The Impression You Make

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Learning Objectives

  • Learn to be more aware of the impression you give off to others.
  • Learn to monitor the way you present yourself.


“I am an individual and I like that I don’t fit the mold of other students. If other people can’t see me for who I am, then they aren’t people I want in my life!”

“I feel like I’m always walking on eggshells around my advisor to make sure he knows that I take school seriously. It’s absolutely exhausting and I sometimes forget what’s really important to me.”

“People tell me I don’t smile enough and that I appear upset or unfriendly, but in my country smiling isn’t perceived the same way as it is in the United States. I’m trying to adapt my facial expressions to fit the culture of my department, but it’s tough sometimes.”

How Do You Present Yourself to Others?

It’s important to consider the impression you give off to others. How you present yourself in graduate school and your social life makes a difference, and it makes a difference every day. Self-presentation requires constant monitoring — what things do you want to project in certain situations: friendliness, competence, attraction?1,2 Females, more than males, desire to be viewed as friendly above other characteristics.1 In an academic setting it may be more effective to be perceived as competent, so you’ll have more opportunities to be recognized and get ahead.

First Impressions Count!

The impression you make on those who are critical to your academic success (i.e. your advisor, department chair, other faculty members and labmates) matters from the first to the last day of graduate school. The professors and colleagues you have now will continue to influence you in the future. The impressions you give others and the relationships you form throughout your academic and professional career are likely to follow you over the long term. Stereotypes and expectations of how you’ll do at a particular task can cloud initial impressions3 — an outburst in class about a controversial topic may be relayed to future colleagues and, in turn, they may expect you to be volatile, emotional or unprofessional. Their expectation could influence their decision to include you on a project or invite you to a conference because while disconfirming evidence should be sought, it seldom is.3 In other words, the impression you make on one person can influence the impression you make on many others.

Are You Making the Impression You Think You Are?





The Appeal: Why you want to be perceived this way

Tailors to the communal aspect of traditional feminine interaction styles in the workplace2

Given the opportunity to take on more responsibility, particularly projects and invitations to conferences

You’ll be perceived as more sociable, desirable and intelligent1,4

The Downside: How you may be perceived if you are this way

Viewed as too fun or outgoing can damage your professional reputation. Also, you may come across as overly confident or arrogant1

Jeopardize being liked by your peers — they may feel threatened or view you as full of yourself2,4

Seen as too feminine can be a negative and you may not be taken seriously5

The Compromise: How to monitor your perception to reach your goals

Regulate your facial expression, body posture and gaze when interacting with your colleagues to maintain a positive but professional demeanor.6,4

Balance competence with modesty, but ultimately project what you want others to reciprocate — come across as confident but open to new ideas and suggestions for improvement so you’ll be taken seriously.2,4

Consider softening your exterior appearance to compensate for more traditional masculine work styles of assertiveness and dominance, but maintain a professional look.

Reflections: Monitoring your behavior

Respond to the following TRUE/FALSE questions as honestly as possible.

1. I use social cues to gauge how I should act in a specific situation. 2. I modify my behavior to emulate the behavior of those around me. 3. In order to be liked, I change who I am to give people what I think they want. 4. I openly express my opinions, attitudes and feelings regardless of where I am. 5. I can only stand up for something I truly believe in. 6. I am unable to change my behavior in different situations or around different types of people.

If you responded True to the first three questions, you monitor yourself highly and regulate your behavior to fit the situation you are in.7 This doesn’t mean that you’re deceptive about your true feelings;1 you are just more aware of what will be accepted in the company of others. You are more likely to get along with others and be accepted into new social groups. On the other hand, if you answered True to the last 3 questions, you choose not to monitor yourself, which suggests that you may have a difficult time adjusting your behavior around different types of people.7 While standing up for what you believe and being genuine about your attitudes and values is a strong tendency, it may not suit you well when interacting in academic environments where certain attitudes may not be appropriate to express (i.e. political beliefs, relationship troubles or activist affiliations). It’s important to strike a balance between your possible selves — a professional student and a young adult with unique viewpoints and a zest for adventure!

Virtual Misperceptions

Have you ever sent an e-mail to your professor only to get a short, ambiguous response? How about a time when your e-mail was taken to mean something else — you asked for an assignment to be explained differently and instead of a response, you got singled out in class and treated like you knew nothing? The research suggests that indirect interactions (particularly e-mail communication) can be construed differently and give a skewed perception more than face-to-face interactions —printed words lack more obvious cues than spoken words and give way to multiple interpretations.8 Not surprisingly then, initial expectations and stereotypes will be confirmed through electronic correspondences and once an impression is formed, it’s nearly impossible to disconfirm it.4,7,3 So the next time you have a question, consider scheduling an in-person meeting to get your point across.

The Pitfalls of Social Networking Sites

If you’re like most graduate students (and people in general), you probably have a profile or account with at least one social networking site — it’s an easy way to keep in touch with family and friends and often a way to vent frustrations or take a break from a long day. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget who may be seeing the information you choose to post — including critical members of your committee and research team. Recent improvements to social networking sites, particularly the news feed feature on sites like Facebook that publicizes all changes you make to your entire network of friends, can prove detrimental to you trying to maintain a professional image.9 Those who may not regularly look at your page are now privy to your status updates, relationship changes and recently uploaded photos. It’s important to keep in mind that information posted on the Web stays on the Web and while it may seem fun now, it may come back to haunt you when you’re on the job hunt or worse, up for tenure.10

Do’s and Dont's of Social Networking:




Choose your friends wisely10

Openly accept friendships with colleagues and professors

Be cautious of posting opinions you wouldn’t express offline10

Vent your frustration toward a particular assignment or a recent meeting with your advisor

Monitor your group affiliations (i.e. political groups, hobbies, etc.)10,11,12

Join any and all groups/organizations that resonate with you— strong religious organizations, extreme political groups and special interest groups that highlight your relationship preferences or afterhours behavior (Single? Like to drink?)

Limit the amount of time you spend updating your status reports (some suggest less than 20 minutes a day)12

Update your moment-to-moment activity and spend more hours online than in the lab doing your research

Privatize photo albums

Post photos from a fun weekend out on the town and allow all members to view your album

Watch what photos you allow others to tag you in

Allow friends to take and tag you in any photo they want, including parties, nights on the town and days by the pool

Block search features to limit profile access to “non-friends”13

Openly allow anyone to search you through common engines like Google and Yahoo and view your profile without your approval

Reflections: Caught in a double bind?

Read the following comments and determine how many of them remind you of your own situation.

  • I feel like I can’t do anything right. If I show that I know how to do the work, my colleagues think I’m arrogant, but if I try to be more modest, my professors think I don’t belong in the program.
  • I spend tons of hours in the lab every day doing research while my male colleagues come in late, socialize and then leave early. My advisor rarely gives me positive feedback even though I produce more than my colleagues do and work twice as hard. When it comes to getting nominated for fellowships or invited to conferences, I’m always the last on the list — it’s as if I’m held to different standards than the men in my department.
  • When I’m in charge of a research team I get so much resentment from my colleagues — they don’t understand why I stress time management and develop weekly goal sheets. It’s like I can’t win. My advisor wants the work done, but my team criticizes me for pushing us to meet the deadlines.
  • If I go to the lab wearing makeup and have my hair done, people around here think that I have too much free time on my hands.

If you identify with any or all of these comments, you are not alone. As women struggle to move up in their careers, particularly in male-dominated fields they are faced with blinding opposition. Either they’re perceived as overly feminine and ill-equipped for the job, or overly masculine and too intimidating and assertive to be taken seriously. If they are permitted into leadership positions, they work twice as hard as their male counterparts for less of a pay-off. And, often, if they are perceived as competent, it comes with the price of not being liked.2,4


Erica has been reading a lot of posts recently concerning recent political issues. She feels quite strongly about an issue, and wants to post a strong statement concerning her viewpoint, but is unsure, due to having some job interviews next week.

What would be the best thing for her to do?

The best answer is B. It is always important to stand for what you believe, but doing so via social media isn’t always the best route to take. While making a social media post about political issues may at times be appropriate, answer B is a better option, as it reflects a good rule-of-thumb: if you’re unsure, listen to yourself—it may be better to take the safe route and avoid any unintended consequences.

CareerWISE Points on Impression Management

Impressions matter from the first to the last day of graduate school, and beyond. The way you present yourself can impact funding support, research opportunities and future letters of recommendation. Being aware of the impression you want to give off to others in your department who are critical of you, versus the impression you are giving off, will help you form better relationships and be more successful. It’s helpful to use social cues to guide situations and ensure you give off the impression you intend to.

CareerWISE Tips on Impression Management

  • Be aware of the impression you give off to others because it can influence future relationships.
  • Impressions are based on expectations — make sure you present yourself in a professional manner from the first to the last day of graduate school.
  • Monitor your virtual self-presentation and remember that e-mails are not always read the way you intend them to be.
  • Beware of social networking sites.


  1. Leary, M. R. (1995). Self-presentation: Impression management and interpersonal behavior. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
  2. Catalyst. (2007). The double-bind dilemma for women in leadership: Damned if you do, doomed if you don’t. New York: Catalyst.
  3. Snyder, M., & Haugen, J.A. (1994). Why does behavioral confirmation occur? A functional perspective on the role of the perceiver. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 30, 218-246. doi:10.1006/jesp.1994.1011
  4. Guadagno, R. E., & Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Gender differences in impression management in organizations: A qualitative review. Sex Roles, 56, 483-494. doi:10.1007/s11199-007-9187-3
  5. Eagly, A. H. (2007). Female leadership advantage and disadvantage: Resolving the contradictions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 31, 1-12. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2007.00326.x
  6. Henley, N. (1977). Body politics: Power, sex, and nonverbal communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
  7. Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 656-666. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.35.9.656
  8. Epley, N., & Kruger, J. (2005). When what you type isn’t what they read: The perseverance of stereotypes and expectancies over e-mail. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41, 414-422. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2004.08.005
  9. Kinzie, S. and Noguchi, Y. (2006, September). In online social club, sharing is the point until it goes too far. The Washington Post. Retrieved from
  10. Perlmutter, D.D. (2009, July). Facebooking your way out of tenure. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from
  11. Cialdini, R. B. (1989). Indirect tactics of impression management: Beyond basking. In R. Giacalone & P. Rosenfeld (Eds.), Impression management in the organization (pp. 45-5). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
  12. Bugeja, M. (2006, January). Facing the Facebook. The Chronicle for Higher Education. Retrieved from
  13. Buckman, R. (2005, December). Too much information? Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from

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