First and Lasting Impressions


2013_bcom_lassonOne of the adages that has become a mantra of mine is that “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Portraying oneself in a professional, reasonable and polite way is really a minimum for creating an effective professional persona.  During the summer months, many students are seeking out internships or requesting informational interviews.  Of course, making a positive impression is not limited to students or young people.  Regardless of age, educational level or years of experience, these same tips apply. First impressions are hard to shed. And keep in mind, the impression you make on one key professional connection, will likely be conveyed to others.

The following are my five social skills, for in-person and digital, which will help put you on a favorable track.

1. What’s in a name?: When making a cold call to someone whom you have never met, always introduce yourself by name to the other party.  Jumping into just saying what you want is not a soft opening.  Sort of like knocking on a door before walking in on someone.  Yes, I know that everyone today has Caller ID.  But, it’s not perfect. And besides, the goal here is not just for the person to know your name (or the name of whomever is paying for your cell service), but to put your best foot forward. In some cases, your elevator speech will come in handy.

2. TMI? Don’t be all over the place.  Get to the point and stick to content that is relevant to your objective or “ask.”  In most cases,
your life story and any challenges you might be having at the moment are usually not of relevance to professional contacts.

3. Emails: At the start of the email, always use the recipient’s name, either first name or title, followed by last name at the beginning of all emails.  Use a subject line and make sure that you have not recycled an old email for convenience reasons just to snag the person’s address.  If this is a new context, first introduce yourself and indicate a context including anyone who may have connected you.  Your email address should be professional and neutral and your first and last name should appear in the from box.  Before you hit send, make sure that all proprietary, personal, extraneous or potentially embarrassing content at the bottom of your email is purged.  It goes without saying that spelling errors, grammar mistakes, formatting abnormalities, or an overly informal tone might not play well here.

4. Be punctual: This applies to in-person meetings or phone calls.  First, it’s about respecting the time of others.  Secondly, it gives the other person a sense of when you will show up if he/she goes to bat for you and recommends you for an interview.

5. Be gracious: In most cases, you are asking for something.  In all cases, you are being given time. Respect that time and recognize it with your gratitude, during and after. Leave any sense of entitlement for that person giving you a job or referring you to others, at the door. After a meeting or phone consult, it is always good form to send some sort of appropriate follow-up email or phone call. Doing this will convey your gratitude and is somewhat normative professional behavior. But, more than that, it will help to put you back on the radar screen of that person, moving forward.

Elliot D. Lasson, Ph.D., is executive director of Joblink of Maryland, Inc.

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