You only get one chance to make a first impression.
And a lot of people aren't sure how to do it well. In an ideal world, people would get to know one another before making a judgment call, but in reality, no one has time to get to know every person well. When it comes to job interviews and meeting new people in social situations, being able to make a snap judgment saves time -- and that makes making a good first impression an important skill to learn. If you go on a lot of job interviews but never get the job, have trouble making friends, or feel anxious when you meet strangers, chances are you could benefit from working on your first impression. Try these tips and improve what people think of you when you first meet.
Be on time
This is particularly important for job interviews and meeting business contacts. It shows that you are reliable and value the other person's time.
A warning: Don't be more than five minutes early, even for a job interview. If you're attending a party or visiting someone's home, being early can throw off your host's entire schedule. If necessary, leave early enough to get there early and then find a nearby coffee shop where you can wait until you are just on time. It requires investing a few extra minutes, but the first impression you make will be worth it.
Dress and groom yourself appropriately
This is extra important for a job interview or a meeting with colleagues, but it's also important to obey dress codes when going to a restaurant or cocktail party. When in doubt, err on the side of formality. If you show up for a party in a suit when everyone else is in casual attire, you will stand out, but in a significantly less awkward way than if you show up wearing jeans and a t-shirt when everyone else is wearing suits.
Smiling not only tells people that you are friendly; it also tells them you are happy to see them. If you only follow one rule of making a good first impression, smile.You can do everything else on this list perfectly and, if you appear angry or rude, people will still want to avoid you.
Use open body language
Most people aren't aware of what their body language is saying unless they've had it brought to their attention by someone else. When meeting someone new, it's important to use body language that says you are friendly, listening, and fully engaged in talking to him or her. To start, sit up straight -- not on the edge of your seat, but sit up tall enough that it will probably feel a bit awkward at first. Slouching can make you look lazy, tired, and overly casual. Next, make sure you aren't crossing your arms across you chest. It can be a comfortable way to sit, but it makes you look closed off and sometimes even rude to the person with whom you're talking. Finally, your legs (and most of your body) should be pointing towards the other person. Crossing your legs away from him or her can make you appear less engaged in the conversation.
Use their name
If you use the person's name over and over, it can seem obvious and ridiculous (I once interviewed a young man who was obviously trying very hard to use my name as many times as possible, and I spent most of the interview trying not to laugh), Instead, say the name shortly after meeting the person and it will help you remember it later. Even more important than saying a person's name aloud is saying it correctly. If you mispronounce it or spell it wrong later, it will seem like you do not care enough to get it right. If you aren't sure how to pronounce someone's name, ask the person if you're saying it right and allow her to correct you.
Ask questions -- and actually listen to the answers
Most people love talking about themselves. If you want someone to like you and be interested in you, ask him questions that give him an opportunity to talk. For cues on what to ask about, listen to what he says. If he mentions recently getting back from a long vacation, ask where he went. If he mentions renovations that are being done on his apartment, ask what he is having done. The topic doesn't have to interest you. If he is talking about it, there's a good chance it interests him. Stay on the subject for only as long as the other person seems interested in it. Asking questions like these might seem counter-intuitive for a job interview where the company should be getting to know you, but in reality, it's a great way to stand out in your interviewer's mind. Particularly when your interviewer is talking about the job, the company, and major projects, keep asking questions and then file away the details in your mind for later. You'll most likely be interviewed by other people at the same company, and you can use what you've learned when they ask you questions.
Master these skills and you'll find yourself with more people who want to be your friends and more companies that want to hire you.
Carissa Doshi is a business writer and the president of Gen Y Media Group. She gives career advice and blogs about her experiences on www.carissadoshi.com. You can also follow @CarissaDoshi on Twitter.