In the business world, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Will others see you as meek, ill-mannered, and inexperienced or confident, courteous, and curious? It's up to you.
Here are 12 ways not to blow that platinum opportunity.
1. Find your power color.
Everyone has a power color. Listen to your friends when they compliment you on a color you're wearing. Chances are, you've accidentally stumbled on your power shade, the color that's very flattering to you. Now go out and buy wardrobe pieces, jewelry, and accessories in that exact color.
2. Look sharp.
You don't have to have the looks of a supermodel to impress professional colleagues. You simply have to be well put together. Make sure your shoes are unscuffed, your suit or dress is pressed, and your jewelry and accessories are members of the same family. Pay particular attention to your eyebrows, hair, skin, and nails, whether you're male or female.
3. Talk good, er, speak well.
A strong regional accent may hold you back professionally. Lose the accent by listening to your favorite news announcer on TV and learning how to emulate his or her neutral pronunciation. Enunciate your words. Avoid slang. Speak in whole sentences--and use proper grammar.
4. Use "power words."
Power words are words or phrases that instantly cause your listener to perk up and take notice. Here are a few words people love to hear in professional settings: detail-oriented, hard-working, high-energy, organized, quick study, team player, fastidious, results, fostered excellent relationships, people skills, research skills, and leadership.
5. Be positive.
The very first question you'll field in any setting, whether it's a client meeting or a job interview, is "How are you?" Many people blow it, but you won't. Pause before blurting out a one-word reply. People love a real answer, especially if it's upbeat. Don't say, "Fine, except this heat is killing me." Say, "It's impossible to complain about anything on a beautiful summer day. I'm genuinely happy to be here."
6. Prep for it.
One of the best ways to make a killer first impression is to ask informed questions demonstrating that you've done your homework. For a job interview, research the company ahead of time. For a networking event, know something about key players by visiting their social media site or reading their bio online. If you aren't sure whom you'll meet, come prepared with some industry-specific news that makes a good conversation starter.
7. Appear calm.
One way not to seem nervous is to arrive fifteen minutes early so you have a few minutes in your car or in the bathroom to compose yourself. Try playing an internal video of yourself nailing this interview, shaking hands with the CEO, or graciously greeting your coworkers. Then walk slowly, head up, and smiling into the room or office.
8. Never let them see you sweat.
There usually one jerk in the crowd who will say something wildly inappropriate, badmouth the firm, or even be mean. Show him you're not interested in playing. The best response? To smile and make a lighthearted joke, if possible. If that doesn't come easily to you, light banter will often suffice. Be sure to acknowledge him, because ignoring him won't make him go away.
9. Be courteous.
Courtesy involves listening rather than talking, not interrupting, not "trumping" someone else's story, and being especially respectful of elderly people. Old-fashioned rules of courtesy still apply; use phrases such as "please," "thank you," and "pardon me." Believe it or not, impeccable manners will differentiate you from the pack, as it's not all that commonplace anymore.
10. Don't be a joker.
Workplace humor can be risky, because so many jokes offend. There's a fine line between funny and bad taste. Don't cross it. Leave the ribald jokes and nasty barbs to others. Don't get into a huff if someone makes an off-color joke. Give him the benefit of the doubt, but don't add to it by coming back with a sarcastic comment, which can leave a bitter aftertaste and make you seem mean-spirited.
11. Create chemistry.
Being charismatic and simpatico is all about creating chemistry where there is none. The key to being liked is to ask questions. So, if the CEO is standing next to you at a company picnic, and you're a new hire with absolutely nothing to offer him in the way of snappy repartee, look him in the eye and ask him a nonwork-related question such as, "What's your favorite restaurant in this town?" Steer clear of work-related topics, unless he brings them up.
12. Remember their names.
There's almost nothing more impressive to a group of people than when a newcomer remembers all of their names. Here's how to do it. When you meet someone new, put it in one of two files: common or uncommon name. If it's a common name such as Mark, say to yourself, "Common name, initial M___." Then fill in the blank with the rest of his name. If it's uncommon, do the same thing, but then repeat the person's name in the conversation once or twice to strengthen the memory. Always ask for their business cards--seeing the name in print is the best memory boost of all.
Vicky Oliver has written five bestselling career development books in a row, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions and the newly published The Millionaire's Handbook: How to Look and Act Like a Millionaire, Even If You're Not. She lives in Manhattan, where she helps people turn around their careers and their lives.