First Impressions: Little Details Make or Break a Career

Posted by Joseph Sherren on February 20, 2017

On a flight this past week, I noticed two men in their 20’s sitting in the row in front of me. One was dressed in jeans that were baggy and hanging low on his behind with a baseball cap on backward. The other young man was in jeans that fit properly with a pressed shirt and a dark sports coat.

It was fascinating to observe how the flight attendants communicated with each of them.  Right from the beginning, they paid more attention to the more neatly dressed one and often ignored the other.

We could argue — is this right?  Is it fair?  Shouldn’t people be judged for their character and behavior rather than how they look? This may be true, yet that is not the way life is. Often, it is the little things that can make a significant difference in a person’s life forever.

Many years ago, as a corporate executive, I had to select an individual to lead a significant project. The selection of who it would be finally came down to two candidates: Two young men, about the same age, similar experiences, similar academic standings, similar in looks, and even dressed in a similar fashion. As well, I knew they each had great potential and either one would do an excellent job. But, there was only room for one.

After struggling with this decision, I finally asked each of them to come to my office for one more discussion. I was still struggling. During this final interview, I happened to look down and one candidate was wearing scuffed-up, slip-on shoes while the other had freshly shined, laced, wing-tips. I opted for the candidate with the polished shoes.

That young man eventually went on to significant success and earned a high position in the senior executive ranks. Later, when people asked him, “How did you achieve such great success in the company?” He would jokingly reply, “Because I shined my shoes.”

Yes, this little detail helped him get a great start on his pathway to success. Yet these two stories cause me to wonder how much opportunity do people miss out on because they fail to take care of those little details? First impressions do count.

It has been reported that people who wear “more professional” clothes such as suits, blazers, pressed clothing, and polished shoes are considered more intelligent.

It is sad that we are not teaching young people, starting in the schools, the importance of how grooming and image can make a big difference in the outcome of life.  The subconscious thought in a manager’s head is — if they do not care about themselves, how could I trust them to care about my customers?

That positive first impression can create what is called a “halo-effect” and make future dealings with them more naturally positive. I have even spoken with teachers who admit they are more lenient with students who are well groomed.

Here is a more scary thought — It takes less than one second for a new person to make an impression. A 2006 study from the department of psychology at Princeton University claims that we make our minds up about people’s attractiveness, likability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggressiveness within one-tenth of a second of seeing their faces.

I will end with these few factoids:

  • 33 percent of managers know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether they will hire that person.
  • When meeting new people, 55 percent of the impact comes from the way the person dresses, acts, and walks through the door.
  • 65 percent of recruiters indicate that clothes are a deciding factor between two similar candidates.

We have all heard the Will Rogers expression, “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.”So, why not go out of your way to make an outstanding one?

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