Building soft skills starts with knowing how to make a first impression … in seconds
First impressions are a big deal. How big? Just ask UWL Alumna Tianna Vanderhei, ’15, who wowed the judges in Oshkosh Saturday, June 16, and took home the Miss Wisconsin title. With a confident posture, smile and strong eye contact, Vanderhei has the first impression nailed.
It takes only six seconds for people to form an opinion of someone based on the sum of these and other visual clues, says Vanderhei. Various psychological studies run the gamut on time for first impressions — from a minute to the blink of an eye. Regardless of just how long it is, Vanderhei says it is what is done in this limited timeframe that counts.
In her Miss Wisconsin vehicle, Vanderhei is traveling the state to share tips about making first impressions, as well as how to build other soft skills critical to a successful career and future. (See four of her big tips below).
Her platform, “B.O.S.S. – Building Our Soft Skills, Strengthening Our Future” aims to help people learn to be the boss of their own future. It came out of her experiences searching for her future as a UWL student.
Vanderhei decided she wanted to be an athletic trainer as a high school sophomore mainly because she liked playing sports and heard of the promising job market and pay.
However, her expectations of the career field and her passions gradually shifted during college. By sophomore year, she was unhappy with her direction and began struggling with her coursework for the first time in her educational pursuits. At that time, she was placed on academic probation by the university. It was not because she was negligent; in fact, she was balancing a full credit load and multiple part-time jobs. She simply was not finding fulfillment in her sports medicine coursework, so she decided to follow her gut and trust her heart.
“We are constantly asking kids, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ There is this pressure to define what they want to be … even before they know themselves,” she explains.
Instead, Vanderhei says parents, teachers and others should open career conversations by asking, “What do you enjoy doing?” They should encourage job shadowing and other methods to understand what a potential career path looks like.
“You should never stop dreaming of what you want to be when you grow up.”
Through careful reconsideration of her interests and motivations at UWL, Vanderhei found her more authentic interests and eventual major: Organizational and Professional Communication Studies and Sports Broadcasting. She continued on as a TV reporter and anchor after graduation.
Through her various titles, including Miss La Crosse/Octoberfest in 2012, Vanderhei has spoken with students from Kindergarten through college about the value of exploring potential career paths — well beyond job title or pay — as well as the career skills they need to reach their dreams.
Now as Miss Wisconsin, she continues those discussions, yet her focus has turned to building soft skills that employers and college admissions officials find so critical.
One of Vanderhei’s assets is her willingness to share her own struggles as part of that conversation. And initiatives she is embarking on this year will include holding discussions with working women in communities statewide to share experiences, struggles and learn from one another.
“In the midst of the Me Too movement, women are empowered and this workshop will allow women like myself to learn from one another and fearlessly strive for our dreams,” she says, referring to her Running In Heels forums she hopes to take statewide.
Vanderhei encourages people to never be afraid to change their major or career path in pursuit of passions.
“You should never stop dreaming of what you want to be when you grow up,” she says.
Vanderhei will represent Wisconsin in the Miss America competition Sept. 9 in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Four tips from Miss Wisconsin to build soft skills
Nail the first impression — You decide what to do with those first six seconds of impression building, regardless of whether you are meeting the Miss America judging panel or future employer. When Vanderhei talks with Kindergarteners, they practice shaking hands — firmly, not floppy — and making eye contact. Other first impression builders? Smile, turn and face the person you are talking to, and learn to sense emotion and convey empathy during a conversation.
Polish communication skills — Communication is one of the top four skills sought by employers, according to a LinkedIn study.Yet, the definition of communication is sometimes confused, notes Vanderhei. It is not the equivalent of “talking.” It includes effective listening and attention to non-verbal clues received and conveyed. Vanderhei reminds people of the importance of maintaining face-to-face interactions, especially at a time when technical devices are competing for attention.
Social media accounts are like a personal brand — Employers do review social media accounts of prospective hires. And whatever posts and images they find could impact hiring decisions. Even photos or posts that have been deleted, can turn up in other places online or be saved easily via screen shots. So, it is better to never post anything online you wouldn’t want a future employer seeing, says Vanderhei. When talking with students, she also warns about using fake Instagram accounts. Although these alternate accounts may provide a channel for more authentic sharing, they can also create a false sense of security that the account is untraceable back to the owner.
Do work that inspires you. Some soft skills like developing a strong work ethic and having a positive attitude at work come from finding the right career fit. That is something close-to-heart for Vanderhei who has moved and adapted with her interests. She started out as a reporter and anchor with WXOW News 19 in La Crosse after her 2015 graduation. More recently, she pursued an interest in advertising sales in Madison. Now as Miss Wisconsin, she has found yet another avenue to use her communication skills.