We’re taught to make a good first impression. Our last impressions can be just as important to our success.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” goes the old saying (attributed to various people over the years). First impressions will get you off on the right foot, or the wrong foot, and so have an outsized impact on the relationship. Unsurprisingly, people put a lot of time and energy into making the right first impression.
But last impressions matter, too. Comedians know you need a strong closing joke with which to end the set, in addition to a strong opening joke. (Arguably the closer is even more important than the opener.) The best books and movies have a big conflict that finally gets resolved at the end. Bond films always start with a cold open high action sequence to get your attention, and then close with an even bigger action sequence at the end. Entertainers know that the final impression is what you walk away with and determines whether you tell your friends to watch or let the show fade into distant memory.
Last impressions matter in business, too. When you leave a job (or project) that’s the end of the show. This will be people’s last memory of you. Did you just exit stage left, and were never seen again? Did you mentally check out the last few weeks, knowing it didn’t matter since you were moving on and you no longer cared about the deadlines? Even if you didn’t care, did the rest of your team still care and your coasting to the end left them with more work to do? Did you tell your boss to take this job and shove it (literally or symbolically through your actions)? It might have felt good, but they will remember.
What impression did you leave those people with?
Jobs are short, careers are long. The comedian will do another tour. The Bond franchise will put out another movie. You will have another job. At some point you may come across these co-workers again. What impression did you leave those people with?
It may be indirect. When hiring we know the references you give us are all vetted by you to say positive things; no one ever says, “Oh, be sure to call my old boss Chris, he hates me.” But we use our own networks to do checks on you. What’s the last impression the people we may call had of you?
The amount of additional extra effort is small, but the impact is huge.
On the other hand, like a runner in the final stretch, you can put forth that final effort. Many runners, even if they’re out of contention for a medal, will still kick at the end to push themselves to a strong finish. As you exit the job, that final kick can leave people with a positive impression. Did you stay committed until your very last day instead of coasting? Did you wrap up your projects that, even if not finished, could be handed off to someone else? When I left one of my first jobs, I stayed late to clean up some code and create extra documentation so they could still use it when I wasn’t around. Did you try to catch everyone to say goodbye, to show that relationship had value to you? Did you tell folks you’re still available if they have questions after you leave?
When leaving on a positive note you give a good lasting impression. The amount of additional extra effort is small, but the impact is huge. First impressions do matter. Last impressions matter, too. Go out on a high note. After all, if it can work for George Costanza, it can certainly work for you, too.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.