By Dr. Maria G. Hernandez
Latina Cubicle Confidential™
We have all heard the saying, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Researchers have found that in just seven seconds a total stranger will make roughly 11 conclusions about you.
There are the obvious factors someone might assess — gender, age, race and ethnicity. The others are much more remarkable: education level, trustworthiness, approachability, intelligence, work ethic, dependability and confidence level.
All that in just 7 seconds! Research also suggests that these decisions are based on your overall tone of voice (38%) your body language (52%) and the actual words you use (7%).
Unfortunately, for Latinas the 11 conclusions others can make about us are fueled by long standing bias about Latinas. Even if we dress well, use perfect English, have a degree, and walk confidently into a meeting — we may have to work harder to establish that we are credible, capable, trustworthy, and dependable because we are countering the stereotypes about us that are highlighted in mass media.
Whether it is conscious or unconscious bias we face, there is no one way for overcoming these obstacles but it is key to prepare for making the best possible first impression.
If you are just starting out in your career or trying to enter the workforce, you’d be wise to study the workplace culture you want to join and ask some questions: How do the women who hold senior positions dress and am I following those trends? What topics, trends, or issues get discussed the most in my industry and how do I keep up with those? What does my workplace define as leadership? What does confidence look like among key leaders?
In my coaching of clients, I am keenly aware that what may seem natural in one company, may seem too casual or too formal in others. Look carefully at the clues around you and don’t be afraid to ask your boss or others, what are the unspoken rules of success for staff at your level.
When you are just starting out in your career, it is quite difficult to be the one to challenge the status quo and doing so may very well work against you.
In addition to these factors, work at creating a confident impression with a few key behaviors to follow: Practice walking with confidence. Make eye contact when introduced. Practice a firm handshake — yes women should shake hands!
Smile when you introduce yourself. Practice your first introduction statement often — “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Maria Hernandez and I’m here to enhance your leadership development program.”
Notice my introduction isn’t just about stating a title — it is about the value I bring to the organization. When you sit at the table in a conference room — sit up and take up space by placing your hands on the arm rests or placing your arms at the table. Take notes during a conversation or show some other sign of engagement in what is being discussed.
The toughest skill to display is confidence—this is both verbal and nonverbal. Executives often do not wait for everyone to stop talking before interjecting their ideas. They certainly don’t raise their hands to participate in the discussion. There is often a rhythm to business dialogue and you’ll want to follow the pattern of speaking, interrupting, or paraphrasing what others say in meetings.
The more confident, the more the person will feel comfortable commenting on what others have to say or challenging others. Above all, do speak up — no one can guess what brilliant ideas you have if you don’t let them know!
Dr. Maria G. Hernandez has 20 years experience consulting in both the United States and Mexico to senior executives in Fortune 50 companies and facilitated change initiatives for elected officials and their staff. She has worked in academia, business, nonprofits, technology startups, and public agencies. For more information, visit Latina Cubicle Confidential™.