Why First Impressions Are More Important Than You Thought

“First impressions only happen once and you don’t get a second chance”

We meet people every day and are constantly crossing paths with strangers. The initial observation of someone, even if only made briefly can have long lasting effects. The science behind first impressions proved to be significant when research presented at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference demonstrated that someone’s appearance when you meet them can potentially alter the subsequent relationship you develop with them. Interestingly, the extent to which you end up liking someone and even how trustworthy we perceive them to be were all linked back to the all-important first impression.

Research conducted by Rule and Colleague also implied that our gut instinct of someone, that we base off their appearance, initially over-rules what we already know about the person. Even though your resume may compare your intelligence with Einstein and liken your motivation and organisation to Elon Musk, if you arrive to the interview looking shabby with messy hair, ill-fitted pants and worn out shoes be prepared to sway someone’s judgement of you. Recent findings in psychology just highlighted that what you know about someone doesn’t matter when you first observe them and are forced to make a quick judgement based on their appearance.

Perfecting your appearance:

Knowing the importance of this, we can and should capitalise on our first encounters by assessing and improving on our physical appearance (Also see “You Don’t Always Say What You Say and Here’s Why” to understand what your body language conveys).

Obvious targets of these improvements are fresh haircuts, cleaning up facial hair, dressing formally with well-fitted ironed clothes, polishing up your shoes and even add-ons such as jewellery and wristwatches can help to portray some potentially beneficial information about the type of individual you are to the employer (maybe that’s why they call it smart casual).

Another thing that females can manipulate concerning their physical appearance is their make-up. It’s no secret that pretty girls get what they want, but it may come as a surprise to you that science also backs this up. Social psychology experiments on attractiveness were carried out in court-rooms where a jury rated the physical attractiveness of a person on trial and then went on to note down the results of the hearing. It was found that there was a correlation between the degree of someones physical attractiveness and favourable outcomes that went their way in court hearings. This wasn’t due to chance.

Your physical appearance combined with how attractive you can make yourself has the ability to completely sway another person’s view of you while simultaneously giving you more influence over decisions involving you.

Colours

Colours are also interesting in that they have their own associated psychology surrounding them. Within 90 seconds, people usually make up their mind about a product or a person and 62–92% of their assessment relates to colours alone. The importance of colours stems from their ability to influence feelings and moods, both positively and negatively.

Have you ever realised that fast food chains like McDonalds, KFC and Hungry Jacks all contain red and yellow in their logo and plastered around their buildings? This is because marketers have studied the impact of colour when branding companies and products. Red is used because it stimulates appetite, hunger and attracts attention. Yellow is used because it elicits feelings of happiness and friendliness.

Colours are another thing that can be altered concerning your physical appearance when taking into account the importance of first impressions.

Black is associated with authority, strength and power which in turn when worn as clothing may give off the impression that you are unapproachable and can be intimidating. It can however be seen as sophisticated and convey to people that you have leadership qualities which is necessary for some industries.

The colour blue is associated with calmness, stability and reliability, is seen as non-threatening and has even been demonstrated in experiments to elicit the most pleasurable emotional reaction when compared with other primary colours. Knowing how different colours are perceived by people is important and can ultimately affect the dynamic of an interview or encounter.

Navy blue is thought to be the best option for the majority of interviews as it also conveys confidence, trust and still maintains a degree of authority. It makes sense. Have you ever walked past someone in a black suit and felt like they wanted to be left alone, are unapproachable and potentially intimidating? Whereas walking past someone in a navy blue or blue suit gives off a friendlier vibe and it feels like they are more approachable and likeable? Take note of how the physical appearance of individuals you walk passed affects your perception of them and use this introspection to guide the way you would like to present yourself to interviewers, colleagues, strangers or even friends.

Broader Implications

Be aware that wearing black suits with $10,000 wristwatches along with an overly forceful handshake and a 10 second unflinching stare may give off the impression to your employer that you’re gang banging with Al Pacino and can potentially intimidate them and cause them to be defensive. Don’t intimidate your employer, befriend them. Navy Blue suits, perfect handshakes, nonchalant jewellery, appropriate eye contact and open body language makes you a lot more approachable and likeable to an employer, and if they like you they are going to want to keep you around.

There’s more to meeting someone than a simple hello, keep this in mind.

Jayden Kafanelis

Executive Director of InternMe Australia

E: info@internme.com.au