Networking is an integral part of being a successful professional in today’s business world, but so many people go through their careers not knowing how to master important aspects of relationship-building – such as the art of the first impression. If you want to forge mutually beneficial connections and thrive in them, you have to take first impressions seriously and work to better yourself on this front.

Be Cognizant of These 5 Factors

First impressions are far more powerful than you think. According to a recent research study , they are so powerful that digital first impressions sometimes supersede person-to-person interactions. The study, led by a team of researchers at Bilkent University, Middle East Technical University, and Cornell University, found that our first impressions of people in photographs influence our perceptions of these individuals, even after interacting with them personally.

Did you catch that? First impressions are so strong that something as simple as exposure to a picture can be challenging to overcome – even after interacting in person.

The point isn’t that you need to go through and make sure all of your Instagram pictures look good. What you really need to do is understand how small factors and nuances impact first impressions in professional networking situations so that you have an advantage, and aren’t playing catch-up for years to come.

Take a look:

1. Posture and Handshake

Whether you realize it or not, one of the first things people notice about you is your posture. A slouched or hunched posture makes you appear weak and timid, while a straight posture exudes confidence.

Another factor that’s important is the handshake. This is generally the first and last interaction you have with someone upon an initial introduction; the firmness of your grip says a lot about your personality. You don’t want to hurt the other person, but certainly show your confidence.

2. Clothing and Accessories

While totally superficial, what you wear has a huge impact on how people perceive you. If you look like a bum, people will think you’re a bum. If you appear successful, then they’ll assume you’re successful. In addition to making sure your clothing is appropriate for the occasion, think about accessories. For men, a nice watch is key . Women can make a strong first impression with a good watch too, but a trendy handbag also has an impact.

3. Facial Expressions

We discussed posture and body language, but facial expressions matter just as much. For starters, you should make eye contact when speaking and listening. You don’t need to intimidate the other person with lengthy stares, but you should show that you’re paying attention and interested in them. Smiling is also a way to break the ice and show personality.

4. Punctuality

Nothing shows disrespect more than arriving late to a meeting – especially if it’s a first meeting. People don’t care about your excuse (however true it may be) and will associate you with being unreliable. It’s better to arrive 20 minutes early than 2 minutes late. Keep that in mind when setting networking appointments.

5. The Follow Up

Finally, you can seal a positive first impression by following up with someone shortly after meeting them. A simple LinkedIn request or brief email message the next day is a good way to keep the relationship moving in a positive direction.

Make a Solid First Impression

First impressions are challenging in that every individual responds to these factors differently. One person might find you handsome and trendy, while another might find you very average and unassuming. And even though you can’t please everyone, you can focus on some key factors and give yourself the best chance of being successful in important networking situations.