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First impressions. Everyone forms them and is subject to them. No relationship begins without a first impression. In some cases, you can overcome a situation that starts off on the wrong foot. If you’ve recovered from such an experience, you know how difficult it is getting back on track. In most cases the old adage, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression,” rules.
The Dominance of a First Impression
Harvard Psychologist Nalini Ambady and her colleague Robert Rosenthal examined the power of first impressions. In the 1990s, they did a series of experiments comparing the ratings given to college professors by students at the end of the semester with ratings that another group of students gave the same professors based only on three ten-second silent video clips shown prior to any actual lectures.
Ambady and Rosenthal found both groups essentially agreed on how good or bad the professors were. As far as their performance ratings were concerned, the first impression from ten seconds of silent video counted for almost as much as a whole semester’s worth of interaction.
Think about that in the context of an HR person reviewing 100 or more applications for a job. While you may get more than 10 seconds, in this first screening he’s looking for any reason to weed you out.
Controlling How People Perceive You
As a chaplain, I faced this issue every day. At stake was whether people would come to me when they needed help. Fortunately, the two decades I spent in business prepared me to quickly establish rapport with people.
These days, with so much of business happening online, someone’s first impression of you is likely to be based on something you write. Especially if you’re looking for a job, your resume and a cover letter is a company’s introduction to you. That being the case, you’re being assessed on your writing skills. It’s a good idea to know what to do. Here are some guidelines:
- Customize everything – You’re communicating with individuals. Even if they don’t treat you that way, get in the habit of customizing cover letters, resumes, and everything else.
- Spelling counts – While it’s true that some people don’t care about spelling, how will you know if that’s the case with the person you’re writing to? You cannot rely on spell checkers since they don’t detect the wrong word. Stick with the standard spelling of words unless you prize creative spelling over your finances.
- Grammar counts too. Do you know the difference between the homonyms there, their, and they’re? I can’t tell you what percentage of HR people do but I bet it’s high. Yet countless times I receive correspondence using the wrong one. There are numerous grammar traps to trip you up. Check out the Grammarly Blog. You’ll get great information in an easy to understand and fun format.
- Double and triple check before sending – Proofread everything, whether it’s a casual email or a formal letter. While Microsoft Word purports to check syntax, it is not infallible. Have someone else read what you write, especially if it’s important.
Your high school English teacher was right. Your ability to clearly express your thoughts in writing is a crucial skill. Your access to the marketplace where you plan to turn all your other skills into a high-income career rests on the first impression you give, in writing.
What resources do you use to improve your writing skill? Please comment below.