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You made a favorable first impression by following all the rules: being punctual, prepared, and impeccably dressed. But an aspect of professional interaction too often ignored is the final impression.
“The most recent interaction that you’ve had will sometimes be what defines you as a professional, because when that information is exchanged, it becomes someone else’s first impression,” says Pamela McBride, program director in the Army Reserve Family Program Office of Resource Consultants Inc. “It’s a real cycle. [You have] to be aware constantly of every interaction you have,” she adds.
Those interactions include making a presentation, conducting a meeting, even transitioning out of a job and responding to voice and e-mail messages—any situation in which someone’s initial perception of you will evolve.
The final impression is the polish on the overall impression of who you are. George Fraser, author of Success Runs in Our Race: The Complete Guide to Effective Networking in the African-American Community (HarperCollins; $12.95), calls it “a totality of things that are usually small things.”
Here’s how you can take steps to stand out:
Show appreciation for time spent in a business meeting or assistance on a special project. Linda Bates Parker, director of the Career Development Center at the University of Cincinnati, says, “People who don’t know the art of graciously exiting and contributing in whatever way [they] can don’t stay in effective networks long.” If you’re leaving a job, create an environment where the new person can easily transition. Parker recommends organizing files, creating a timeline to show what’s been done and what’s anticipated. If possible, offer suggestions to the new employee.
Seal the deal.
Have a clear understanding of what should happen next. But McBride suggests that more important than making an offer to carry out any action is to actually do it. “A lot of people make promises that they might not keep, and then unfortunately all your good work may go down the tubes because the last thing they remember is that you didn’t follow up on the things you needed to.”
Be pleasant and professional.
Smile with your eyes, says Fraser. Make your entrances and exits confident, energetic, and warm. And those characteristics should be consistent with all meeting levels. Parker gives the example of candidates who spoil successful job interviews by being rude to the receptionist on the way out. A positive attitude toward others is a strategy that serves you throughout any interaction.
The first and final impressions are complementary, Parker affirms. “You [should] see every aspect of the interaction as a time to leave a good impression. Your goal is to make yourself positively memorable from beginning to end.”