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Mentor Minute

How to avoid first encounters of the worst kind Add to ...


I've always been nervous about first encounters, whether it's in a job interview or a first meeting with a client. What are some of the key aspects I can work on to ensure I make a good initial impression?


Many people make the mistake of thinking a first impression is when you meet face to face. That's wrong. A first impression begins at first contact. You project an initial impression with your first e-mail, phone conversation or cover letter. Remember that the next time you any of those methods to set up your first face-to-face interview or meeting.

Appearances count

People talk about how you need to impress the other person with an "elevator speech" - saying who you are in about 30 seconds. Instead, think of that initial contact as lasting about as long as it takes to push the elevator button. Whether it is fair or not, it will really only take the person you are meeting a second or two to sum you up. Be prepared before you go into the meeting, and make those first three seconds count - with a firm handshake, good posture and a self-assured introduction.

Inspire confidence

Lots of career and business coaches talk about looking confident, but to really make a positive impression you need to back that up with examples. Don't merely say you're reliable; show the other person you are with a concrete examples of how you helped a co-worker or customer.

Don't pander

Don't people-please. Just be authentic. Smiling is good, but only if it's real. People pick up on fake. You will build trust and establish your credibility with the other person by giving real responses that connect with the question, not by trying to make the other person feel good.

Show eagerness to grow

In the business world, you'll often hear experts say you should act as if you know what you are doing, implying that if you can make others believe you're capable of a task or assignment, you'll rise to the occasion and show them you can. While you'll want to exhibit your competence, even more important for projecting a good first impression is to be honest and upfront if you don't know all the answers. Show you are eager to learn and take action to increase your expertise.

Own up to mistakes

Be willing to apologize if you've make a mistake or been unclear in a job interview or a sales presentation. Double back and give the other person the correct information and let them know that you'll learn from the mistake.

Don't embellish

Career advisers often tell job applicants how to make a lacklustre former job sound better than it is. My advice is to simply tell the truth. If you waited tables in a local restaurant, how silly does it sound to say that you were "employed for a summer in the restaurant and hospitality industry"?

Straightforward honesty is always the best policy. If you're caught in a lie or exaggeration, that's the end of your credibility. Your chance at making a good first impression will be irretrievably lost.

Carol Roth is a Chicago-based business strategy consultant and author of the new book The Entrepreneur Equation

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