Lately, I’ve been thinking about personal image and branding as it applies to job search, so it seemed almost meant to be that I got a chance to speak at an event this past Monday for a San Francisco Senior Level Group at Lee Hecht Harrison, hosted by Gary Purece. During the event, the topic of first impressions came up and I asked the transitioning audience of 12-15 execs how many of them had utilized an image consultant in the past. Absolutely no hands went up. I asked them to share how many hours they thought they spent, in total, with a potential employer’s decision makers during the interview process. The large range of answers was 8-20 hours. I followed that up by asking them, “Out of those 8-20 hours, how many hours do you think you would spend with your potential boss before he/she hired you?” The answer was 2-3 total. With such a short amount of time with the ultimate decision maker…first impressions really do matter!

We’ve all heard it before – we make our first impression (positive or negative) in the first 8 seconds we meet someone. This includes your first handshake with a potential employer, but let’s not forget this could also include a view of you getting out of your car or waiting in the lobby. We all decide whether or not we “like” someone within the first 4 minutes of meeting them. This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get the job offer if you’re a qualified person. And finally, whatever impression you’ve made in the first 4 minutes, you can still change it in the next 15 minutes directly following that time frame. If you tripped or said something questionable, you can turn it around in your favor. However, you can also negatively affect their first impression.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a friend and business partner, Patsy Cisneros (co-owner of Corporate Icon and co-author of The Professional Toolkit – How to Look Like You Mean Business), and she made a great and relevant point. She quoted Dr. Albert Mehrabian, saying there are ten, subliminal perceptions involved in a first impression. According to hiring managers that were polled across the US, the three most important perceptions are trustworthiness, education level, and moral character. “It is the job of the image consultant to ensure you look like the best authentic version of who you are.”

Patsy referred an Image Consultant in the Bay Area to a member of the McDermott & Bull Executive Network, who happens to be a senior HR professional. She was kind enough to share her story of recently landing a position with our Executive Network mixer attendees this past week, and commented on how the Image Consultant really helped her. You could see it in her level of confidence.

Patsy had some good advice for folks considering working with an image consultant:

  • There are many different types of consultants so check out their website and figure out what exactly they specialize in (i.e. men/women, etiquette, etc.).
  • Conduct a phone interview. Ask them questions like, “What kind of stores do you take your clients to?” to ensure you’re a good fit and you’re on the same track.
  • Don’t give up. If one consultant doesn’t have the same vision you do, keep searching for one that does.

As the most recent past president of the So Cal Chapter of the Association of Image Consultants International, Patsy is a great resource of image consultant professionals for all levels of experience. Also, is a website that offers lists of consultants all over the US.

If you have a story about where a good, or not so good, first impression made a difference in an interview, please share it.