On fixing the bad first impression

Fixing Bad First Impressions

If you’re a Mad Men fan and have been watching these final couple of episodes, you may have seen the sequence last night where Mathis — basically a flack for Peggy — barges in on Don, tells him everything’s been handed to him on a silver platter, and gets fired. (It’s a variation on the ol’ Harry Hamlin theme with Don of “a bully in a suit.”) The Mathis thing happened because he made a bad first impression with clients (Peter Pan cookies) and Pete was all up in arms about it. If you are a Mad Men fan, you also might realize that Pete has been doing shit this season. It’s kind of sad. Anyway, I digress. No video of that scene on YouTube, but if you want to see some awkward impression stuff from the same episode, feast yer eyes:

Alright, back to impressions. Everyone makes bad first impressions. And then, because of confirmation bias, those impressions can stick — and how! That’s the whole thing with “You never get a second chance to …” Etc, etc. Ironically, some people believe the central key to networking well is ignoring the idea of “first impressions are important.”

Here’s a good example from my soul-sucking job search of winter/spring 2014: I had a few shots at a Hubspot gig, right? I like to write and I value content marketing and inbound as concepts. Plus, I’ve got family up in Boston. It seemed like a potentially really good fit (IMHO). For one of the gigs, I had to talk to Joe Chernov on the phone. He’s a pretty big deal in that space. Whatever happened — be it HR gave me the wrong time, or I wrote it down wrong, or whatever — he calls me and I had thought he was calling me at another time. I was a little flummoxed and so I’m sounding like a moron, because, you know, people get nervous and that’s human nature. Chernov calls me on it, I know the interview is a fucking tire fire, and of course, I don’t get the job.

My situation ended up OK, but the whole point is: first impressions are subject to a lot of conditions, notably (and powerfully) how freakin’ nervous one of the people is. And yet first impressions, which are a nerve-wracking situation for many, can also drive the way a person sees you for months (even years). Ever stop and think how psychologically awkward that is?

Dorie Clark, whom I love, wrote about this topic for Forbes recently. Her basic ideas?

  • Bombard them with contrary information
  • Propose a joint work project

I agree 100 percent with both of these, although obviously these are much harder to do in a hiring context — and a bit easier, although still hard, to do in a already-work-there context. Pretty much the only way you can escape one box, though, is to give the other person so much information about your presence in another box that they must take notice.

The joint work project idea is good too, although … the dirty little secret of most orgs is that no one really likes to collaborate.


Ted Bauer

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