On Saturday I went to take a cardio kick-boxing class I attend on a regular basis.  It is normally taught by an energetic and very fit young woman named, Anne. As a bunch of us were mingling and waiting for the class to begin, a rather disheveled man came in to the studio space and appeared to be getting organized to teach the class.  He looked as if he had just rolled out of bed, was in need of a shave and could have benefitted from running a comb through his long, stringy hair that seemed be be flying in many different directions.  He wore what appeared to be sweat pants and a t-shirt left over from the ’80’s and capped off the outfit by tying a tattered red bandana across his forehead.  His t-shirt, likely purchased when he was 20 pounds lighter, revealed a protruding belly.  He explained that he was the substitute instructor.

The reactions from the people in the class varied.  There were several who rolled their eyes in disbelief and left the room clearly deciding this was not the instructor for them.  Some just looked shocked and others, like myself, held back a smile convinced that the “candid camera” folks would jump out any minute and say, “surprise!”  It would have been good fodder for a Saturday Night Live skit.

And, here’s the kicker…it was a good class and he was a good instructor.  After those of us who remained got past the shock of his appearance, we committed to getting what we had come for – a good workout – and he delivered.

So, what is the moral of this story?  I am not sure other than to say – first impressions do matter.  This instructor’s haphazard appearance turned some people off and they left – not even giving him a chance – while the rest hung in there but likely driven more by our own desire to exercise rather than necessarily putting their confidence in him.

None of us want to judge people prematurely.  We all wish we had multiple opportunities to make a first impression but experience tells us we often don’t.  This funny fellow at my gym may seem an extreme case but in my years as a hiring manager I saw examples of this time and again – well meaning people who made the wrong calls about what they wore, how they behaved and what they said.  Everything speaks.  Everything tells a story.

In this tough and competitive job market do everything you can to communicate your competence and confidence – don’t leave room for interpretation.