I bet we have all had first meetings with other professionals that made us cringe, either because of the other person’s behavior or after self-reflecting on our own missteps. I would like to share a little insight about some old-school ideas that I think are very helpful in helping professionals make a good first impression. All of us, from students seeking internships to college graduates looking for their first real job to established professionals networking or looking for a new role can benefit from embracing the best practices in this post gleaned from my experiences and years of observation.
The first best practice is handwritten thank-you notes. I know it sounds old-fashioned, but this is one of the best ways to make an impression on another person. Emails are quite frankly, utterly forgettable. Handwritten notes are memorable. I have kept every handwritten note that I’ve ever received! Thank you notes are special and I read them (and reread them) and it makes me think warmly about the other person…which is really the whole point. Emails and texts do not carry the same weight as a thank you note, so please consider buying yourself a box of these as soon as you finish reading this post. Helpful Tip: Get the thank you note in the mail within 24 hours of the meeting or drop it off in person.
The second-best practice is be courteous and respectful. This may seem obvious, but I encourage all of us to think about going out of our way to be very courteous and respectful of the person sitting across from us in an interview, networking conversation or perhaps a client meeting. Whatever the reason for the encounter, let’s always be thoughtful about the courtesy and respect that we need to show the other person. Good manners and a respectful attitude will always help us score a positive first impression. Helpful Tip: If you are a student or recent college graduate meeting with a more senior business person, the use of sir, ma’am, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. and avoiding the use of first names unless specifically given permission is always the right approach.
The third best practice is to always be grateful. How often do we think to say, “I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you.” or “I am grateful for the time you’ve spent with me today.” or “I would be grateful if you would consider me for the role.” or “Thank you for offering to connect me with your network.” I meet a lot of new college graduates as well as more seasoned business professionals every year and I think gratitude is sorely lacking across all generations in the professional discourse today. In addition to saying we are grateful in-person, the thank you note we send after the meeting is a great added touch (best practice #1).
The fourth best practice may also seem obvious, but follow up and do what we say we will do. Honor our commitments. Always follow up. If we say, “I will get back to you by noon tomorrow.”, we better get back to the other person by noon tomorrow. So many positive first impressions are damaged by overcommitting in the initial meeting and failing to follow through.
The fifth and final best practice is to be prepared. Preparation for a meeting will help us be appropriately knowledgeable about the person/company/topic of discussion. Preparation is not just memorizing data, but also being prepared with thoughtful questions to ask the other person. Asking questions and being curious shows a higher level of interest and makes us appear more interesting to the other person.
These simple best practices are really timeless ideas that have been around forever. But, I see them in today’s age becoming less and less the norm. I would also ask that we ponder this final idea: It is important that we focus less on our preferences and what makes us feel comfortable and more on making the other person feel at ease and making a good impression on them. In any professional encounter, let’s make our focus more about them and less about us.
If more of us fully embrace these established best practices, we might just find that “old school” has been transformed into the “new trendy”.
NOTE: I purposely didn’t address professional attire as that topic would fill a separate blog post. Needless to say, always dress in professional attire unless you are specifically given alternative instructions by the person or company (especially for interviews). Stay tuned for more on this subject!
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