Whether you are networking in search of a contract or attending an interview or client pitch, making a good first impression is vital. It only takes a quick glance for someone to evaluate you when they meet you for the first time. In just three seconds, opinions about you which are based on your appearance, body language, demeanour, mannerisms, and dress sense are formed.

Each time you meet someone, you are evaluated and yet another impression of you is formed. These first impressions are extremely important as they are almost impossible to reverse or undo, this then sets the tone for the relationship which follows.

Linda Denny of The Smart Coaching Company expands on some of the key areas to consider in making the right impression.

Impress the Hiring Manager

Your CV will have landed you the all-important client meeting/pitch, so now all you have to do is impress the hiring Manager. The hiring Manager will be testing and judging whether you:

  • have the right experience and skills
  • will fit into the organisation
  • have the right the attitude.

So how is this measured?

Researchers at Princeton University (2005) looked at video clips and used snap decisions, which lasted a tenth of a second, to predict who would be successful political candidates. Their predictions were correct in over 70% of the cases.

Similarly, in client meetings/pitches, snap decisions are made. Hiring Managers will be deciding if you look the part. Knowing how to manage this quick decision-making is to your advantage and may be an area you have not thought much about; you may assume your technical expertise will speak for itself. In these meetings you must sell yourself as no-one else will do it for you.

What can we learn from an expert in music and drama?

Patsy Rodenburg, Head of Voice at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, has trained the likes of Daniel Craig, Joseph Fiennes and Ewan McGregor as well as coaching others in the public eye. The relevance of this to a freelancer? Actors have to convince us that they are the character they are playing; just as a freelancer must convince a client that they are the best to take on that project.

So actors do what?

Actors create a story for us to believe by drawing together a number of elements by:

  • Using a script to learn their lines.
  • Wearing a costume and make-up.
  • Using their voice and body effectively.
  • Using props as part of the scene.
  • Rehearsing until they know the part.

This is relevant to you because much like acting you need to learn and practice your part in a client meeting too.

What do our habits and body language say about us at an client interview/pitch?

I am sure you have noticed little bad habits of others - such as fiddling. When under pressure, these can be exacerbated and can demonstrate a lack of confidence. The way we stand, sit and use our arms are all important in giving an air of professionalism and looking the part.

What skills can you demonstrate by bothering to make that good impression?

Before an interview or client pitch begins, there are all sorts of skills we can demonstrate in order to create a good impression. For example:

  • Interpersonal skills - by building rapport using good eye contact, a smile and the ability to engage in small talk.
  • Time management and basic planning skills - by being on time, being prepared and showing you have built in contingency time for that train cancellation.

What about the grooming, Does what we actually wear matter?

Yes! Going back to the acting profession; their costume helps build the convincing picture of their character. The same applies to our appearance - however much we do or do not approve of this. What does your grooming and clothing say about you? Will you fit in? Are you dressed appropriately for that industry?

There are a number of things we can do to make a strong first impression that will help and not hinder our chances of securing that contract offer. They may seem superficial but if you do not show them and another candidate does, who is more likely to succeed?

Linda Denny: The Smart Coaching Co. Linda is an experienced Leadership and Career Coach/Mentor who specialises in two areas: helping professional people in their roles to be the best that they can be and helping those not in a contract to find the best role for them. Her main aims are to identify client strengths, understand their weaknesses and build a plan for success. The service she offers is highly professional, yet personal; sharing her network and corporate background. Linda aims to make her clients feel more confident, equipped with the right soft skills and techniques to achieve their goal.

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