How to Overcome A Bad First Impression

By Chelsea Babin

You intended to come across a certain way in your initial encounter—professional, trustworthy, perfect for the position—but for one reason or another you made a misstep and made a bad first impression. Negative first impressions can be incredibly detrimental to your future of your career and, despite what you may think, they are avoidable or, at the very least, correctable.

According to Heidi Grant Halvorson of the Harvard Business Review, “Research shows only weak correlations between what others think of us and how we see ourselves. So if you’ve ever felt underestimated, sensed that you inadvertently stepped on toes, or thought that false and hurtful assumptions were being made about you, you were probably right. The way we see one another can be irrational, incomplete, and inflexible—and largely (but not entirely) automatic.” All of your words and behaviors, particularly in interviews, are subject to interpretation bias. That is, if you’re giving off subtle or conflicting body language cues and conversational responses, you may not be making a clear and intentional first impression. This often leads to the misinterpretation of who you are and, sometimes, a negative first impression.

It’s easy to read strong basic emotions like fear and disgust, but more subtle emotional cues like nervousness, confusion or concern may easily be jumbled and read as whatever your perceiver decides to read. Now that you understand how easy it is to give off a negative first impression, it’s time to overcome it. If you have a second chance at making an impression, here are 4 ways you can turn someone’s bad opinion of you around:

  1. Authenticity: If any part of your first impression was inauthentic, contradictory or an inaccurate reflection of you, it’s time to back pedal. For your second chance at making an impression it’s important that you represent your authentic self strongly and unwaveringly so that people will not be confused about which version of you is real. Falsehoods often lead to negative impressions but so do nerves. Here are a few ways you can get rid of pre-interview jitters to ensure you are your authentic self this time around.
  2. Check Your Perception: Misinterpretation is not a one way street and it may be you who has made the mistake about your first impression. Be cautious about your assumptions and take time to really analyze why you think you came off poorly. This process will help regardless of whether or not you’re called in for a second chance because if you can identify where you’ve made a bad impression, you can correct that behavior the next time around. However, if you look back at your interaction and can’t pinpoint why you think you’ve made a bad first impression, you may be misinterpreting the signals they’re sending you. If you want to address the situation for clarification, approach the topic cautiously and don’t accuse anyone of feeling a certain way about you unless they’ve verbally verified your concerns.
  3. Consistency is key: If you don’t want to be defined by your negative first impression than you need to consistently prove that it was an inauthentic representation of yourself. For example, if you showed up late for your first interview but have a chance to come in for a second one, make sure you show up fifteen minutes early. Then, if you get the job, make sure you show up fifteen minutes early every workday for several months. This repeated behavior will help erase any notions they had that you are regularly late or don’t care enough to be on time. Of course, consistency is reliant upon opportunity, and if you aren’t given the opportunity to redeem yourself this method won’t work for you.
  4. Seize opportunities as they arise: The desire to have control is an unavoidable aspect of human nature. When you feel you’ve made a bad impression or that someone is misinformed about your capabilities, it’s easy to feel helpless. However, if you read up on the appropriate body language for making potential coworkers like you and the psychological theories behind correcting a bad first impression, you’ll be better equipped to take charge of others’ perceptions of you. Read the links above before your next interview or before your second chance at a good impression to feel more secure and confident.

With a better understanding of perception bias and how easy it is to misinterpret based on a first impression, you’ll not only be able to overcome a bad first impression when the opportunity arises but you’ll also have the tools you need to make a good first impression from the start.