20 Ways to Make a Terrible First Impression

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Whether you’re off to a job interview, doing a sales pitch, networking or meeting new co-workers, making a good first impression is key. Acting professionally, being knowledgeable and upbeat, and engaging with people all seem like obvious ways to do just that, but not everyone knows how to present themselves.

We asked business owners and hiring managers what people shouldn’t do when they’re trying to make a good first impression. While some respondents mentioned the obvious turnoffs and red flags — like wearing too much perfume, having food stuck in your teeth or answering your cellphone — many of them discussed serious, game-changing mistakes. Here are 20 things to avoid doing at your next job interview or professional event:

Dressing inappropriately

“Please do not show up wearing anything but business attire and/or something professional. Be put together, and have personal style.” – Shannon Lach, CEO, Pear Planning

Taking the wrong approach

“A potential employee or sales person should not approach a first meeting with a ‘what can you do for me’ attitude. When you meet someone, look first for what you could do to help them, how you would add value to the team, give them a reference or referral and so on.” – Lynn Eisaguirre, president, Workplaces That Work

Having a bad attitude

“For me, a red flag is when the person I’m interviewing bad-mouths his previous employer. You could disagree with certain things your previous employer did and explain why, but to blatantly say negative things is just unprofessional.” – Itai Sadan, CEO and co-founder, DudaMobile

Making assumptions

“I’ve had one mistake that seems to be happening more in recent years — that is, to submit a cover letter which begins with the title “Dear Mr.” This mistake has led to me immediately deleting many qualified candidates’ résumés on the spot. It is presumptuous that only a man would be in charge of hiring at a company, and it immediately gives me insight into the candidate’s personality.” – Stacey Elicker, partner, strategic planning, Little Highrise

Showing up late

“Never be late. Always be early. Period. No excuses. Ever.” – Dan Fendel, CEO and founder, FloatPlanOne

Smoking beforehand

“People should remember that they only have one chance to make a first impression. It is the total package, but also all of the little things. If a candidate came in for an interview and reeked of cigarette smoke, I’d take them to the cafeteria instead of my office. I could get rid of them quicker.” – Mary Stern, author and principal, Monument Consulting and Publishing

Not doing your research

“If you show up for an interview and have not done the most basic research on the company, that’s an immediate disqualifier. On the flip side, if you come with knowledge and insight which clearly could only have been obtained by doing significant Internet research, it shows not only your interest in the position, but demonstrates an applicant’s work ethic, independence and drive.” – Jamie Moss, president, newsPRos [5 Red Flags Smart Job Interviewers Watch Out For ]

Not making eye contact (or having a good handshake)

“One thing to avoid when trying to make a good impression is not looking someone in the eye. For me, it’s an instant turnoff, and I know something’s fishy. I trust my gut and usually pass [on] working with this person. A weak and slimy handshake is another — and both together, a disaster!” – Robin Samora, founder and CEO, Robin Samora Inc.

Deflecting questions

“When I ask you to tell me about yourself, don’t ask me, ‘What do you want to know?’” – Yael Kochman, marketing manager, Roojoom

Discussing controversial topics

“Do not talk about politics, religion, abortion or any other hot-button topic, as the interviewee does not know the position of the other person. Keep things professional and focused. The interviewer can talk sports — for example, if you go in and see the room full of L.A. Lakers everything, and you are also a fan of the Lakers, then that would be a nice break-the-ice conversation, but definitely no hot-button topics.” – Sarah Weinberger, career coach, Butterflyvista Corp.

Not being yourself

“The most common first-impression mistake I see is when people are not themselves and try to adapt their style to the hiring manager’s. Authenticity matters. Too often in an interview situation, people size up the interviewer and adapt their style. While this may sound like a decent approach to some, people will see right through it and not take the candidate seriously.” – Todd Horton, founder and CEO, KangoGift

Making it all about you

“Making the interaction all about yourself, and providing no benefit to your new acquaintance, ensures that they have no reason to follow up and continue the relationship. Strong networking relationships are built on an equal exchange of ideas, expertise or services, and how can you help someone if you walk away knowing nothing about them?” – Brittany Berger, digital content supervisor, eZanga

Read more: 20 Ways to Make a Terrible First Impression

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