Wednesday, November 30, 2005

First impressions

You only get one chance to make a first impression - and it can make or break a relationship.

Having spent 90 minutes this week with a prospective client, whom I don't expect to become a client, not least because of the impression I made by wearing a navy cashmere blazer accompanied by a mis-matched pair of black and brown suit trousers (the result of dressing in the dark), I began to think about occasions when first impressions had made a negative impact on me.

The one that sticks most in my mind was turning up to the first day of an interim contract that I knew two others befopre me had turned down.

I arrived at the office and was met Having kicked my heels for a good 15 minutes in reception, a project co-ordinator turrned up and signed me in. There were no passes ready for me to get through the security doors or use the canteen or vending facilities - and no steps were in hand to get me the passes.

The project office had one small window at one end - I was shown to a desk at the other end. it faced the wall. No-one looked up when I came in or made any attempt to greet me. They just carried on doing what they were doing. My boss and her boss were both going to be out of the office that day - and possibly the next. There was no induction planned for me and everyone else on the team was pretty busy doing whatever they were doing.

I had no laptop. I had no phone. I had no idea what I was supposed to do.

I was given a few reports to read and diligently did so until lunchtime - when everyone else disappeared into a meeting. Later in the afternoon I started going up to my new colleagues and trying to get their take on the project's communications. This continued on the next day when there was still no plan for induction or in fact anything much to get me involved. All of my colleagues were painting a fairly depressing picture of the project - and a couple confessed they were on the point of leaving.

At the end of day two, I felt like joining them! Despite finally spending time with my new boss and indeed her boss over the next fortnight, I never got over that initial feeling of joining a failing project. I conducted a diagnostic which suggested that communication wasn't really the issue and that the project itself was on somewhat shaky ground. My boss agreed - her boss didn't. But I still felt like a square peg in a round hole, and decided not to continue past the diagnostic phase.

It could, of course, have been so different. If the employer had made it easy for me to be part of the team in that first few days, I think I would have entered into the work whole-heartedly. Had there been an induction plan; had people made time to get me up to speed; had my colleagues given the impression they valued what I - and they - needed to do, then I'd have gibven it my best shot. But my first impression stuck.

Those first impressions so often do.

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