Cheap Shots: Easy Ways to Make a Bad Impression

Coneheads (film)

The Coneheads: image via Wikipedia

There are lots of ways to make a good first impression.

Here are some ways – all which happened recently – to make make a bad first, second, and continuing impression.

  • If you’re doing a phone interview, use a clear phone line, preferably one of those old fashioned landlines. Unless you’re someplace without lots of other people, or hills (tough to do in Northern California), geography or mobile user density may impact your call. Ideally you want to command a presence on the phone, which I suspect is hard to do with choppy cell phone phone reception when you’re standing in line waiting to order at the local (pick one) Starbucks, McDonalds or tacqueria. Standing up, and using a head set are great ideas for conveying something on a phone. Try it.
  • Figure out your narrative – what’s your story – before you ramble, whether it’s in person, on the phone or in writing. As noted in a recent post regarding how to handle journalists interviews, you ideally have some key points you want to convey, and the conversation from your end weaves those points together. Not knowing what you’re trying to convey, or even what you want as an outcome of a conversation (knowledge, decision, just a meeting, etc.) is a way to waste your time as well as someone else’s.
  • Call on the time and day you’re supposed to connect; not the day before, not the day after. Even if you are somebody’s favorite person, it will piss them off a bit. If you have the chance, show up a couple of minutes early if you’re meeting someone in person, or call right on time if it’s a phone call. No one likes waiting for someone who can’t seem to get it together to be punctual.
  • If you’re meeting someone in-person, dress appropriately for the part; aloha shirts are fine in many parts of business in Hawaii – they just don’t fit in Boston. Dark suit and tie may work in many quarters, but in parts of San Francisco and Silicon Valley people will assume you’re either an investment banker from New York or just plain lost. The co-owner of Burger Joint told me about a 30-something (Ph.D., spoke 4 languages) who badgered her for a cashier’s job. While the restaurant is casual (hey – it’s the Mission), the look from staff is clean and neat (not prissy, just neat – like you’d be OK with them touching your food). The applicant showed up with bed head that looked like a hairy version of something from the Coneheads – and that was the better part of her presence.
  • Being overly familiar, or alternately, overly alien. No one  (that I know) likes the feeling that someone is trying to be interpersonally so close that they’re almost pawing them. The flip side are people who are so stiff that you wonder if they’re human. Be personal; be as appropriate, professional. Also be human.

The cut to the chase? What are you trying to achieve, and is what you are doing / behaving / appearing likely to get you there? If not, do something different. And if you’re not sure, ask someone who might know.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, new role, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.