First Impressions: Using Your One-Tenth of a Second Wisely

By Kristen Harris

One-tenth of a second. That’s the amount of time you get to make a first impression every time you meet someone. Yes, in less than one second that person has made a judgment about you, and their impression is very difficult to overcome once it’s been made. Unfair? Don’t a judge a book by its cover? Of course you’re a really great person with a lot to offer, but unless you’re able to make the right first impression you may never get the chance to prove it.

A study by Princeton University psychologist Alex Todorov found that people respond so quickly and intuitively to a new face that our reasoning minds don’t have time to influence the reaction. We decide whether a person is attractive and trustworthy within a tenth of a second. “We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.”1

Think you’ll just win people over once they get to know you better? That could be a challenge as well. “What we found was that, if given more time, people’s fundamental judgment about faces did not change,” Todorov said. “Observers simply became more confident in their judgments as the duration lengthened.” The researchers did note that as time passes and you get to know people, your impression of them does become more well-rounded, but you’ll have to spend enough time together for that relationship to evolve.

As a creative professional, whether you’re currently working or seeking a new position, there are ten key places that first impressions are made. Take the time to review each of these areas to be sure you are making the type of first impression that you want people to remember. It can be difficult to assess yourself objectively in some of these areas, so consider asking a fair but honest friend or colleague for feedback. It’s better to identify issues and correct them before something you really want, like that new dream job, is on the line.

1. Resume. For many hiring managers nothing puts a resume in the “no” pile more quickly than typos and sloppy grammar. Keep the information clear and concise, remembering that your resume is an informational document first and a creative assignment (a very distant) second. Proofread, proofread, proofread, and then have someone else proofread it for you once more.

2. Website. After receiving an interesting resume, hiring managers often visit your personal website. This is a chance to draw their interest and excite them about your work. Present only your best work, in an interesting and easy-to-navigate way, and (again) proofread everything for spelling and grammar.

3. Social Media. In this interconnected world we all think we know someone, or know someone who knows them. Have that fair and honest friend look you up on all of the major social media sites and share the impression they get from your profile. Think sites like Facebook are private? If it’s online, it can be found.

4. Dress. When people meet you in-person they are getting an impression and making a judgment on the whole package, including how you are dressed. Be current, appropriate for the situation, and properly prepped. Think your rumpled shirt doesn’t matter if you’re really talented? You may never get to show your talent because the person you just met thinks if your dress is sloppy, your work probably is too.

5. Grooming. Again, impressions are made on the whole package. A current and appropriate haircut, recent shower and some deodorant go a long way. Personal grooming tends to be one of those things people notice and remember when it’s bad. Keep it clean and you’ll be fine.

6. Personal Décor. Jewelry, tattoos and piercings are all beautiful ways to express our creativity. Just keep in mind the situation, purpose and person you are meeting. A more subtle choice or a little covering up may be appropriate for some settings. If you’re not sure, ask an insider for advice.

7. Interview. How you come across in an interview makes a lasting impression that is difficult to overcome. If it doesn’t go well, you rarely get a second chance. Be engaged, interesting and interested, and participate in the conversation. Hiring managers will usually forgive a little nervousness, but they generally believe that the interest level and personality you show in the interview is the same as what you’ll show on the job.

8. Portfolio or Work Samples. This is your work, treat like you love it. The same work presented in a nice format with an attractive cover looks ten times better than the same work jammed in a grocery sack. If you act like your work is special, the person you’re talking to is more likely to think so too.

9. Networking or Industry Events. This is the sort of place where you’ll meet a lot of strangers who could someday become friends. Most people are nervous and uncomfortable in these situations, just be as open and friendly as you can. Be yourself, introduce yourself to groups, and gracefully wrap up the conversation at a convenient time so you can meet someone new. And keep coming back, eventually you’ll become the “regular” that other new people are excited to meet.

10. Chance Meetings. It’s a cliché, but you never know who you’ll meet where or when. I have run into people in the grocery, park, pet store, concerts, parties, all sorts of unexpected venues. The fact that they are unusual can make impressions from those chance meetings even more memorable, so be sure they’re good ones.

1 First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face; Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, Princeton University;