Do First Impressions Really Matter?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Don't Be This PersonSo my question to you is this: do first impressions really matter? While they shouldn’t, the reality is that they most certainly do. As the old saying goes “you only get one chance to make a first impression,” and often times it is the perception of appearance that determines whether or not you are even afforded the opportunity to get up to bat. The truth is that most people when first meeting someone will quickly attempt to size them up. Whether consciously, or unconsciously, they will make quick value judgments in an effort to assess your credibility and flesh out your agenda. In today’s post I’ll examine how managing appearances can have a substantial impact on your personal brand and your success. 

In a perfect world professionals would only be judged solely on their character, skill sets, competencies, and performance. But alas, we do not live in a perfect world…While appearances shouldn’t matter, the reality is that the car you drive, where you office, the clothes you wear, whether you’re in good physical shape, the vocabulary that flows from your lips, the company you work for, the publicity and PR you put out, whom you choose to associate with, how you appear online (social networking platforms, search engine results, etc.), and any number of other appearance specific issues can add to, or detract from, the strength of your personal brand.

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for form over substance, extreme self-indulgence, narcissism, or masking insecurity by the trappings you surround yourself with. Rather, I am a proponent of paying attention to detail and facing reality. Even the most discerning people make value judgments at the subconscious level as it’s only human nature to use the power of observation in an attempt to validate perception. We want those with whom we work to not only be competent, but there is also an innate desire to have them look the part as well, as those individuals we choose to associate with will often times influence other’s perceptions of us.

Let me be transparent and use my personal situation as an example. I’m a professional advisor that works with a very high-end clientele. My job is to take very successful professionals and to help them become very significant human beings. While I would like to believe that I would be judged solely on the merits of my qualifications, the reality is that I know I’m judged on EVERYTHING my clients see and hear that relates to their perception of my ability.

For instance, if I drove-up to your office in a beat-up Honda, wearing old tattered clothes, with a generally disheveled appearance and a very laid-back attitude, would that first impression color your opinion of my ability? Sure it would…Likewise, if I drove up in a new Bentley, wearing a $3,000 custom tailored suit, sporting a fresh manicure, a GQ hair-cut, and with an attitude of arrogance, wouldn’t that also color your opinion of my ability? If not, it should…The overly slick professional always makes me want to grab my wallet and run…I actually prefer to play to the middle in that I am neither understated nor overstated, but I am comfortable with who I am and my approach to the market.  

The advice I give to my clients is to be true to yourself, and authentic in your approach to creating a great first impression. As an example, I don’t really care what someone pays for their clothing or automobile, or even how expensive their office accoutrements are, but I do notice whether or not they are well maintained and appropriate for the given situation. We’ve all witnessed the shallow attempts made by insecure people who are living large in an attempt to impress others, as opposed to creating a lifestyle that is authentic, within their means, and personally satisfying. The bottom line is that your appearance should be one that both you and your clients/customers/stakeholders are comfortable with. You should manage appearances on creating a feeling of comfort and engendering confidence…not on trying to impress.

While much is often said about “first impressions,” this phrase in and of itself implies subsequent impressions are made as well. Professionals must be just as diligent in their management of future appearances and impressions. I am a huge proponent of being consistent and having a high degree of continuity of impressions/appearances. If you happen to be someone who makes a great first impression, but cannot execute and/or deliver up to expectations you are just setting yourself up for failure and your clients will be even more frustrated than if they had never engaged you to begin with. A negative experience is worse for your personal and corporate brand than no experience at all.  

At the end of the day, it is not about how much you spend or spin, but the authenticity, integrity, and appropriateness of how you manage your appearance that matters. Disingenuous and insincere positioning may get your foot in the door, but when the door slams into your backside as your engagement or relationship blows-up, don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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1 Response to “Do First Impressions Really Matter?”


  1. 1 JLW December 31, 2009 at 7:00 am

    A person’s exterior appearance and demeanor need to complement the inner person. It is usually not a good idea to try to make personal changes at a first meeting by being somebody else eventhough there is a strong desire to be more attractive and competent than our usual selves. Therefore, it is better to be the best person you aspire to be EVERYDAY so that it will not require any special effort at any meeting with anyone. It is by being our best and doing our best everyday that we make the best impression to all the people around us.

    Thanks for a good article and reminder.


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