Why First Impressions Still Count in Times of Coronavirus

I remember the first time I met my wife. I walked into her small, dingey work office for a job interview, dressed to impress. You may say I was overdressed; I had on my smartest suit, cleanest shoes, a fresh-from-the-barbershop haircut worthy of any catwalk, and my briefcase in hand. The knees of bees would’ve been jealous.

Naturally, I got the job. Even though I had reservations. The company was not in the most stable position, and the office was in need of repairs. But I liked the people. And, at that point, I was prepared to take whatever I could get.

Meeting my future wife was the farthest thing from my mind.

After a year of working together, that’s what I did.

It only took 12 months and the chance to sit next to her at the Christmas dinner-party to realize we were two halves of the same whole. Whether her first impression of me had any bearing on us falling in love remains philosophical, but to this day it’s a moment-in-time she continues to remind me of. She tells me she was impressed with what she saw when I came to interview that day. She said I looked ‘handsome, fresh and quite charming’.

So, how much of my efforts to make a strong impression can we credit here? For both my career and my life love?


Substantial research suggests that confidence, timekeeping, the strength of your handshake, how you hold yourself in a conversation, how much you listen, and the way you look to potential new employers is judged in less than seven minutes. Job offers are always down to psychology — how you get along with the people in front of you — and those of us who’ve been through the job search many times know this better than most.

So now that we’re living under lockdown, only able to communicate through technology and with no real-time face-to-face meetings, how do we make those first impressions still count? What if we have to meet someone for the first time, when our success in that relationship depends entirely on how they perceive us in an on-screen moment?

Judging by our favorite talk-show hosts (naming-no-names Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Trevor Noah) it seems like the ‘spick and span’ impressions we once gave each other are now a thing of the past.

The global lockdowns imposed by the Coronavirus, almost overnight, have taken away the protective sheen of our previous need to present perfectly to each other. Trevor Noah, for example, hosted an interview with the governor of New York Andrew Cuomo this week on The Daily Show while sitting in his home wearing a beige runner hoody, resplendent in his new facial hair.

So what happened?

I get it. We’re all under lockdown. None of us can remember what day it is, and if we want to get up in our pajamas and keep it that way until bedtime, that’s up to us. But when it comes to meeting people, how much of our personal lives are we really willing to expose to others? And does it even matter when people are so worryingly scared about their futures, their jobs, their families that the last thing on their minds is why we were not kept as well as we’d usually be.

Our dependency on technology to interact with each other is something we’ll need to get used to. In fact, it’s only going to grow, meaning the interactions we now all rely on for face-time conversations — about business, leisure, with our families, anything — are only going to increase. But what does that mean for what we share of ourselves with others? Does it matter that our children are running into our conversations, screaming demands or grievances while we wax lyrical? Does it matter that we haven’t re-painted our walls for longer than we’d care to admit? Will we be judged for growing out a beard or not having our hair kept as neatly as we usually would?

In times like these, the answer is a resounding ‘No’.

In which case, how much does it matter if we don’t present ourselves in the best possible light when we first meet someone over a computer screen?

Well. It matters. And it matters big!

But what has changed is what we are prepared to judge each other on. Dressing up in our best suit to take a Zoom call seems patently ridiculous when we’re just dialling into a meeting while sitting at our dinner table, kids painting or dogs barking next to us. Usually, others would have a negative impression of that, but in these times we find ourselves in, why any of us would go to such lengths to try to impress others by dressing in a business suit for a facetime call when each and every one of us is confined to the imperfectness of our homes seems, frankly, absurd.

In the case of Andrew Cuomo, though, or even members of the Trump administration, let’s not forget these are important people with important jobs to do. Namely, to look after their citizens health, welfare and their economies. Their need to ‘de-robe’ for formal engagements is a matter for another time. For another article.

But in the case of our entertainment superheroes, maybe Stephen, Jimmy and Trevor have it right. Perhaps we should give them some credit. Surely, they are dressing to impress us with their humility, with their invitation to join them and their families at home and to take the strain out of our lives and the worries we hold by being as human as we possibly can be, together.

I still believe our first impressions count. All impressions still count. It is just that this new world we are in will need to start judging each other differently about what really matters.




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Photo courtesy iStock.

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