First impressions are becoming a crucial part of making hiring decisions with everything from firmness of handshakes and dress sense to tattoos and the quality of coffee impacting on both the employer’s and job seekers perceptions – for the former it is the second most important factor (after previous work experience).

The most important factors that help influence a positive first impression by interviewers are:

  • A candidates timekeeping
  • Level of candidates interview preparation
  • Ability to hold eye contact
  • Personal appearance
  • Quality of banter or small talk
  • Strength of handshake

Whilst interviewees are swayed by:

  • Interviewer’s handshake
  • The way an interviewer wore makeup
  • Banter or small talk
  • Kept waiting too long in reception
  • Interviewer’s dress sense
  • Didn’t like the room they were interviewed in

Do the groundwork first

A snap, first impression decision is likely to favour the extrovert over the introvert, or the loudest voice over the softer speaker, so make sure that you know exactly what you are looking for – the scope of the role and the type of person that you need both for the day to day work and for the team fit. Most successful teams are a balance of personality types and talents, and it’s often the chemistry this creates that leads to better results.

Scope out the traits, behaviours and skills that are important and then plan your interviews around giving people the best chance to show that they’ve got them.

Suspend prejudice

71% of managers responding to the research said that a visible tattoo would put them off a candidate – yet many people with tattoos could probably be very capable of doing the job. Similarly a firm handshake or confident personality may be important to you on a personal level, but be careful not to impose those personal values too heavily on a first impressions decision. It’s important to distinguish between personal preferences and the relevant skills and attributes that someone has to enable them to do their job and to make sure that you can justify the judgements made. It’s inevitable that our cognitive biases may sway us towards attractive, taller or more confident people so we should ensure that we can rationalise the decisions we make.

Be clear what is expected

If you want someone to dress in a certain way at interview then is it apparent from the job description, or from the pre interview briefing? If the candidate is to face a panel interview, or be judged on their initial impact, are they aware of this? Don’t assume that every job seeker is able to deal with ambiguity or unexpected arrangements and still impress at interview. People need a chance to reveal themselves and adapt to changing surroundings. Being too tough may help identify a certain type of spirit but is it vital to the role that someone can instantly deal with the unexpected? Some projects require planning, analysis and perspective so you will need an interview style that will help candidates display these.

If you want them to react and think on their feet, then let them know beforehand that this will be expected and that the interview will be structured to allow them to illustrate their adaptability.

Get the recruitment process right

If it really is a first impression that you’re after to aid the decision then make sure the interview process is planned to allow candidates to shine from the start. Clarity and proper communication are key – unless you’re trying to prepare them for life in a business where neither are prevalent! Giving them sufficient time, with an indication of what will be expected, will facilitate better preparation and help bring out the best in them. A poor process, with little briefing and feedback between the stages, will almost certainly lead to a poor impression, because….

Remember they are also judging you

First impressions don’t go one way. The research showed that candidates are also likely to make an instant judgement on you! Handshake, dress sense, length of time left waiting, attitude of other staff they interact with and even the state of the interview room are all things that lead to a poor first impression from the candidate’s perspective.

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