“Dear Design Martyrs” is PRINTmag’s latest advice column from Debbie Millman. Debbie will respond to your most burning questions about design, branding, work-life balance, and so much more.
Dear Design Martyrs,
I have gone on many “first” interviews that seem to go well, and I keep hearing that I’ll be getting a call-back for a second interview. Then I don’t. I’m afraid I am not making a good first impression. Any advice?
Worried in Wisconsin
Think about how you come across on any day of your life. Are you joyful or fearful? Are you full of energy and enthusiasm, or are you reserved and thoughtful?
Despite our best efforts to hide our insecurities or appear sincere, humans are easy to read. That can be terrifying when meeting someone for the first time in an interview, especially when you want to make a good first impression.
The primary reason someone will not hire you or buy your work or take the action you want them to take isn’t that they don’t like the work you are showing them—it is because they don’t trust you or that you can do the job. I firmly believe the most important attribute to convey in any meeting is one of being trustworthy. Establish that you are authentic, honest, and sincere from the instant you meet someone. Everything else—your work, your professionalism, your skills—must also be stellar but are secondary to the first impression you make about who you inherently are as a person. Therefore, first impressions are crucial to beginning a path to trust.
Impressions are formed very quickly; they develop in the reptilian part of the brain, which we can’t control. All responses from the reptilian brain are involuntary, and this helps determine whether any situation we faced was welcoming and safe or uncertain and dangerous over thousands of years. We’ve used this ability to become the dominant species on the planet, and it is the foundation we use to guide our impressions and opinions of everything.
First impressions are fast and happen this quickly:
- Face to face: approximately 4 seconds
- Telephone: approximately 2-8 seconds
- Presentation: approximately 20 seconds
And in that 20 seconds, the impression we make is based on the following:
- 55% non-verbal cues (which include body language, posture, facial expressions, and eye contact)
- 38% is created by your voice quality
- 7% is created by your verbal content
What does that mean?
93% of your impression happens before you even show your work!
When making a good first impression, you have to be intentional about how you want to come across. You can’t just hope that you will make a good impression. You have to actively intend to make a good impression. Think about what your first impression might be now: How do you come across? If you don’t know how you come across, it might be good to ask someone you trust who will tell you the truth. Remember: you only know what you know and what you don’t know. We don’t know what we don’t know, and this is an opportunity to investigate an aspect of your personality that you don’t know.
Compare the description you get to who you are on your BEST DAY. How would you describe how you come across when you are feeling like your best self? What is your impression when you are like that, and how is it different from other days? What creates or causes that energy? How can you aspire to make that impression in every interview?
You might think that you have to pretend to be one way when you are feeling like another. That is not the case. You can still feel nervous and insecure but present your best self anyway. It is a matter of how much you will allow yourself to indulge in behavior that is not in your best interest. You must conjure who we will now refer to like this: As If You Are You On Your Best Day.
Presenting yourself As If You Are You On Your Best Day is not pretending to be that person. It is bringing that person—you—to life. This mindset is fundamental to creating and holding a vision of yourself as that person.
Try and write an As If You Are You On Your Best Day essay about who you are when you are in your best mindset. Be as descriptive and as honest with yourself as possible. Try to feel yourself living in that reality. Think about what it feels like and how you may or may not be different when presenting yourself to others. Practice bringing that part of who you are to life until you don’t need to practice anymore.
It might take a lifetime, but it is worth it.
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