Ouch. We’ve all been there. Everyone’s experienced a time when they’ve said or done something cringe-worthy. While it might feel even more life-ending if you make a bad first impression at a new job, we’re here to reassure you. It’s fine. You’re not alone. This probably isn’t the last embarrassing thing you’ll do.
Here’s our guide on how to recover from a bad impression at a new job. Some of it you may already know, but sometimes hearing it from someone else helps you actually believe it. If this doesn’t help you feel a little better and get over the incident, we included a little treat at the end to help you practice a little bit of self care.
Read the room
So, here you are. Moments after the incident — the thing you told yourself you wouldn’t do but did anyway. Maybe it’s a wardrobe malfunction, a fudged name, or freezing up when asked a question you know the answer to. We all have different definitions of a bad first impression and different gut reactions to how we want to recover from it.
Before you default to whatever your first thought is (Run? Hide? Pretend it didn’t happen?), we encourage you to take a deep breath and read the room. Assess how many people actively saw your mistake, and try to get a read for how they’re reacting to it.
There’s a chance no one noticed and this massive blunder is actually all internal. Or, there’s a chance a few people are sending you sympathetic grimaces while they wait to see what you do next. Either way, for you to feel ready to move on, try to take an honest look at the situation and how it impacted others. This will help you decide what your next step is. If it didn’t seem to sink in with anyone else, maybe it’s best to brush it off and continue on. If it requires an apology and it looks like everyone in the room agrees…we recommend gracefully saving face.
Analyze how you ended up with a bad first impression
Take a second to take a step back to figure out how you got to this point. While we want to believe we’re all prepared to make the best first impression, it’s possible you went too far.
Some things that can lead to a bad first impression
1. Trying too hard to be memorable. Don’t exaggerate or try to amplify yourself unnecessarily. Be yourself so you aren’t finding yourself uncomfortable trying to draw too much attention.
2. Being too eager or energetic. You may be excited to show off how great you’d be at a company, but make sure you consider the energy in the room. If the other workers are high energy and excitable, by all means, join them! But if it’s 8AM and you’re rolling in singing to the birds and the rest of the office isn’t quite awake yet…you might be overdoing it.
3. Cramming too much into a first encounter. It can be tempting to try to connect quickly with your new team, but try to temper yourself. Being too nosy or oversharing can be off-putting when you’re just getting to meet your colleagues. It’s okay to make some small talk, but that doesn’t mean you have to fill every second with chatter.
Identify how you can acknowledge the experience
Finding the right way to admit you made a mistake can be difficult. It’s important to acknowledge what happened and be sincere in your response to it.
– “I am so sorry, I got your name wrong right after meeting you. I’m definitely going to remember it now!”
– “I’m sorry for being late. I really appreciate your time and patience.”
– “I apologize for making that joke/comment. That definitely wasn’t appropriate.”
– “I can’t believe I didn’t put my phone on silent. I am so sorry for the interruption. It’s off now and won’t be a problem moving forward.”
Professional coach Janet Zaretsky told Fast Company: “Most people are very forgiving and will move on if you do. When apologizing, make sure it’s authentic. Don’t focus on the reasons why you did or said something; simply apologize for your behavior and state your desire to rectify the relationship and start over.”
Move on and don’t dwell on it
We are often our biggest critics. It’s important to let yourself move on and not stay hung up on your bad first impression. Finding a way to move on lets you focus on showing your team who you really are. If you’re still a little embarrassed, you can take comfort knowing that a bad first impression can be eased with several smaller positive interactions over time.
If you build up your reputation and credibility with positive impressions, your coworkers will get to know you better and appreciate you for more than just your first impression. It can take a little while.
Relax & empathize with yourself
Stop for a second and think about someone you didn’t like at first, then came to really enjoy. It could be a friend, significant other, in-law or family member. There are plenty of people who start out with no-so-stellar impressions that then turn out to be great people after all.
If you can give them the benefit of the doubt, try to extend it to yourself. A first impression doesn’t have to be make-or-break. It’s just the first of many. Most people have an egalitarian goal, which means most people strive to be evenhanded and open-minded in their judgment of others. This gives you the chance to swoop in and change their mind by building a reputation that shows you’re more than just one moment or mistake.
And if that doesn’t work…
Okay, so we gave you our tips on how to recover from that awkward moment. But, do you still feel like you could use some cheering up? Get your favorite comfort food delivered, order a brand new bottle of wine, and treat yo’self until you feel ready to bounce back. Tomorrow’s a new day and we know you’re going to nail it.