The recent cover article in Psychology Today summarizes the latest research regarding first impressions. This is one of those topics that people are aware of but they hardly ever apply them to the interviewing situation. The article summarized as follows:
- We look at a person and immediately a certain impression of his or her character forms itself in us. A glance, a few spoken words are sufficient to tell us a story about a highly complex matter.
- People depend on first impressions to assess a person’s extroversion, openness, agreeability and conscientiousness. Studies have shown that the judgments of these characteristics made after knowing someone for a minute are usually as accurate as those made after knowing the same person for years.
- First impressions are almost perfectly accurate 30% of the time.
- The presence or absence of physical warmth similarly sways first impressions. Psychologists found that subjects holding a cup of hot coffee as opposed to iced coffee rated the person they met as especially warm and generous.
- People who sit at a wobbly table or sit on a wobbly chair judge the people they meet as unreliable.
- A person’s face at first glance can form a strong impression. For instance thin lips and wrinkles at the corners elicit judgments of distinguished, intelligent and determined. Persons who were baby faced were perceived as physically weak, naïve and submissive, although also honest, kind and warm.
- The more a face resembles the viewers face, the more the viewer is predisposed to like it.
- A single piece of highly negative information undoes a positive first impression, but it takes a lot more… like doing something heroic… to overcome a negative first impression.
- First impressions are most unreliable when there’s a narcissist in the room. Narcissists are just plain hard to read. They make incredibly good first impressions.
- Getting to know people over an extended period of time alters first impressions. But for the most part it takes a long “getting to know you” period to alter those impressions.
A study at McGill University as far back as 1965 found that people decide to hire other people based on the impressions they get of the candidate in the first four minutes.
These facts about first impressions have a lot to do with the interviewing situation. For a candidate, they need to know that it is really important to make a good first impression. Dressing appropriately, looking people in the eye, having a firm handshake and all of the things I’ve discussed in previous blogs about first impressions and the first interview apply. Most candidates totally underestimate the impact of that very first impression. They will give it lip service and say things like, “Tony, I know that… but everybody dresses casually for interviews.”
If you’re a hiring or interviewing authority you want to be aware of the pitfalls of first impressions. Get to know candidates over a period of time, preferably in different environments to confirm, deny or alter first impressions.
Realizing the psychologist’s findings you might want to reconsider going on a job interview on wobbly, stiletto heels or interviewing at a noisy Starbucks after buying the interviewer an iced coffee.