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Creating a strong first impression

Always be prepared to meet new people

In less than the time it took you to brush your teeth this morning, someone will form their first impression of you. Brushing your teeth is definitely one important part of making a good impression, but there are other surefire ways to make sure that you stand out (in a good way) regardless of what foot you put forward first

Look the part

After you’ve freshened your breath, comb your hair and make sure you’re dressed appropriately for whatever the occasion may be. Since people see you before you can say something brilliant, let your appearance establish your credibility. You don’t want to have to make up that ground after you start the conversation.

Start smart

When you greet someone, be confident and friendly. Make eye contact as you walk toward him or her. Shake hands firmly (but not bone-crushingly) and smile at the person you are greeting. Introduce yourself in a friendly way and, if appropriate, start a conversation. And remember the person’s name so you can repeat it at the end of the discussion.

Tell them about yourself

No matter what situation you’re in, it’s good to have a solid “elevator pitch” in your arsenal. This is what you would tell your dream employer if you could only talk to him for the length of an elevator ride. The pitch will be useful at networking events, in interviews, or anywhere that someone says “Tell me about yourself”… not just on an elevator. Don’t tell Mr. Dream Employer everything he needs to know about you; instead, just focus on your uniqueness and how it can benefit him. Give appropriate examples (including numbers if you can), but keep it under 30 seconds.

Know what else to say

When you go to an event or an interview, you probably have a good idea of what most people are going to ask you. Be prepared to answer any questions you may be asked or to talk intelligently about subjects relevant to the event you’re attending. If you’re going to be interviewed, you should know about the company and should have thought about common interview questions. If you’re going to a state society event, check for interesting news stories about accounting and finance and maybe glance at the scores of last night’s game.

Smile and nod

If you look uninterested (or even neutral), people will assume that you are — regardless of what you say. Appropriate body language and facial expressions can help you to convey that you’re engaged in the conversation and that you’re enjoying it as well. Avoid crossing your arms or legs — this gives the impression that you’re pulling away or protecting yourself. Try to maintain eye contact throughout the conversation without staring your new friend down. Keep it natural and, if it’s not natural for you, practice makes perfect.

Ask for feedback

We all need improvement, and it’s smart to ask a person who’s interviewing or evaluating you what she thinks of you. It gives the interviewer a chance to tell you the areas about your background or personality that she’s not quite comfortable with (yet), and you a chance to address those concerns. The unspoken fears are usually the deal breakers, so give yourself a chance to work through them.

Ask questions like “How do you feel about my background?” “Do I seem like someone who might fit what you are looking for?” “Is there anything we have or have not discussed today that makes you feel like I’m not the best candidate for the job?” Take a few moments to address any concerns (or admit that you have some shortfalls that you plan to overcome) and move on to thanking her for her time.

Follow through

You may have started strong, but all that hard work will be wasted if you don’t follow up. If your interaction was an interview, write a thank you note. If you got cards at networking event, send emails saying that you’re glad to have met them. In any case, say something specific that will help the other person differentiate you from all of the other people they met that day.

With a little practice, you’ll be able to put your best foot forward instead of putting your foot in your mouth. Then, have your friends pretend they don’t know you or use our interview simulation tool to see if you’ve got what it takes to make a great first impression.

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