What do you think when you see me? What are the first things that pop into your mind? Asian – she’s probably an accountant. Wears glasses so she must be smart. She’s with her kids I bet she’s a tiger mum. She’s married, her husband’s probably Asian too. Whether you are looking at a photo of me on social media, watching me interviewed or just passing me on the street you are forming opinions and impressions, right and wrong about me.
Yes, I am Asian, Chinese Australian actually, and I am married with kids. However, I am not an accountant or even “book” smart, I am business smart and a businesswoman. My husband is as Australian as they get, and I am not a tiger mum, at least I’d like to think I am not.
We all pass judgement based on first impressions and stereotypes. We all judge books by their covers. We all do it, no matter how much we would like to believe we don’t!
The interviewer running late for the interview… is disorganized.
The interviewee dressed too casually… doesn’t care.
The career woman without kids.... is cold and ambitious.
The overweight colleague having another doughnut… should be eating better.
The swearing colleague… is a bogan.
The girl in the short skirt...
The woman in a hijab…
The Asian woman…
The African man… it can go on and on and unfortunately so often does.
We are all guilty, every single one of us. Sometimes we pass these judgements with our knowledge, sometimes without. Sometimes we can fight against them, other times we are not even aware.
So how do we succeed in a world when a first impression is made in 7 seconds, but we have so little control over how people judge us? How to we get beyond the bias and stereotypes?
Stop holding yourself to the stereotypes
I have a friend whose partner is half Japanese; he often refers to himself as a bad Asian and he is only half joking. He ended up with an Australian girl which his mother hates, didn’t become a doctor or lawyer or engineer which are the appropriate Asian professions and even failed as a piano player and violin player at age 8. He holds himself to the stereotypes by which others judge him. He isn’t alone, I do it, and my friends do it and I am sure as you are reading this, you are realising you do it to.
If you don’t want others to judge you the first step is to stop judging yourself.
Be aware of the judgements you make
Practice self-awareness. Stop yourself when your internal monologue passes judgement. Pause and think of something positive about the person in front of you… instead of the interviewer being disorganised for being late… they’re busy and need help, so I can really make a difference here.
We so often think that the impressions that matter are those we make in person. In a world that runs on social media and digital it’s the opposite. What people see about you online matters just as much as in person. In the recruitment game it matters more because if your online presence and digital persona (in the form of a CV and LinkedIn profile) doesn’t make an impression, the chance of a face-to-face meeting is slim. Put your best foot forward and invest time in getting your online profile and CV up to scratch, even if you aren’t looking at changing jobs.
Remember first impressions count but shouldn’t count for everything
Yes, first impressions count but holding people to snap impressions and judgements, often based on looks, is incredibly unfair. Not only are you doing them a disservice you are also potentially missing out on a great person. Whether it is for your team, organisation, as a colleague or friend – don’t hold yourself to your first impressions.
Last and by no means least, be kind. Plato said, “Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.” It is good to bear this in mind. Judgements and stereotypes always slant towards the negative and can often fall into the category of downright nasty. So, approach your interactions with integrity and kindness because none of us know the story in each of those books we judge.
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