The Three-Second Impression

As an illustration, say you are about to board a plane. As you pass the cockpit, you look inside. You see the pilot sporting a five-day-old beard and a crumpled tee shirt. Would you feel comfortable getting on a plane this man is flying? What if your new doctor were to enter the exam room dressed in cutoff jeans, flip flops, and sporting dirty hair under a baseball cap? How relaxed would you feel sitting there in your thin paper gown ready for an exam? We don’t consciously judge people based on their appearance. We’ve been told it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover, but we have definite expectations about what a professional — any professional — should look like. Here’s why.

It goes back to our primitive days on how our brain works to protect us. Think caveman or cavewoman and the saber-toothed tiger. Your brain screams, “Danger!” The blood flows from your brain to your extremities to help you. Does the cavewoman need to fight the tiger or flee from the tiger?

This is why those few seconds are so important when you meet someone new. The human brain quickly sizes up the people we encounter. When someone walks into the room, the primitive area in our brain (the amygdala) that’s responsible for our fight or flight decision-making process reacts. Within three seconds, it makes a judgment based on the person’s physical appearance, what they are wearing, and their mannerisms. Is she friend or foe? Is she trustworthy?

So think about this: While you are judging others, they are also judging you. Your appearance is the first thing people see, and it speaks volumes. Before you say a single word, others form an impression of who you are based on your attire and grooming — from your hair down to your shoes.

The bottom line is to step it up: Be polished and fit the part. It’s not about losing your authenticity. It’s about being the best you possible.

Marja Norris is the CEO and Founder of, a company dedicated to helping women achieve their career goals with style and confidence. With a distinguished career in finance, Marja has successfully navigated the male-dominated business world. Working her way up from an entry-level assistant to a Senior Vice President, she draws on her three decades of experience in the corporate world to empower women to pursue their highest goals and blossom into everything they can be.

Marja is passionate about coaching women on projecting their best professional selves. With the publication of her latest book, The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman’s No-Nonsense Guide to Making It in the Corporate World, Marja’s mission is to provide women with the tools to successfully navigate the workplace through heightened confidence, excellent communication skills, and dressing the part to achieve career success.