The Right Smile Is Just as Important as the Right Suit

Knowing first impressions are crucial, you expend effort to polish your resume, develop a memorable handshake, choose a power suit, practice answers for interviews, but what about the right smile? The right smile is just as important as the right suit.

1Psychologists and social scientists have categorized at least 50 different types of smiles. Academic interest is in standardizing smiles to help evaluate honesty and character. Law enforcement is interested in the results of these studies, of course, but so are recruiters and human resource managers. Your smile tells people much more about your character than you ever imagined. Here are a few main types of smiles and the impact they have on the recipient:

  1. Duchenne Smile: This smile lifts the cheeks, crinkles the eyes, shows the teeth, and involves the whole face. This smile exhibits genuine pleasure. Named for the researcher who first identified the markers of a “real” smile, this smile elicits an answering smile from the recipient, engenders trust, and enhances the impression of your character.
  2. Closed Smile: Just as genuine as the Duchenne, involving the whole face but without the teeth. Exhibiting pleasure and honest emotion with a slight reserve, it has the same effect as the Duchenne Smile.
  3. Pan Am Smile: A smile with upturned lips, teeth showing, with a relaxed upper face and no eye crinkles. Named for the practiced, polished stewardess smiles of the airline famous for customer service. The recipient sees good manners and a politically correct response. True feelings are hidden by this smile, and there’s no impression of warmth, likeability, or honesty.
  4. Botox or Photo Smile: Similar to the Pan Am, this smile only involves the lips and leaves the rest of the face frozen. Without the polite intent, it registers as a false smile, leaving the impression of emotional and social dishonesty. It is most effective at undermining rapport.
  5. Tight Smile: This is a closed smile with lips tightly pressed together and a relaxed upper face. A Pan Am smile with no teeth. A common false smile, easily recognized as such. The recipient gets an impression of a secretive, dishonest character.
  6. Turn-away Smile: A Duchenne where the face is turned slightly to one side and angled down. While it is a genuine smile giving a positive impression, it is distinctly childish or feminine, indicates less confidence and elicits a protective response in some people. Used widely in advertising. Women and younger men would be better served using the Duchenne, so as not to undermine impressions of confidence and competence.
  7. Lopsided Smile: Half the mouth turns up, the other droops or turns down. This smile indicates uncertainty, and leaves the recipient with an impression of mixed messages. It reveals a lack of confidence in yourself or what you are saying.
  8. Aggressive or Shark Smile: Mouth turned up, teeth showing with a gap between upper and lower teeth, and eyes narrowed rather than just the corners crinkled. One researcher referred to this as a “shark-bite” grin. This smile exhibits aggression, dominance, and even anger. The recipient sees and feels a disconnection between the outward smile and the emotion beneath. This leaves an impression of not only dishonesty, but of a competitive or difficult personality who may not work well with others.


For a first impression, such as an interview, the Duchenne or Closed Smiles are your best choice for making a positive first impression. Just as practice improves your interview rapport, practice and awareness can improve your smile during introductions and interviews. Putting your best foot forward means that wearing the right smile is just as important as the right suit.


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