First Impressions: When do They Matter?

By Yalda Khodadad, Features Editor

If you knew me in seventh grade, you might notice that a lot of things have changed. I no longer have braces, I cut off ten inches of my hair, and my T-shirts are no longer emblazoned with smiling pandas or lime green musical notes. Eleventh-grade me prefers drinking kombucha out of Klean Kanteens, toting around an eco-friendly lunchbox, and wearing her mom’s “vintage” J. Crew sweaters.

Perhaps you did know me in 7th grade, yet you can’t really remember what I was like. And I don’t really blame you. I’ve realized that as my classmates and I grow together, our perceptions of each other change as you change. I’ve known many of my friends for years but can only imagine them as their current selves.

So when someone tells me that “First impressions are everything,” it only applies in a certain context. People often assume that a bad first impression in a casual introduction immediately cuts them out of the potential friendship equation, because they’ll never be offered another opportunity to leave a good impression. But people inevitably change after you meet them, making first impressions pretty unreliable in a social context.

We’ve all had a rough introduction sometime in our lives, so when meeting someone in a casual environment, it’d be fair to cool it on the judgements if they didn’t come off as the most dandy person. Meeting people is scary, and it’s fair to say that you’d probably like to be given the same leniency the next time around.

But, this isn’t to say that you can just completely rely on the fact that someone might forget your previous self. Let’s say you were not-too-nice in seventh grade — you can probably bet on the fact that people will remember your not-too-niceness. If you were just a little awkward though, (and I mean who isn’t when meeting someone new?) you’re good to go. I’ve learned that more often than not, people don’t really remember what you look like — as Maya Angelou said, they remember the way you made them feel.

This doesn’t apply in all situations. Let’s say you have a really important job interview tomorrow. You wake up late, spill coffee on your white blouse and all around have a pretty awful day. That’s not going to give you an excuse with your potential employer. In terms of the professional working environment, you probably lost this opportunity because people looking for an employee have higher standards and less time than people looking for friends.

So, if you were mumbling when you met a new classmate, but hey, you didn’t snap their pencil in half and steal their lunch money, you’ll be fine. Being awkward is just part of the human experience. If people didn’t make friends just because they were awkward the first time they met, would any of us know each other? Probably not. It’s not a competition or an application to see who can become someone’s friend first. As much as first impressions do matter in the professional world, we should view first impressions as a natural part of a relationship: they happen, they’re probably awkward, but hey — will anyone even remember them?