the global pandemic, it will surely return in some form or another. In the meantime, companies and professionals are making the most of the myriad telecommunications technologies available for videoconferencing and other forms of virtual interaction.

This means the basic rules of first impressions still apply, and networkers should follow some basic best practices, such as those laid out by Harvey Deutschendorf in an article for Fast Company.

  • Show genuine enthusiasm about meeting the person.
  • Offer a compliment.
  • Ask at least two open-ended questions.
  • Find something you share.
  • Say the person’s name before you leave, and commit key facts to memory.

These tips can help you stand out in a positive way in someone’s memory.

Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Deutschendorf points out that emotionally intelligent people may have an edge here. They’re able to reinforce their likability, he says, by focusing on remembering some key details that may come in handy later. For instance, “The names of a new acquaintance’s partner, kids, even the pets they have or that vacation recommendation they shared—that’s all useful information to refer back to the next time you see them.”

Referring back to those personal details during future interactions can be a great way to strengthen connections and help you stand out in a positive way. People may not recognize why, but because you’ve made this type of positive connection, “for some reason or other, they find that they just like you,” Deutschendorf says.

Forced social interaction can be one of the most awkward parts of professional life, but if one is going to do it, one might as well do it well and reap some benefits, right? There are some basic and easy tips you can follow to ensure you make a successful first impression that will make those awkward networking activities worth the effort.

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