First Impressions. 13 tips & why you should look at your feet when meeting someone.

You have less than 30 seconds to make a first impression”. An old adage that everyone got taught as soon as they were expected to make an impression. Is it right?

Or is it 7 seconds like my old school careers guidance counselor repeatedly repeated? (whilst wearing hush-puppies and a corduroy jacket with at least 20 pens in the breast pocket and having never actually worked outside of education….the same careers guidance counselor that stated my ideal career-path was that of a Priest).

No…..The boffins at Princeton have now informed us that we are all wrong. The amount of time it takes to make a first impression is around 100 milliseconds. To put that in context, that is the time it takes for a hummingbird to flap its wings, once. Or the time it takes to realise Celebrity Big Brother doesn’t actually contain any real celebrities.

Whether we want to admit it or not, first impressions are all about appearance….or physiognomy as it is officially termed. We love to pretend that it’s personality, intelligence, sense of humour etc that makes all the difference in human chemistry, but that first impression is all about that 100 millisecond-constructed opinion; and first impressions don’t materially alter in over 90% of cases.

Want to pass your interview? Nail the first impression. Seriously. The number of times my first impression has been altered enough to change a candidates shortlist-ability is below 10%.

It’s important then. So how do you max on that first impression? After all, 100 milliseconds isn’t much to play with.

The secret is, of course, that you have a lot lot longer, it’s just that the time you have is before you actually meet the new contact/interviewee/date. Preparation.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of the book “Executive Presence” says it is about “Polish, Grooming and ‘being well put together’…not about body shape or the clothes you wear”.

In writing her book, Sylvia surveyed 4,000 professionals, admittedly in the US, including 250 senior execs. She sought the answer of what makes a good first impression in business. The top five answers were:

  1. Looking polished and groomed. 
  2. Being physically attractive and fit. 
  3. Dressing in simple, stylish clothes.
  4. Standing Tall
  5. Looking Youthful

No real surprises there.

Being well turned out is always going to win. But also being stylish and appropriately dressed is ever more important. With business attire getting ever more casual, ‘appropriate’ is even more key (almost 50% of my clients no longer insist on a suit/tie….many instead insisting on ‘Business Casual’, especially after an initial meeting). More on that later.

Being physically fit/attractive is at odds with Sylvia’s initial comments, but I agree with the findings. Being (or at least looking as if you are) fit is critical if you are keen to make a strong first impression. The only real form of C-Level ‘discrimination’ I encounter with my clients is towards people who are significantly overweight. Right or wrong, business leaders often have the perspective that if you don’t/won’t/can’t look after your own body, you are less likely to look after their businesses. Harsh….but so is life/business.

As for ‘Standing Tall’ – I’d rather not dwell on it – there is nothing you can do about it, and it is a somewhat sensitive subject in my world…..but needless to say, height and success does have a direct correlation. The key is appearance again. If you are ‘bijou and compact’, be aware what style of clothing/body language/body shape impacts the appearance of your height.

Appearance really is everything. I asked over 70 current and aspiring business owners and business leaders a simple question of what the first thing they noticed upon meeting someone for the first time.

Non-Appearance answers centred around Authenticity, Punctuality, Hand-Shake and Energy. But by far the greatest number of answers centred around appearance. Face, Smile, Eye-Contact, Body-Language, Body-Shape along with style and appropriateness of Dress.

But the most common answer? The most judged element on meeting someone new?

Shoes. Style and cleanliness.

Comments were:Gary Chaplin

“You can tell everything about someone through their shoes”
“A heart is a window to a soul. Shoes are a window to a life”
“What shoes a women chooses to meet you tells you what she think of the meeting, and of you”.

Flippancy aside, shoes tell you a lot. The style, the condition and the cleanliness. Test the theory on the next 5 people you meet. See if the shoes match the person. Then look at what your own shoes say about you.

A contact of mine sells very high-end sports cars. £100,000 plus. I spent a few hours with him a while ago and asked him how he differentiates between people just wanting to look round a £1.5m hypercar and the ones able to buy it. I watched him all but dismiss dozens of suited, smart potential customers before ‘leaping on’ a fairly scruffy looking guy in jeans and a t-shirt. He walked out 15 minutes later having placed a £50,000 deposit on a rare car. Why him? His shoes, then his watch. No matter what clothes someone is wearing, an affluent, successful person will always know the value and benefit of good shoes, and won’t let them get into bad condition. Shoes told him everything.

More on what shoes say about you from Huffington Post here….but if you want help on your style, and on the condition of your shoes – read through to the end of this blog and I have a 2 great offers for you…..!

So away from shoes, what can we do to maximize that critical first impression, all 100 milliseconds of it? Especially in that most critical moment of career development, the first interview?

Against popular opinion and politically correctness, when it comes to First Impressions;Gary Chaplin First Impressions image is key. If you spend your life meeting people, of have an important meeting/interview, you need to evaluate and seek to control the impact of your appearance on you, on others, and the achievement of your goals.

Ultimately, as a vital part of the First Impression process, your image can be one of the biggest influencers in achieving your career aspirations. Get it right and it can help you:

  • Control what others see/perceive
  • Enhance others’ perception of you
  • Project trustworthiness
  • Inspire confidence in your abilities
  • Exude friendliness, approachability and likeability
  • Open doors to opportunities
  • Enhance/elevate your status

You therefore need to ask of yourself:

What does your current image say about you?
Is that what you want it to say about you?
Does your image project the impression that you are competent, confident, trustworthy and approachable?
Does it say you are individualistic, creative, edgy?
Or, does your image tell people you’re stressed, indecisive, overwhelmed and/or unreliable?

But it is more than just image….You need to create the right overall aura. Image is a large part of that, your immediate appearance; what you wear, how you wear it, how you look. But also important is how you hold yourself, how you act, your body language, your verbal communication style/skill and your non-verbal communication style/skill.

Together this will form a snap decision that will be unlikely to change in the subsequent 59 minutes, 59 seconds (and 900 milliseconds) of your stereotypical hour-long interview.

You have your (appropriate) dress nailed, so what about everything else?

Think about how you enter a room, office bar or restaurant to meet an interviewer (or date). Do you slip into a room with a watery smile? Or walk in with confidence? Steve Peters in the Chimp Paradox talks about the importance of kingdoms. Know yours, respect others….but never feel like you don’t belong.

Confidence is important. Feet planted, 6-8 inches apart, chest out and an upright stance and your head held high will make you feel grounded and confident…and appear so. Try it.

Eye contact is critical, establish it, hold it (no demonic stares). Adding a smile will be a welcoming, confident gesture. Even a marginal frown will appear confrontational. A former colleague of mine permanently frowned in the belief that it added to his own superiority in the game/quest of control in any meeting and boosting of confidence. The reality is, real confidence wears a smile.

[Incidentally, your target for the meeting is c80-85% eye-contact. More than that can appear aggressive (or subservient); less can appear disinterested]. 80-85% will show interest and courtesy.]

Next comes the handshake. Male or female, a firm, non-watery/non-bone crushing handshake is all you need. Palm-to-palm, grip like you are holding a pint glass, and hold for 3-6 seconds. Whilst you do that you need to speak. If it’s their office/their ‘kingdom’, let them do the introduction…but if they don’t, you need to. Keep it simple. Your name….their name…..a pleasantry. “Sarah…Gary….A pleasure to meet you.”

Next, you need a 15-25 word opener, or introduction. An opener is small talk. Comments on them, their office, the venue you are within….the subject matter is irrelevant, the tone is critical. It has to be a 100% positive comment. “Lovely offices, amazing what they have done with this building”; “What an amazing part of town, it’s years since I have been down here…” banal/happy/positive small talk conversation. Do not open with a negative about the traffic getting there, the weather, the difficulty in parking…etc

If an introduction is appropriate, think of it as a verbal business card…. Practice it. Think of your Elevator Pitch (or nowadays, your TweetPitch). These are better at 5-15 words. Practice it. Who you are, what you are, and how other people benefit. Practice it! ….avoid a fumbling, protracted introduction… “I’m a Chartered Accountant but haven’t actually practiced for some time now, I moved into insolvency but as the market……<snore>”. See the #TweetPitch Blog for more guidance on describing yourself in 5 words.

Beyond that you are into the body of any conversation/meeting (and you have lost your 90% First Impression shot at winning). Simple, straight forward conversations will always win the day. Prepare in advance, relax, be yourself but forget yourself…. But this will get picked up on another blog….

Back to First Impressions…13 summarising tips to nail it.

The clothes You Wear. Does your choice of attire say what you want? Smart enough/Casual enough? The default option of a suit is no longer a safe bet…..many business will down mark you for wearing a suit – it shows a lack of preparation for a smart/casual business (or a crap HeadHunter/Recruiter)…. Does it demonstrate competence/confidence/trust? Does it show individuality/disestablishmentarianism…or antidisestablishmentarianism [always wanted to use that in a blog]

Shoes. Voted the hottest topic. What do your shoes say about you. Style, trend, condition, relevance, cleanliness. Scruffy shoes/Scruffy approach. Cheap Shoes/Cheap Approach. Let your shoes make a statement. (see below for how, get a free professional shoe-polish, and get a discount off a new pair….!)

Reader shoe tips:
Never wear black suit/brown shoes – Vaughan Allen
Never Brown in Town” – Mark Cockshoot
Beige soles with black leather? #neverbrownintown…no tweed in town either. Strictly for shooting” – Dave Edmundson-Bird

How you wear, what you wear. Whatever you wear, make sure it fits and looks polished. The best suit will work against you if it doesn’t fit, or you slouch. The finest shoes will look dreadful if they don’t suit the clothes..or worse still, if they are scuffed and filthy. The right person can look better, smarter, more confident and more successful in jeans and a t-shirt than the wrong person in a suit. Never

Grooming. Its not just clothes/shoes. Hair, Teeth, Make-Up. Don’t get all PC and say it ‘shouldn’t matter’ – if it’s a professional environment, look professional, look like you’ve made an effort. Be clean shaven or with trimmed facial hair. Check your smell. Perfume/AfterShave there, but not powerful….and no body odour!

Piercings/Tattoos/etc. Controversial, and as with clothes, highly dependent on the environment or role you are interviewing for. Unless you are 100% convinced that tattoos and piercings will add to the interviewer’s interest in you (i.e., interviewing at The Botanist or Vin Diesel’s understudy), play safe – cover tattoos and, where possible, non-ear piercings.

Your entrance. Assert confidence, belong in that room, smile, give eye-contact, lead the greeting, start the conversation. Leave unnecessary bags (and your shopping bags..!) in the car.

Be Polite. Basic politeness and common decency goes a long, long way. No phones, no distractions. Give the other person 100% of your attention. Be warm, personable, chivalrous and generally polite.

Role-play your verbal communication. Do you speak clearly, professionally and at an appropriate pace and sound level when first meeting someone? Practice it! Aim for 80-100 words per minute. Ask a friend to role-play and look for ways you can modify your verbal communication to create an improved first impression.

Evaluate your non-verbal communication. Do you inspire confidence when you walk and when you sit. Do you look awkward in your chair. Don’t fidget but don’t still 100% still. Practice looking (and being) relaxed. Practice your handshake. Firm, not crushing. No limp wrists.

Eye-contact. Don’t skimp. Aim for 80-85%. The greater the eye-contact, the greater the perception of intelligence (according to the British Psychological Society)…although much over 85% risk tipping intelligence to psychosis.

If it’s their Kingdom, let them talk first. If you are meeting in their office/their space, let them talk first. It builds their confidence in you and demonstrates you recognise it is their Kingdom (see Steve Peters, Chimp Paradox) – it will build their trust in you. If it’s neutral ground….use your opener, but always finish with a ‘door-opener’: Ask them how they are.

Listen. Yes, even in that first new seconds/minutes, listen to what they say. Mishearing a question or being too focused in getting your points in. The lifeline they throw you in their opener could cement your future relationship.

Finally……Planning. Spend time planning for the meeting. Know the journey, leave enough time (even C-Level candidates get rejected for being late). Know you have the right building “Oh, she’s based at our other site” is not what you want to hear with 5 minutes to go. Do your research on the person (hello social media) and on the business. Research their competitors. Research the role. All of this will give calm and confidence. Take time to make sure you know the dress code, ask the HeadHunter, he will have been there more than once and should have specifically asked.

Back to the shoes

Anyone who knows me, knows of my love for Oliver Sweeney shoes. They are a true British Brand and epitomise everything above about striking the right note to bolster and make that all important First Impression. Their range fits the smartest suit to the most casual jeans/shorts. Find it here:

They will also know of my passion for, work with and role as an ambassador for the Gary Chaplin CharityRoyal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity.

Putting these two great brands together we have a great offer for anyone walking through Manchester wanting to maximize their ability to make a strong first impression – or just look good.

The Guys at the Manchester Store of Oliver Sweeney (The Avenue, Spinningfields) have generously offered to professionally polish your shoes to give you the best chance of making that sparkling first impression….in return for a donation to Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity, preferably a folding donation…!

Gary ChaplinPlanning to take it to the next level?? Tim Cooper, the owner and ‘Cobbler-in-Chief’ of Oliver Sweeney has offered to give anyone who mentions my name a 10% discount off any purchase of shoes from the Spinningfields store, all in the name of maximizing your First Impression.

Finally – here is Tim’s guide to polishing your own shoes:

28 Comments on “First Impressions. 13 tips & why you should look at your feet when meeting someone.”

  1. Fantastic blog Gary, really enjoyable read. Count me in for a shoe shine. I’ll try to avoid the temptation of the shoes!

    And I do think the Priesthood lost a trick by not snaring you 😉

  2. Great blog. That’s my boyfriend’s birthday present sorted, his shoes are a disgrace.
    Do you offer a personal shopping service Gary, you must know their stock better than they do!

  3. Great article. I’ve always said shoes are the window to the soul and constantly berate my husband for his dirty and unkempt shoes.I have just forwarded this blog to him.

    I’ll bring his shoes into store for a polish if he doesn’t

  4. Wonderful read and so very enlightening. Working on the West-Coast, dress code varies fantastically, and many of the tech entrepreneurs favour sneakers or similar. However your missies still holds up, as whilst they wear sneakers, the more impressive person will still maintain better quality and better cared for sneakers.

    More importantly than that, as any lady will tell you, a man in fine shoes will always get our hearts reading, uh ladies? 😉

    Well done on a great blog.

  5. Appearance shouldn’t be what drives first impressions and promoting this through your blog is wrong and fuelling employer prejudice. Human assessment should be based on who the person is, not how thin they are, how well they’ve brushed their hair and certainly not on what shoes they wear. How ridiculous.

    • It is your comment that is ridiculous. First impressions are just that, the impression gained and gauged before full understanding is possible. It is perfectly just and right to assess someone’s care taken on their appearance when they are first coming to meet you, especially in a business or interview context. If you turn up looking unkept or scruffy for such a meeting, it is appropriate to be judged as so.

      • Only the shallow would judge someone on what they wear. Blogs like this, and media obsession with appearance just fuel such shallowness and lead to societal problems with adherence to unrealistic stereotypes.

    • You are so very wrong. Humans are designed to be attracted to each other, this presenting yourself in the best possible is critical if you want to make a strong impression. If you turn up looking like you’ve made no effort, that is the message you will display. Do you want an interviewer to think you can’t be bothered?

      • Attraction is more than appearance. The countries media fuelled obsession with appearance is leading to massive societal problems with eating disorders and forcing people especially young people to try and conform to unrealistic role models. When the average dress size is 16 in this country, we should be promoting the acceptance of people of that shape, not fuelling the obsession with size 8 skinny girls.

        • First impressions are just that. And whilst the ave size *may* be a 16, we should not automatically accept that as what should be promoted. We should be promoting healthy lifestyles. Size 16 is not as healthy as Size 8-10. The majority of Size 16’s will be classed as Clinically Obese, promoting away from obesity is what we should strive for.

        • To “anon” (big clues in that signature!) In an ‘ideal’ world, (where fairies sprinkle star dust, storks deliver babies, and where there is no war, disease, poverty and tangled coat hangers) the idea that first impressions don’t count is the norm. A world where people don’t make instant judgements about others, and humans can work against their instincts and continue to interview someone who is scruffy, fat, bad-mannered and ugly for that Sales job. Unfortunately, this is Earth. I’ve made a career out of studying what works in an influencing/persuading situation, and then applying that experience and knowledge in a successful way – in the real world. Sad, I know, but the stuff Gary’s article talks about is absolutely spot on. It might not fit in with The Pixar-Disney philosophy, but it’s completely and utterly authorative. If I’d given my clients your advice, I’d have probably ended up doing the kind of job normally taken up by people who advise others that it’s okay to not worry about your appearance or behaviour when going for an interview – but that would be ridiculous.
          Gary; great article. 😉

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  9. As I said on your fat blog, your blogposts are very controversial and unfortunately probably very accurate. To judge anyone, in any way based on their physical appearance is xenophobic, this includes the way they dress. Appearance should count for nothing.

    • Anon – i back in the real world,it happens every day by my most people. Deal with it. Thats the problem with pc brigade tree huggers like you, you live in fantasy la la land, and cant accept reality as it actually happens in life. Gary is bang on the money – shouldnt the issue of the article be learning people to go the gym, dress better and look after themselves? Yes of course – but no we cant advice that to anyone can we ? as its not pc correct and we might upset someone dave in chester aged 42 weight 23 stone. World has gone mad, we cant say anything truthful now and call a spade a spade in case someone gets bit emotional, usually those jumping up in outcry are not really that bothered its a faux pas just for the sake of being pc correct. Get over it.

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