Wouldn’t it be great if, upon first meeting someone, you could just lay down the truth about yourself and move on with your life? Like, “hi, my name’s Schmendrick. Although I appear to be extremely bored right now, I’m actually quite the outgoing people-person.” And then whoever you just met would automatically trust that Schmendrick is an outgoing people-person, regardless of how you look or act, and that’d be that. What a great world that would be! There’d probably be an endless supply of beer and cheese fries in that world, too, but it’s moot, because that world does not exist. Instead, in this world – the “real world,” if you will – you can’t expect people to disregard their first impression of you in favor of whatever you think is true about yourself. Image is everything when you first meet someone, be it a potential employer, a potential frat brother or a potential wife, which means that your habit of rolling out of bed five minutes before every job interview could be the very thing that’s keeping you on the government’s unemployment payroll.
Thankfully, it’s ridiculously easy to make an amazing first impression. All you have to do is appear put-together one time in order to make people think you always roll that way, so as long as you’re willing to commit to, say, an extra 20 minutes of prep time before a big meeting, interview or date, you’ll become one of those guys who leaves people wanting more, instead of the guy who continually damages his reputation irreparably by simply showing up. To learn how to make a killer first impresh, just consult your friend CHET: C(leanliness), H(andshake), E(ye contact), T(alkativeness). If that’s still too complicated, then here. We’ve broken it down for you.
The golden rule of a good first impression is “pay attention to how you look.” Just accept the fact that appearances matter; it isn’t a product of an overly image-conscious society, it’s a product of biology. People notice what they can see before they notice anything else. For example, if you show up to a cocktail party sporting a Metallica t-shirt and natty jeans because you’re “too cool to care about your appearance,” then the first thing people are going to notice won’t be your devil-may-care attitude, but instead the questionable judgment you’ve exhibited by dressing like a street urchin for a black-tie-optional event.
Everything starts with good hygiene. If you have somewhere important to be and someone important to impress, then don’t skip the shower (nor the shave, nor the copiousness of deodorant… do, however, skip the cologne, because very, very few scents are actually as pleasant and tantalizing as you think they are). Once you’ve rejoined the world of the showered masses, be sure to choose a tasteful outfit. Hopefully you already own at least one good suit, one nice pair of shoes and one respectable dress shirt, but if you don’t – or if it’s news to you that pajama pants aren’t acceptable daytime attire – then get thee to the Men’s Wearhouse and procure some combination of items that will pass for presentable in a pinch. If you manage to do nothing else, at least put on a pair of clean, wrinkle-free pants and comb/brush/spit-smooth your hair before you leave the house.
Your handshake is like a physical manifestation of your business card, so a weak, weeny-like grip equates to a title of “Sissypants, Esq.” below your embossed moniker. Even if you’ve managed to successfully dress yourself, you’ll be instantly written off if your grasp is so delicate that it could handle a newborn kitten. You don’t need to break anyone’s hand; you just need to grip firmly, shake twice, and let go. Repeat: grip firmly, shake twice, let go. Just as you shouldn’t offer a limp shake, you also shouldn’t shake too vigorously or linger for too long, because you don’t want to look like you’re trying to figure out how to kill your new acquaintance and bake him into a pie.
When you know you look good (which you will after you take a nice long shower and don your brand-new big-boy outfit), you’re more likely to appear confident, which will help you immensely as you attempt to impress a date or land a hugely important account. However, if you’re still dealing with sweaty palms and a churning stomach even after sprucifying your image, then an easy way to fake confidence is to make – and hold – eye contact with your conversation partner. It’s all too easy to shift your gaze mid-sentence towards the window in an effort to regain your composure or re-board your train of thought, but that’s also a dead giveaway that you’re not cool and composed, but instead scared crapless and about to cry. If it helps, practice with someone beforehand; most of us are too stuck in our own little worlds to have a lot of experience making meaningful eye contact with other humans, so you might need to get comfortable with the process in a safe place before busting it out in a scary one.
After you’ve aced the visual and tactile portions of this lesson, the key to really sealing the deal is not to let yourself babble like a fool because you’re nervous, excited or dangerously close to peeing your pants. When in doubt, shut your mouth. Nervous chatter is not only insanely annoying, but it’s also a red flag that you might not be as chill as you’ve somehow managed to make people think you are. If you should find yourself stuck in the middle of a babble storm of terrible, don’t give up, just cut yourself off and shift focus back to whoever is unfortunate enough to be stuck talking to you. You can always fall back on the fact that people love to talk about themselves, even if you’ve dug yourself into a conversational hole.