People do judge books by their covers. That’s just a fact. They’re sizing you up the moment you meet — but what are they looking for?
Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy has studied first impressions for over a decade and a half, and has picked up on numerous patterns of human interaction.
Cuddy says every first impression comes down to two questions people ask themselves when they meet you:
Can I trust this person?
Can I respect this person?
These dimensions are known by psychologists as warmth and competence. The real winner of first impressions is the person that has both going for them.
Especially in a professional context, we can be hasty to prove our own worth through demonstrating competence.
However, warmth actually plays the bigger role in first impressions — trustworthiness takes the cake.
There’s plenty of time to prove you can do the job, and handle business. Sure, you need to be able to answer the big questions, and show you know what you’re talking about, but you only get one real chance to start off on the right foot.
This begins with gaining trust — be transparent. Just be yourself. Part of the reason employers ask interviewees about their weaknesses, is not necessarily to see their competence, but rather, to see if they can be genuine, and honest with themselves, first and foremost.
From an evolutionary standpoint, this makes total sense — you’re obviously going to be less worried that your fellow neanderthal is going to be able to start a fire with rocks (competence), and more concerned that he might bash you over the head with them (trustworthiness), and steal your possessions.
Competence only matters after someone knows they can trust you. It is the first and most essential key metric you will be judged by.
Furthermore, trying too hard to display competence can be seen as intellectual peacocking, and often backfires.
The peacocks don’t ask for help, skimp out on company events, and generally repel others with what comes off as a better-than attitude.
So leave touting of your impressive education, and accomplishments for LinkedIn. Instead, prove your strengths over time.
Just start with a genuine smile, listen to what the company needs, and look to fill the gap through your humble, and competent service.