Maybe we think we don’t judge books by their covers, but guess what — we do. From appearance to handshakes, people form opinions about others quickly.
That thing about only getting one chance at making a good first impression? It’s not just a hollow phrase. For those looking to build their network and move up, making a good first impression is key. Here are five ways people (often subconsciously) judge each other within seconds:
We might think that in a business context, it’s particularly important to establish your competence — your ability to do the job. While this is important, Harvard Business School Professor Amy Cuddy said it’s actually more important to establish that you’re trustworthy. Being warm and personable is essential to forging trust, whereas appearing overly professional might mean the opposite.
“From an evolutionary perspective,” Cuddy says in Business Insider, “it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust.”
It’s a cliche for a reason. A firm, confident handshake immediately establishes trust with the other party. In fact, a University of Alabama study shows that it’s actually a better indicator of personality traits than one might think. Those with a firm handshake are more extroverted, less neurotic, and more emotionally expressive. It’s not just for guys either — the study found the same results for women.
In Western culture, maintaining eye contact is a sign of trustworthiness and interest in the other person. Obviously, it’s creepy and weird to maintain eye contact all the time. However, avoiding the other person’s gaze will lead people to think that you’re shy or simply disinterested. A good balance of eye contact shows that you’re friendly and nonthreatening. A Brandeis University study found that people who maintain good eye contact are perceived to be more intelligent than those who don’t.
And it’s not just whether you dress professionally. How often you smile, how you stand, and your facial expressions are all important to making a good first impression. One study even found that people’s shoes express a lot of information about them. Political association, age, income, and other personal characteristics could be accurately predicted just by looking at the person’s shoes.
While being on time might not be important in certain parts of the world, it’s crucial for Americans. Tardiness means that you don’t take the work seriously, either because you don’t take work seriously in general or you’re busy with “more important” matters. There’s an old saying in the music business that five minutes early is on-time and on-time is five minutes late. The same goes for any business.
Some of these might sound unfair. Is how much eye contact really a good indicator of whether you can work with a person? But life’s unfair, and working with people means that you’ll have to make some adjustments.