Making a good first impression on your future boss (or potential employees) is critical. A bad first impression is difficult to change and may lead to strained relationships or a missed job opportunity.
Many of us attempt to seem competent by rattling off our biggest accomplishments, writes Leah Fessler for Quartz. Psychologists call this process "impression management."
But listing out your successes can actually put people off and make you seem unlikeable, finds a new study from the City, University of London. To win people over, you need to talk more about your work ethic and less about your accomplishments, according to the study, which was published in the journal Basic and Applied Psychology.
Janina Steinmetz, the study's lead author and assistant marketing professor at City, conducted three experiments, two of which emulated job interviews and one of which emulated a date. The participants played either the role of the impression manager (interviewee) or the receiver (interviewer). During the experiments, the impression manager tries to figure out how to present themselves in a positive light. Afterwards, the receiver reports on what the impression manager would have had to say to make a good impression, explains Steinmetz.
In each of the experiments, the impression managers focused too much on their successes and not enough on their efforts, Steinmetz found.
Want to change a bad first impression? Here's why it's so tough to do
"Talking about success makes people feel competent," she explains. And "in impression management situations, people usually try to come across as competent because that’s what usual gives them social capital and esteem," Steinmetz adds.
However, focusing too much on your achievements can backfire. "It’s misguided if people only talk about competence and not also about effort," says Steinmetz.
The better approach is to mention your achievements and how hard you worked for them. When you explain "how you have accomplished so much in your career, you can say, 'I’m talented,' or you can say, 'I struggled and worked really hard.' The latter is a sign of effort, which is liked by others," she says. "Effort conveys warmth, likability, and is relatable. Talent conveys competence and ability."
Being honest about your struggles may also inspire others to persevere when they encounter challenges.
One Princeton University professor even published a "CV of Failures" to show young academics that the road to success is often rocky. "Most of what I try fails, but these failures are often invisible, while the successes are visible," says Johannes Haushof, a psychology professor at Princeton. "I have noticed that this sometimes gives others the impression that most things work out for me. As a result, they are more likely to attribute their own failures to themselves, rather than the fact that the world is stochastic, applications are crapshoots, and selection committees and referees have bad days."
Melanie Stefan of the University of Edinburgh first came up with the idea for a CV of Failures in a 2010 article published in Nature. According to Stefan, making a visible record of failures can help people come to terms with their drawbacks. It can be discouraging to know the secret—that you have failed before—when others can only see your successes. She encourages people to keep a CV of Failures as a reminder that setbacks are part of life, and maybe even to lift someone else's spirits (Fessler, Quartz, 9/13).
Related: The wrong way to introduce yourself—and five ways to do it better
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