Personal branding for career success
Personal branding for career success

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Personal branding for career success

3 Making a good impression

There are many contexts in which face to face interaction with people will allow you to promote your personal brand.

The key thing to remember is that first impressions count and they are formed even before we start to speak. Business Image Specialist, Jane Chapman explains why the way we present ourselves is so important to our personal brand.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2 Jayne Chapman - First Impressions
Skip transcript: Video 2 Jayne Chapman - First Impressions

Transcript: Video 2 Jayne Chapman - First Impressions

Jayne Chapman
So why do first impressions matter? Well, research will tell us that first impressions are made within a few seconds. Sometimes actually some researchers will say milliseconds. But basically what they are getting at is that when you look at somebody, when you meet them for the first time, we make an impression. They make an impression upon us. And it's about that kind of thing.
Now the issue is whether you're making a positive or a negative first impression. And my advice would always be you want to make a positive one. If you make a positive one, then you're helping build the relationship with the people that you're meeting. It helps them receive what you have to say. You're doing yourself some favours.
It's a bit like-- when you meet someone, if you make a good and a favourable first impression, it's like you're one step forward in the relationship before you've even opened your mouth. If you make a negative first impression, it's like you're one step back in the relationship before you've opened your mouth Now you can make up that bit of ground, but the thing is, why should you make it difficult for yourself? Actually it's much easier to think about, am I going to make a good, positive impression? Am I going to get my image working for me, or am I going to ignore it and it could be something that works against me?
The reality is as soon as I started-- actually before I even said anything, you will have all made an impression about me. Now I would hope that we don't judge people on the basis of impressions, and certainly the longer we spend with someone, we get to know what the real them is like inside. But the truth is, first impressions happen. They matter. So think about it.
End transcript: Video 2 Jayne Chapman - First Impressions
Video 2 Jayne Chapman - First Impressions
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

While you may not think that how we look is as important as the things we do and say, it does play a key part in how our words and behaviours are received by others.

Getting your image right can make it easier to put your personal brand across quickly and effectively. Jane uses the 3 A’s as a good rule of thumb, that is, your image should be authentic, appropriate and attractive. Watch this short video to find out more.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 3 Jayne Chapman - Three As
Skip transcript: Video 3 Jayne Chapman - Three As

Transcript: Video 3 Jayne Chapman - Three As

Jayne Chapman
OK. So some key things to consider when you're thinking about your image in a career context. An easy way to remember it- three A's- authentic, appropriate, attractive. Authentic. That's all about what you see is what you get. So your image needs to reflect what you're like as a person- your personal values, your brand values. Give me some clues as to what it is that you might do.
What you don't want is that you walk into a room, or people see you, and then when you open your mouth and you tell them what you do, it's a bit of a shock. Or you tell them who you are, and they think, hm, it just doesn't quite sit together. We need to get that thing where what we look like on the outside is a good reflection of who we are on the inside.
The next thing is about being appropriate. So authenticity is very much about dressing for who you are and being comfortable in that. Being appropriate is very much about dressing for other people. It's about thinking about what are they expecting from me? Let's work with their expectations. Let's think about their context, so that actually the way I dress is going to help them receive me, is going to help build relationships. It's just going to make things a bit easier.
A good example of that might be if I'm a tree surgeon. And I'm not a tree surgeon. But if I was, typically my work wear would be a hard hat, outdoor gear. I go and see customers, they're going to be expecting me to dress in that kind of way. If I turn up in a business suit, they might be thinking, mm, I'm not sure what sort of tree surgeon they're going to be.
If I'm wanting to see somebody for legal advice- I go and see a solicitor- I'm not expecting to walk into an office and be met by somebody wearing outdoor gear, or dressed like a surfer. I'm expecting to see somebody who fits my idea of, what does a solicitor look like? So that's about the whole thing about being appropriate. Think about the context.
And then the third area is about attractive. So we've got authentic, appropriate, attractive. Now attractive is not about sexual attraction. What I'm meaning is we like to be with people who look pleasing, who look well, who have a smile on their face, who have lovely, you know, open body language. So, yes, being attractive is about clothes. It's about thinking about colours that make us look healthy and well, and clothes that fit us well. You know, that don't swamp us or are too tight.
It's about, you know, the little finishing touches that put our personal signature on things. But also it's about our body language. It's about a smile. It's about establishing eye contact. It's about having open body language. So three I use to think about, to get your image right.
End transcript: Video 3 Jayne Chapman - Three As
Video 3 Jayne Chapman - Three As
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

As Jane suggests – smiling, making eye contact and maintaining an open posture conveys a positive impression to the people you are talking to. These elements are collectively known as non-verbal communication.

Heathfield (2018) describes a number of different workplace cues that can help you to connect non-verbally with your chosen audience. They include:

  • Facial expression– e.g. emotions such as happiness or boredom are easily conveyed facially.
  • Body language – e.g. folded arms might suggest you feel insecure and defensive.
  • Posture – e.g. a slouched posture conveys a lack of interest in the conversation whereas sitting rigidly on the edge of your seat might indicate nerves/anxiety.
  • Eye contact – e.g. appropriate eye contact suggests a confident communicator, while staring fixedly at someone might be thought of as aggressive or confrontational.
  • Gestures – e.g. can convey enthusiasm or passion for your topic, but they can become distracting if overused.
  • Touch – e.g. a strong handshake is perceived much more positively than a limp one.

Activity 3 First impressions

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Think of someone who you formed a negative first impression of that turned out to be wrong when you got to know them better. Answer the following questions:

What did you base that first impression on? Clothes, body language, eye contact etc.

What made you change your impression later?

What can you learn from that experience in order to avoid it happening to you?

Make notes in the box below.

If you can’t think of anyone, use this example:

When Sarah started a new job, she was introduced to Malcolm, the person she would be sharing an office with. When she first met him, he was more smartly dressed than her and didn’t smile or say very much. He said hello but didn’t get up from his desk or shake her hand. She immediately assumed he didn’t like her and that he felt superior to her. She thought he was rude and patronising.

After several months of working together, she had discovered that Malcolm had a dry sense of humour and showed his respect for others by listening carefully to what they had to say. He was knowledgeable and kind, but shy and introspective. He didn’t say very much, but was excellent at his job and she found that she really enjoyed working with him. On the day she arrived, it turned out he had just received some bad news about the funding for one of his projects.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Sarah’s first impression was based mainly on body language, gestures and facial expressions. In this case – the lack of expression or any formal greeting. As it turned out, Malcolm had a good reason for feeling miserable that day, and his shyness meant he was unable to express that clearly to a stranger.

If he had stood up, shaken her hand, smiled and explained that something negative had just happened, perhaps indicating that he would be happy to talk to her later – that would have created a much more positive impression.

Thinking about how you come across to others, either when the interaction is planned or in the heat of the moment, can help you to convey your personal brand more effectively.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371