A few weeks ago, my buddy’s wife called to fix me up on a date with an acquaintance of hers. Now, as many of the past 1,000 or so blind date referrals have started, my friend disclaimed the situation by stating that she did not know this girl very well, but in their brief encounters, always found her to be very nice. She also threw in the fact that she was quite attractive (not that I would ask about something so superficial). Always being very open-minded about these things, I immediately accepted, no questions asked. I waited the customary two days before calling, as to not appear overly anxious (and pathetic). A short, but pleasant conversation ensued, and we agreed to check our calendars the next day at work and find an appropriate time to get together. (Actually, I don’t even own a calendar.)
To my surprise, this girl called me the next morning and asked me to meet her and a friend for drinks later that evening. (In reality, that type of thing happens to me all of the time.) Of course, with such short notice, I already had plans, but told her to leave me a message where they were going to be. At about 9:30 p.m., I checked my answer machine, called her cell phone, and agreed to hook up with them at a trendy restaurant. Now, bear in mind, I was extremely tired from an incredibly hectic day at work and a Seinfeld rerun was coming on in about 30 minutes. Yet, for the chance to meet my future wife, I decided to drive 15 minutes out of my way for what I anticipated being a lovely evening.
As I prepared to enter the restaurant, I gave myself the once-over in the window, and liked what I saw: fresh haircut, casual “chic” attire (Izod, jeans, and topsiders), day old beard. Yes, I was looking good. I confidently strolled in and surveyed the room. And then I spotted her, just as she had been described. She was simply breathtaking. (Well, maybe that’s a tad strong.) Immediately, we made eye contact; it was truly a magical moment. I walked over, introduced myself, made some lighthearted attempts at humorous small talk, and ordered a beer (a trendy Italian beer, I might add). Certainly, this girl and her friend had to be impressed. How could they not be? When my beer arrived about three minutes later, my future wife suddenly asked for the check, and spent the next several minutes bickering with her friend about the appropriate gratuity to leave. I’m not sure how it was calculated, but they left about seven percent. And at once, they both stood up and explained how very tired they were and needed to leave. I don’t even think I had taken one sip of my beer. And then they were gone, giggling all the way to the door, out of my life forever. The entire encounter lasted all of 10 minutes. The good news is I still made it home in time for most of Seinfeld.
To this day, I have not figured out how I could have been so offensive to them in such a short period of time. (Typically, it takes me a good half hour or so.) Obviously, I had made a less than stellar first impression. Maybe they really did have to be up early the next morning? (If so, why were they still laughing in the parking lot when I finally left?) Maybe the Izod and topsiders did not make a strong fashion statement? Maybe my haircut is a bit out of style? Maybe they had already heard that funny “knock knock” joke I opened with? Whatever the reason, I was reminded of that wise saying from that famous television commercial of a few years back, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING
In the business world, first impressions can be equally as important. Right or wrong, we all make judgements about other people based on initial appearances: the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, the people they hang out with. Unfortunately, once an initial negative perception has been created (fairly or unfairly), it may be quite difficult to reverse. While, hopefully, such superficial observations as clothes and cars will not be as significant in the workplace, we should still be mindful that we are constantly being assessed and monitored. Because you may not get that second chance, remember that your everyday appearances and actions may be remembered for a long time.
For this reason, always maintain a certain degree of professionalism in any business setting. Though Friday casual days may be the norm, don’t show up for a meeting in cutoffs and tennis shoes (or even an Izod and topsiders) and in need of a shave. Stay away from potentially distasteful, politically incorrect jokes (or e-mails) with associates you do not know very well. Try to arrive a few minutes early to any appointment, particularly with a new or potentially new relationship. With that in mind, confirm appointments beforehand, and follow-up such meetings with acknowledgements as appropriate. If you need to cancel a meeting, always give sufficient notice and reschedule as promptly as possible. Always return phone calls, e-mails, and other forms of communications on a timely basis. The little things typically catch people’s attention and create favorable impressions in any work environment.
ACT LIKE A PROFESSIONAL
A high level of preparation will be quite impressive to any business associate. Do your homework before arriving at any job interview, networking meeting, and any formal or informal business interaction. Be prepared to not only speak of yourself and your firm, but to show a detailed understanding of your associate’s business as well. Have thoughtful questions in mind to indicate your interest in this subject matter. Even some carefully placed humor in the proper setting can create a memorable impression. In competitive situations, try to differentiate yourself from the other candidates. Written proposals should be assembled neatly, bound in a folder with a title page and table of contents. Charts, tables, and graphs often make for informative illustrations. Make the presentation as easy to read as possible. Even résumé’s should be made to stand out by attaching an explanatory cover letter and a few written references from both professional and personal sources.
At times, we create a poor initial impression that simply cannot be overcome; try to find some solace and learn from those situations. In my case, I take great comfort in knowing that my beer was added to my future wife’s check (plus the seven percent tip). That’s $3.21 more than I spent on her. Unfortunately, I will not be able to thank her. Maybe at our wedding?