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20 Ways to Make a Terrible First Impression

Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan

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, ]

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

Not showing enthusiasm

"When meeting us for the first time, it's important to show enthusiasm. Candidates that have a look of utter boredom, that they'd rather be somewhere else or that they are too cool to look engaged are instant disappointments." – Jennifer Hill, co-founder and CEO, Sixty Vocab

Name-dropping and bragging

"Do not name-drop or talk about your glory days with another company. Coming across as boastful, rather than collaborative, is a surefire way to lose your audience." – Andrea Berkman, founder, The Constant Professional

Pretending you know the answers

"Never pretend to know something you don't. No one wants to look stupid, so sometimes when confronted with a situation or a question we don't fully understand, we try to BS our way through. Don't do that, especially in an interview scenario. As a hiring manager, I cannot count the times I have had candidates try to convince me they knew something I was asking them about. I would much rather someone say, 'I am not sure about that,' and then proceed to ask questions. That shows a drive to learn and better themselves instead of someone who claims to know it all." – Jon Mills, director, Paige Technologies

Throwing caution to the wind online

"Scour your social media profile, and delete anything unprofessional before interacting with a new business contact or potential employer. Your online mistakes can ruin your offline interaction before it even starts. Most people do an online search about a person before meeting with them, or immediately afterwards." – Jennifer Kalita, CEO, Vesta Group

Not making an appointment first

"Something that is extremely presumptuous, rude and beyond irksome is when someone calls, emails or approaches me without an appointment, assuming I am available to discuss their agenda on-demand." –Tohid Naeem, CEO, Epoch Venture Group

Getting too friendly

"Don't act like we are best friends and get overly personal." – Maria Vizzi, partner, Indoor Environmental Solutions

Disrespecting employees

"At our last office, the director of sales sat right in front of the elevator door so he was the first person to greet our candidates. Some people probably assumed that he was the secretary and didn't treat him with much respect, only to feel ashamed later on, when they realized he was the final round in the interview process. Whether it's the recruiter on the phone interview, or the person holding the door when you walk into the building, treat them ALL like they are the CEO. You never know when your paths will cross again." – Lior Mei-Tal, campus recruiter, Signpost

Not following up

"Don't delay the follow-up. If you've just interviewed or formally met someone, send them a thank-you email. Make sure what you say is customized to something you discussed — something specific to the business is always a great option. Also, if you had any elements in common with the interviewer, this is a nice time to touch on it and help you stand out from the other candidates." – Kristy Willis, senior vice president, Adecco Staffing

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Image Credit: YURALAITS ALBERT/Shutterstock
Brittney Morgan
Brittney Morgan
Business News Daily Staff
Brittney Q. Morgan is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor, as well as a graduate of Drew University, where she majored in History. Her work can be found all across the web at Apartment Therapy, HuffPost, and more. You can also find her on Twitter at @brittneyplz.