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First Impression Effect

Recent research has found that we make our first judgments about someone as quickly as the blink of an eye. The difficulty is that snap judgements may or may not be correct, yet they seem to endure. So what can be done to minimize the effects of first impressions in your hiring?

What Is the First Impression Effect?

The first impression effect is the subconscious process of making judgements based on someone’s initial appearance or presentation when first meeting, without being based on any real substance.

How First Impressions Affect Hiring Decisions

Your first impression of someone can carry on throughout the rest of the hiring decision. Some studies have shown that as many as four out of five hiring decisions are made within the first 10 minutes of an interview, letting the first impression effect more heavily weighted than any substance of a candidate’s professional experience. Consider how first impressions can affect the hiring process:

  • Making incorrect judgements. Some first impressions can be correct, but many are not. Making a hiring decision based solely off an incorrect judgement from a first impression could lead to the new hire negatively affecting company or team culture, not being as qualified for the role as supposed or ending in early turnover.
  • Affecting the interview. If an interviewer has a negative first impression, they may be more disengaged in the interview or even come off as more combative. Alternatively, if they have a good first impression, they might go easier on the candidate and ask fewer questions to get to know their experience better.
  • Making decisions too quickly. Relying too heavily on first impressions may cause a decision to be made without considering all the information or data about a candidate.

How To Prepare Candidates to Make a Great First Impression

Things such as tardiness, dress, grooming and preparedness can all affect first impressions. Consider the steps below to help your candidates come prepared to make a great first impression.

Step 1. Provide Clear Directions to the Location

Some situations are outside of the control of the applicant. However, help them be prepared to arrive on time by providing clear directions to the location of the interview. Consider adding a link to the Google Map pin, mentioning nearby landmarks, or including pictures of the building they will be interviewing in. If there is a parking garage or parking is often filled, let the applicant know what to expect.

Step 2. Share the Company Culture About Dress

What someone wears can affect how others perceive them. Let the applicants know what your company’s culture is regarding dress. If you have a casual environment, let them know that jeans are okay. If you have a more formal company, encourage them to be dressed in business formal for the interview.

Step 3. Help Them Mentally Prepare

Along with information about role and company, you can also provide candidates with information about the interview such as how many interviewers they will be meeting with and what the schedule will be for the interviews.

Providing information about the interview so the candidate knows what to expect can help them be less nervous or anxious.

Step 4. Ease Their Initial Nerves With a Friendly and Welcoming Environment

Remember that the candidate is interviewing you and the company just as much as you are interviewing them, so their first impressions of you matter as well! Being warm and friendly can help the candidate be calmer and act more like themselves.

8 Steps for Designing a Hiring Process that Sees Beyond First Impressions

If not actively managed, first impressions can drive the hiring process inadvertently. Consider these steps to minimize the first impression effect in your process.

Step 1. Awareness

Being aware of the first impression effect is the first step toward moving beyond it. Knowing that someone’s first impression can be more heavily biased in your own mind can help you put the first impression in its place as just one data point instead of the basis for a decision. Knowing your own limitations can help you act and make decisions more objectively.

Step 2. Begin With a Phone Interview

You can delay any first impression effects based on physical appearance or nonverbal communication by starting the hiring process with a phone interview to really get to know the candidate’s background and experience.

Step 3. Remember To Suspend Judgement

If you have initial thoughts about a candidate’s appearance, grooming or presentation, remember to suspend judgement on what that might mean about a candidate’s character or ability to do the job until you learn more about them.

Step 4. Focus on Professional Experience over Physical Traits

The first impression effect suggests that things such as dressing “smartly” can make someone seem more successful, and more eye contact can make someone seem more intelligent. Instead of making inferences about a candidate being trustworthy, competent or having a personality based solely on their traits, ensure that you have questions that focus on their past experiences.

Step 5. Prepare Standard Questions Based on the Job Description

Don’t let your first impression change the way you approach the interview by trying to receive confirmation of your suspicions (also known as the confirmation bias or primacy errors). Instead, create an interview guide with a standard set of questions that match the job description to ask every candidate interviewing for the role. Keeping a standard guide can ensure that the candidates are able to be more fairly and objectively compared based on their past experience rather than on their nonverbal behavior or grooming.

Step 6. Have More Than One Interviewer

Having more than one person in the interview can help bring some balance and differing perspectives instead of relying on one person’s opinions. Of course, if everyone in the interview feels the same way that can be a good basis for a decision.

Step 7. Take Your Time

Usually after about 10 minutes into the interview the candidate will begin to feel less nervous and better ease into the interview conversation. Take your time in making any decisions or judgements. Being more deliberate in your decision-making can help you move past your initial first impression.

Step 8. Utilize Tools To Eliminate Initial Biases

When looking for an ATS, consider using a system that doesn’t initially show the applicant’s name and can take the information from the resume and reformat it into a consistent manner. This can help eliminate differences in your first “virtual” impressions of a candidate by standardizing the format and reducing bias based on their name, picture, font and color use or formatting.

Questions You’ve Asked Us About the First Impression Effect

Are first impressions accurate?
Some first impressions can be accurate, but many aren’t. Take the time to get to know someone’s experience instead of relying on first impressions.
How quickly do first impressions form?
First impressions can be formed in as little as one tenth of a second!
What factors affect first impressions?
Physical appearance, body language and grooming can all affect first impressions.
Rachel Hair Messer

Rachel Hair Messer

Rachel graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Human Resource Management from the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University. She served as the President of the BYU SHRM Chapter and has been involved in the Utah SHRM’s college relationship committee since. Rachel specializes in Talent Management, Talent Branding, Employee Onboarding, and HR Program Management.

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