May 25, 2017
“What Do I Want Someone to Remember About Me” - The Power of First Impressions

The other night, I picked up my teenage daughter at an event she attended with an extended group of her friends; many of which I hadn’t met before. She had requested I collect her at a local frozen yogurt joint. It was a beautiful night; the type we New Englanders suffer through nine months of unpredictable weather to enjoy at the beginning of each summer. The top was down on my car. As I pulled up, her friends swarmed me with compliments; “Your car is so bada**!” “You are so funny on Gia’s SnapChat!” “You win for coolest mom!”

Before you read on and think me absent of humility, let me share my embarrassment in that moment.  I believe they intended their comments as compliments.  However, for me, the way I dress, the demeanor I present, and the car I drive are just small elements of who I am.  While well-intended, to be judged by a bunch of teens that way left me feeling uneasy. If being perceived as “cool” is the first impression I give to a group of fourteen year olds, am I the best role model I can be for my daughters? 

We have all heard the power a first impression holds. Good, bad, or neutral, there is no denying those initial moments when you meet someone new can have a lasting effect. I spend a lot of focus and energy on being a mother who is respected - not just liked – by her children. Hearing those teenagers approach me in that way really made me pause about what impression I make when I meet anyone; at work or generally in life. On the plus side, I can celebrate that her friends find me accessible and open enough to have them speak to me like I am an older friend. The opposite point of view might suggest that perhaps I’m just a little too laid back and approachable; namely that random teens can say anything to me regardless of relationship, decorum, etc.

Have you ever considered what impression you make? Ask yourself the following questions – and then checkpoint your assumptions with others to get a true read. It’s up to you if you decide to change anything once you collect the information.

People who tend to make good first impressions consider others. That means using your manners, embracing social norms, and other unspoken rules of connecting with people.  For example, perhaps your company has a casual dress code.  Most people aren’t going to show up on their first day wearing their Soundgarden t-shirt from 1995, complete with holes in it.  A savvy person will make their best attempt to be “casual yet tidy” and err on the side of a little less casual until they really understand their new environment.  Maybe forego complaining that your cube was soooo much bigger at your last company. Don’t get involved in gossip as a means of connecting to people. Obviously, you want to find your comfortable and authentic self; but by playing it a little safer and using the basic good sense your mama gave you as you navigate your new team, you will likely make a stronger first impression.

When you enter a new situation; be it meeting new people at a cocktail party or entering a new team on a first day of work, be mindful of your place. Often, people join a new group and do whatever they can to fit right in. Sure, that makes sense…as long as you are open to new approaches other than your own. Nothing alienates you more than joining a new company or team and frequently throwing out, “At my last job, we did…”  Of course, our experiences and knowledge are important elements to bring to the table; but it doesn’t mean your way is always better. Seek to learn and gain understanding of the situation BEFORE you start attempting to wow people with how great you are. And please, while you might be excited about your new group, don’t trash your old one. It makes you appear disloyal and unkind.

Part of making a good first impression is connecting with others.  This doesn’t mean you need to attempt to become besties with your new colleagues, but sequestering yourself off and eating at your desk or running errands isn’t going to give off the vibe you are interested in fitting in either. In a perfect world, your new team will make this easy for you; they will ask you to join them.  Not happening? Shame on them…but if you are shy like me, take this basic approach.  “Hi, I’d love to grab lunch/coffee/etc. sometime this week and learn about what you do to help me get ramped up and contributing to the team quickly.”  This does two key things: Presents you as a friendly new colleague eager to connect with people AND shows you are interested in what they do. First impression?  Nailed it.

It takes a bit of time to hit the ground running on a new team. You might have the skills to do the job, but every team and company has a new way of executing.  Think about athletes who get traded; they might be exceptionally gifted, but what worked on one pro team might not be in the playbook for another.  Watch, listen, and edit as appropriate. Ask lots of questions to seek understanding, and pay attention.  Just be mindful of people’s time – you don’t want to appear overzealous or overly needy either.

Isn’t one of the goals in life to feel comfortable in your own skin?  Selecting a team, set of friends, and environments that allow you to be your true self is certainly something to seek out.  However, approaching any new situation with equal parts confidence and open-mindedness will not only make others feel more comfortable; it enables you to make a more solid first impression.

Now that I’ve had some time to process my daughter’s friends’ comments, I’m more at ease with the notion that a group of teenagers find me somewhat relatable. It doesn’t take away from the fact that my children know I’ll always be mom before friend…but the fact that they feel the latter is just icing on the cake.

Christina Luconi is Chief People Officer for Rapid7. Follow her on Twitter: @peopleinnovator.

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