First Impressions

In the first seconds of an initial meeting, before you even say a word, others form a lasting impressions. By the time you do introduce yourself, others have enough information to make decisions about you, your product, and your career.

It’s a scary thought to realize you only get one chance, but you can be prepared to make that chance count.

If you want to be viewed as a professional, the most important first step is to look like a professional. There is no need to be overly fact, a three piece suit might not be the most professional thing to be wearing in a specific situation. It's more important to dress and act appropriately, indicating that you understand and respect those you are meeting.

A person's body is always communicating, and a large part of what people think they know about a person is learned from body language. Every business professional needs to use this language to send a message of self-confident competence and engagement. Some business professionals--especially those in sales positions--learn to use their gestures, posture and eye contact to build credibility and persuasiveness as well.

Body Language Basics
As a basic physiological cue, the body signals a range of important information about physical health and mental state. These, in turn, are interpreted by observers as cultural and social indicators of status, intelligence, and so on. While the specifics can vary across societies, the basics of human physiology are universal.

Various indicators of health and success are used to judge whether someone is competent enough to be useful to the community. Thus, a buff body or an expensive suit are signals that a person is successful in the social environment of the gym or the corporate office. Human survival has always depended on an ability to decide whether a new acquaintance is capable of helping to fight off enemies, able to make good trades with neighboring communities, or is more likely to be mooching supplies from those who are more competent.

Vocal qualities that indicate competence include a strong, well-supported volume (don't forget to breathe), and a dynamic, conversational rate (enthusiastic but not too fast to understand). Speakers with a monotonous tone, slow rate, and incorrect pronunciation are perceived as lacking in credibility (Fatt). In other words, it's important to sound like you know what you're talking about.

Effective control of space is a strong indicator of power. People who sprawl or walk around the most territory have the most power, suggesting that they are not worried about attack from others around them. Indicators of power and authority include control of space (by touching others and things and by moving around within large amounts of territory), relaxation (especially the lower body, knees and legs), purposeful gestures (without such extraneous gestures as self grooming or fidgeting), large silhouette (arms wide out to the sides), open-face (full facing body posture, chin and brow up, wide eyes, relaxed mouth--"readiness to communicate" cues).

Shake hands first and firmly while making eye contact (Fatt) with a friendly expression and lean forward very slightly toward the other person, orienting your shoulders toward him or her. As you continue a conversation, remember that a face-to-face orientation is a power orientation; if you want to encourage agreement, sit or stand side by side instead, or walk together and talk while you are both facing forward.

Relaxation connotes control over the situation. Relax your shoulder and arm muscles, in particular, so that you can move freely. Don't fidget with your things or yourself.

Select clothing that is appropriate for the situation, attractive on you, but most importantly, makes you feel comfortable. You will find it hard to look relaxed and powerful if you are worried about your clothing or tugging and scratching at the uncomfortable parts.

In the fast-paced world of business, one important measure of your personal competence, power and control is your ability to remain calm and relaxed. "The actions of effective people do not seem rushed", and the person who is memorable, impressive, credible, genuine, trusted, and liked, doesn't "run around the track" for anybody (Benton 136-137).

Everyone is busy, and people don't trust those who are overworked, rushed, or out of control. Show that you have the time to slow down and develop relationships. "Fast-talking" salesmen have their unsavory reputation because they give the signal that the information (or the sale) is more important than the person. Even in the business environment, "we are men and women with personal rhythms to be picked up and danced to" (Bing 59), and your calm, relaxed demeanor signals that you are ready to listen to them.

In the U.S. culture, eye contact indicates willingness to communicate, which is interpreted as willingness to tell the truth. In other cultures, eye contact might denote a lack of respect, and other signals will denote sincerity.

Attention gestures (which, for Americans means nodding the head, looking toward the speaker, taking notes, and making steady but not constant eye contact) indicate that you are communicating and sincerely listening.

Remove sunglasses, hats and any other equipment that might interfere with eye contact. When interested in what another person has to say, people tend to turn their shoulders to face the person directly (Vargas, 1986).

We tend to like and trust those who are 'like us," so gestures that mimic those around you are perceived positively. Realize how easily we "pick up" the gestures of our family and friends, and how easily we are put off by someone who seems to move awkwardly or oddly.

A discrepancy between words and gestures is perceived as dishonest. People will instinctively resist or react against rigidity (Anderson).

Attractive people are judged more credible as well (Fatt).

A forward leaning posture is associated with higher involvement (Knapp, 1992).

The single most important gesture is the handshake, especially when meeting someone for the first time, but you should insure that your posture and gestures convey that you are friendly, professional, and attentive.

Overexaggerating even postive gestures will convey a negative message.

The wrong body language can signal that you are nervous, uncomfortable, or rude. Here are some common gestures to avoid:

Businessman Offering a Hand for a Handshake A proper handshake is made palm-to-palm and web-to-web (the spot between thumb and forefinger) with one or two short pumps of the arm from the elbow. It lasts about three seconds.

Practice with a partner to make sure your grip is neither too tight nor too limp. Gentlemen should not be afraid to shake a woman's hand, and women should not be afraid to shake a man's hand.

Lean toward the other person slightly, make eye contact, and smile as you shake the person's hand. Clearly give your full name and an appropriate greeting such as, "Hi, I'm John Doe from Finance," or "Hello, I'm Jane Roe, it's nice to meet you."

To help yourself remember names, repeat others' names after they introduce themselves. "It's very nice to meet you, Mr. Smith; may I call you John?"

The clothing a person chooses to wear in a business environment conveys status, competence, and attitude. Different businesses have different dress codes, but organization members are always expected to adhere to their company's expectations.

Generally speaking, the attire will be one of three types: corporate, professional, or business casual.

GalaAttireCoupleCorporate attire is sometimes called "interview attire" and consists of a suit, dress shoes, conservative accessories, and careful grooming.

Suits are most often worn by upper-level management but are appropriate for all employees who are participating in interviews, presentations to upper management or clients, recognition ceremonies, or other important meetings or events.

Specifics for ladies

For many young ladies, purchasing well-fitted, high-quality corporate attire is a challenge. Even when small sizes are available, the racks are cluttered with cheap, trendy suits that are completely out of place in a professional setting.

Stick to lined suits in natural fabrics (wool, silk, or linen) with a traditionally cut jacket that falls to the hip and a skirt that falls to the knee.

Don't pick a full skirt or one with fringe, ruffles, or top-stiching. Straight (but never tight) or gentle A-line skirts are most appropriate.

The blouse should be silk or a very high-quality synthetic. Don't choose a knit top or camisole to wear under a business suit. Ladies blouses are always tucked into the skirt. If the style you are considering is designed to be worn un-tucked, it is probably not dressy enough for a suit.

Shoes should be pumps or heels with a closed toe. Don't wear flats or stilletos; a moderate heel of 2-3 inches is a good choice.

Hair should be worn short or pulled up. Either way, a lady's hair should not hit the suit collar.

Select a briefcase or tote in a neutral color, rather than a purse. Ideally, your suits would all have pockets, but the reality is that it is very difficult to find women's suits with the storage space that men's suits have. A planner, portfolio, or iPad case can be used to stash small items such as breath mints, pens, and phones.

Fingernails should be completely clean or perfectly polished. Never leave chips in your nailpolish; remove it entirely instead.

Makeup should be worn but conservatively applied. Blue, green, or purple eye shadows or eye liner should be avoided in favor of neutral colors. Select more muted lipstick tones rather than very bright red, pink, or plum.

Specifics for gentlemen

The suit is such a standard element in corporate attire, there is not a lot of room to go wrong. The most frequent errors gentlemen make involve accessories and grooming:

Shoes should be carefully polished and shiny. Don't ever wear casual shoes with a suit. Wingtips or very dressy loafers can be worn with some suits, but suede, textured leather, and thick, textured soles should be left for daily professional attire.

Suits call for dress shirts, which have a spread or point collar. (Button-down collars are worn with suits by some U.S. businessmen, but are not appropriate in a corporate or international setting.) The shirt should be clean and crisply pressed. Laundering dress shirts is well worth the extra cost to achieve a polished look.

Never, ever wear a clip-on tie, short sleeves, white socks, or short socks. If you don't know how to tie a tie, find out.

Don't wear cologne or scented aftershave.

Remove piercings. If you have tattoos that show in a suit, be prepared to explain them in a positive way.

Be sure that you have a fresh, professional haircut, trimmed facial hair, and manicured finger nails. (This doesn't mean polished, but clean, trimmed and filed.)

MP900402606Professional attire is worn in most large businesses on a daily basis. This attire is less formal than corporate attire and inappropriate for an interview or an important presentation.

The most important feature of professional attire is a jacket, typically a blazer or sport coat for gentlemen worn with a dress shirt, dress slacks, and tie. Ladies often wear a more casual style of suit, perhaps with pants or short sleeves, or a stylish jacket over a dress or with a skirt and dress blouse. Dress shoes and conservative jewelry complete the professional outfit.

This attire should not be confused with the more informal outfits that are typically worn by clerical personnel. Although business people generally remove their jackets while working, it is not appropriate to meet with a client or leave the office without it.

At some very small companies, managers and professionals will dress quite informally on a regular basis, but when the event calls for business attire, they will opt for this more professional look.

Specifics for ladies

The choices in everyday professional attire are wider, but the specifics of corporate attire for ladies still apply.

No item of clothing should ever cling to the body, leaving out many knits, although tailored sweater styles are an excellent choice.

Slacks should be "trouser cut," which means they fall smoothly from the waist. There should be no indentation at all below the butt. Slacks should be pressed with a clean crease down the front.

Hair should be worn off the shoulders; maintain a high level of neatness. As with corporate attire, makeup should be conservative.

Be sure that you are dressed as formally as your male colleagues. If the gentlemen are wearing jackets, you should be as well. Don't look like a date or a secretary when standing next to businessmen.

Specifics for gentlemen

There is a broader range of professional attire to choose from. In addition to the grooming expectations of corporate attire, the properly dressed young man needs to avoid some of the more common mistakes:

Don't take your coat off! When a tie is on, so is the coat.

Wear a belt. Braces (suspenders) are acceptable in some organizations, but never be without one or the other.

sitting and waitingThis is the most casual of the business attire choices, but this clothing is professional in both style and quality. Companies will often have specific rules about what is expected, but a few simple guidelines will keep you from making obvious mistakes:

Business casual attire is often worn in social settings, but this does not mean that social attire is appropriate for business events. Business casual clothing should still be conservative in cut, fit, and styling.

Business casual should only be worn when specifically allowed. Often business casual is specified for company outings or retreats, but some companies expect professional attire. Never assume! Ask ahead of time, or simply wear a jacket (and tie for gentlemen) that can be removed when you arrive at the event.

The basic uniform involves slacks or khakis with an oxford shirt or polo, typically with the company's logo. Women can opt for cotton or linen skirts in a solid color or swap the shirt for a tailored sweater or blouse.

Specifics for ladies

Ladies often find themselves copying the gentlemen when it comes to business casual attire, and many of the rules against athletic attire (t-shirts, shorts, tennis shoes) and denim are the same. On the other hand, women have many more choices.

Skirts or skorts can be worn, and they can be a bit shorter than professional attire. Don't choose a mini-skirt, however. Stay within a few inches of the knee.

Sweaters, short-sleeved blouses or jackets, and a variety of colors and patterns are acceptable, but say no to anything that is clingy, shiny, sparkly, ruffled, flowered, or lacy. Make sure clothing is ironed and looks crisp.

Flats or oxfords will be the typical shoes with a business casual outfit, although low heels can be worn if they are not too dressy. Do not wear sandles, although a conservative slingback or slide can be worn with a skirt.

Hair styles can be a bit more casual, but should not be worn loose over the shoulders. Use clips to keep hair out of the face, not bobby pins. Makeup choices can be a bit brighter, but probably lighter than would be worn with professional attire.

Specifics for gentlemen

When business casual is called for, stay focused on the business part of that term.

Casual social attire is not acceptable. Athletic attire (t-shirts, shorts, tennis shoes) and denim are never business attire. Some companies will specify that jeans can be worn, but this is casual attire, not business casual.

Keep the shirt tucked in.

The shirt should be freshly washed and ironed. Even a polo shirt should look crisp. If it looks wrinkly or faded, it is long past wearing for any kind of a business event.

Man Shopping for Dress Shirts January 30, 2004Look at purchasing business attire as an investment in your job search and job performance. Dressing appropriately will earn you the respect of your co-workers, clients, and superiors. It sends the message that you take your career seriously and are a professional, responsible individual.

Corporate attire can be expensive. For this reason it should be carefully purchased and well taken care of. Do not think of corporate attire as an opportunity to make a fashion statement. Trendy clothes won't last long enough to be worth the expense. Stick to classic cuts, colors, patterns, and styles.

The suit

Buy suits at stores that specialize in high quality clothing. Choose a store that does alterations on site. (Gentlemen, don't wait until the last minute to buy a suit. Alterations and fittings take several days, and might involve two visits. Plan ahead!)

Purchase a suit in a durable, high quality fabric with a conservative cut that can be worn for many years. Gentlemen will typically need just two or three suits, while a lady's wardrobe will typically include three to five suits that might be replaced every three to five years.

Purchase suits in conservative colors (black, navy, charcoal gray) and subtle patterns (pinstripe, glen check), which can be worn to many different events.

Always dry clean suits. If the item boasts that it can be machine washed, it is not high enough quality to wear for corporate events.

Here are some additional tips on purchasing men's suits.

Here are some additional tips on purchasing a new business wardrobe on a budget.

The blouse or shirt and tie

Gentlemen should purchase several coordinating dress shirts and ties to wear with each suit, creating multiple looks.

Women will be more likely to choose just a couple of dress blouses to wear with each suit, but the skirts and jackets can often be worn separately as professional attire.

Shoes and accessories

Select good quality dress shoes: oxfords for gentlemen, pumps or heels for ladies. The color should coordinate with the suit color. Black shoes are worn with a black suit; brown shoes with grey or blue suits. Ladies might find suitable taupe or navy shoes as well.

Gentlemen should select trouser socks, which means they stop at least half-way up the calf, in a color that matches the suit or shoe color. Ladies should wear nude hose.

The gentleman's belt should be good quality leather and match the shoes. Don't opt for braces until you are already employed in an industry that considers them acceptable.

Wear minimal jewelry. A wedding ring and, for women, a single pair of earrings are sufficient. Women might also wear a gold, silver, pearl, or stone necklace appropriate for the blouse style. Do not purchase costume jewelry for professional wear.

The watch should be conservative and expensive with a neutral band. Don't wear a large sports watch or fashion watch with a suit.

Professional attire can involve shopping in a wide variety of stores, but choices must be made carefully.

Slacks and jackets

Begin with several pairs of good quality slacks. Gentlemen will generally find these easily in a menswear shop. Women might have difficulty unless shopping in a large city. Grey and tan are good choices that allow a great deal of flexibility in coordinating with various jacket colors and styles.

The cut of suits or jackets can be somewhat more relaxed, but choose lined jackets and slacks as a good indicator of quality. Women may select a good quality pant suit if those are currently in fashion. Cheap, trendy clothing is never professional.

Jackets and blazers may be more colorful than a corporate suit, but patterns and primary colors are not a good choice for beginners. In general, classic neutrals are the best choice. For example, tan or grey slacks and a navy blazer will always be acceptable.

Avoid synthetic fabrics. Wool, cotton, linen, and silk are nearly always appropriate, but anything involving polyester or spandex is certain not to be. Stretchiness is never a good thing.

Shirts and blouses

Dress shirts (for men) and tailored blouses remain appropriate, but colors of shirts and blouses can be somewhat bolder than those worn with suits. Checks, plaids, and other subtle patterns are appropriate. Be sure to coordinate carefully with slacks, jackets, and (for men) ties.


Shoes should be conservatively styled leather, but may be more informally styled than those worn with a suit. Gentlemen might select a wingtip or loafer, while ladies might wear a lower heel or, with slacks, a pair of leather flats. Soles should not be casual with thick edges or textured bottoms.


The advice is always to accessorize tastefully, and successfully choosing scarves, jewelry, and shoes requires developing good taste. For beginners, it can be very helpful to shop with a mentor from work or more experienced colleague. Salespeople can give advice on putting an appropriate outfit together, but be careful. Some retail clerks have had absolutely no main office experience and make really unfortunate recommendations.

Business casual attire can be tricky. Until you have a solid handle on the expectations of your own company, stick to the basics. Purchase a few good quality outfits that will be acceptable at any business casual function.

Slacks or skirts

The classic first choice for both men and women is khaki slacks made of cotton or blend twill. Similar casual pants in gray, black, or blue are also good choices, but don't choose denim, stretch fabrics, bright colors, or pants that are embellished with any external pockets, hardware or decorations. Shorts are never acceptable, nor are leggings.

Skirts should be conservatively cut although brighter colors can be chosen. It is acceptable to show some personality in your business casual wardrobe, but don't overdo it.

Shirts and sweaters

Collared shirts are ideal. Long-sleeved oxford shirts with a button-down collar are classic, and will be available in a wide range of checks, stripes, and plaids. A short-sleeved camp shirt is also acceptable, as is a polo shirt, especially if it has the employer's company logo on the pocket. Do not wear any kind of sleeveless shirt, tight fitting top, or low cut neckline. Women should never show cleavage, and gentlemen should never show hair.

Turtle neck shirts and sweaters are a good choice for cooler weather, and a sweater or sweater vest can be worn over an oxford shirt. Women can often find good quality crew neck knit shirts and sweaters. Gentlemen must be careful as most collarless shirts will be too lightweight; a t-shirt is never appropriate.


Loafers or other low-heeled leather shoes are acceptable for both men and women. Sandals (including any kind of open toe) and athletic footware are not. Women should be careful not to select shoes that are too dressy.


Do not wear a hat unless participating in or watching an outside sports event. Avoid apparel with obvious team or brand affiliation. Accessories can be a bit bolder and trendier. Costume jewelry is completely acceptable.

Before you start talking, think about what you want people to know about you, what you especially want them to remember. Regardless of the situation, don't forget to smile!

You'll go to plenty of networking events where the point is to meet new people. These might be professional colleagues from your own company or industry. You might be attending a conference of vendors and purchasers who want to get aquainted. You'll do even more networking at random moments. Every time you see a new face, your professional response is to say hello and get acquainted.

  • Smile. Really. SMILE! If you don't have a "natural" smile, you should practice this just like you practice a handshake. It's important.

  • Give your first and last name, slowly and clearly so that people can understand you. If you have a trick for helping people remember your name, provide that as well.

  • This is when you do the handshake.

  • Provide some information about yourself that offers a potential connection. The most common facts to start with are your company and job, and the other person will provide the same. If you're both accounting grads from UNI, the conversation is off and running.

  • If the company and job aren't a good match, you'll need to pull out your conversation starters. For tips on preparation of the top five, hover over Communication and Presentation Skills at the right, and select Networking Skills.

More and more, the first contact you'll have with a professional colleague is by email. Some people work together for months on a project and call themselves friends before they ever meet face to face. Think about electronic first impressions in the same way you think about any first impression. The first email contact with an industry professional or the first chat or hangout with your new team will form your reputation as a professional. Make it count!

  • Your name and title are already in your signature; what people really need to know is your (professional) personality. Provide one or two facts that capture your career focus, technical expertise, job responsibilities, or current assignment.

  • Especially in a virtual team or functional forum, a description of your physical context helps people interact more comfortably. Are you logging on in the kitchen after the kids have gone to bed? At the office where interruptions are a problem?

  • Keep things short. The first introduction is not a resume or a personal essay. Take no more than a few sentences to introduce the key information.

  • Proofread before you hit send! Everyone knows you're trying to make a good first impression, and they'll notice if you didn't bother to spell correctly.

Every publicly traded corporation provides professional bios (short for "biographies") of its executive team online, and so does nearly any for-profit or non-profit organization with a website and a board of directors. Here are examples from Maxwell Technologies and the Marin Humane Society. Even as a young professional, you'll be asked to provide a bio when you join a new team or volunteer in the community. This is the official information that will be sent to your new vice president or the local newspaper. Make sure it's professional, accurate, and up to date.

  • The bio is generally just a paragraph long. Stick to the job titles, education, and previous awards, and don't include everything. This is a highlight reel, not a resume.

  • Most executives don't include family information for security reasons, but it might be appropriate for a small town charity event. It's fine to just give minimal information, and never mention divorces or illnesses.

  • A professional business photo is included. Do not provide a selfie or an amateur photo taken by a friend. This is the time to invest in a professional business portrait, which should be updated every few years.

  • Follow any formatting requests carefully. Company bios are uniform in style and format, and any variations are treated as errors. If you don't receive specific guidelines, take a look at the company directory or website and follow the same format.

  • Professional bios are sometimes used on an internal company directory so that colleagues can get to know each other, even if they never actually meet face to face. This bio will include less information about previous jobs and more information about technical expertise. A bit more personality is allowed to show as well.

The one minute pitch takes advantage of your unexpected chance to tell an interviewer, potential client, or new acquaintance who you are, what you do, and what you want. This is not the time to stammer, stumble, and forget what you want to say. Be prepared to make a confident first impression and ask for what you want.

Katherine Cota-Uyar's Power Point Slides

Any succesful salesman, consultant, or entrepreneur will have a carefully rehearsed pitch, and many companies now use internet videos as a way to extend the message beyond face-to-face encounters.
Many people will create a "video resume" and send the link to potential employers. Think of this as an oral cover letter. You'll want to highlight your strengths but refer the listener to your printed resume for details. These samples have both good and bad points. Find something that you would do better in each one!

Many job hunters upload their elevator pitch video for prospective employer to view. Students can upload files to a Career Center portfolio, a personal website, or a public site such as YouTube. A video is a great way to showcase your technical or media production skills, along with making that great first impression on more people.

Another option is QR, short for Quick Response (so named because it can be read quickly by a cell phone). After a user has downloaded an app to a cell phone, the codes transfer information from transitory media (such as the back of a business card) to the phone, showing details on coupons, a business, or a URL where your One Minute Pitch can be viewed. This is a cutting-edge way of showcasing your contact information, resume, or online portfolio to future employers. Visit U QR me to learn how to create your own QR codes.

Here is the list of factors that go into a great pitch:


  • Provide your full name at the beginning, clearly enough to be understood.

  • Provide an identity: your company, project, organization, or major.

  • State you specific goal--to graduate with a degree, sell a product, or raise funds for an organization.

  • Provide clear and appropriate supporting evidence--classes you're taking, features of the project, etc.

  • Use a concrete, specific vocabulary that gets each point covered quickly and completely.

  • Provide some unique, differentiating, or creative identity information. Make sure you stand out from others.

  • Include an appropriate action step.

  • Keep to an appropriate length, usually 30-60 seconds, and never more than a few minutes.

Visual Cues

  • Appropriate eye contact with the viewer; don't stare at the camera or read from the screen.

  • Maintain a pleasant, authentic facial expression. Don't smirk, smile too much (or too little), or grimace.

  • Wear appropriate business attire, generally a coat and tie for gentlemen, a jacket and blouse for ladies.

  • Stand against a neutral, clear background.

  • Stand up straight with a stance that conveys confidence.

  • Use natural body language that conveys interest and respect.

Auditory Cues

  • Maintain an appropriate volume that is easy to hear.

  • Use good inflection to convey enthusiasm; avoid a monotone, a questioning tone, or negative tones.

  • Keep an appropriate pace; maintain interest without going too fast to hear your ideas.

  • Don't use any non-words such as "um", "like", or "ya know".

Comments are closed.