First impressions DON’T count when you’re interviewing candidates!

You’re waiting for your candidate to arrive, you’ve already looked through their CV and although you have a few individuals to interview today, this particular CV stands out, you think they have potential.  You have your questions at the ready. They walk in, they appear to stumble over themselves, you notice their shirt tail is hanging out and they proceed to give you a nervous handshake. You as the interviewer may look at this candidate as clumsy, scruffy and lacking in confidence and in this early negative judgement, may write them off as unworthy of your role. But, what if the candidate isn’t clumsy and has a completely different view on what happened? They may blame the floor or the new shoes they bought for the occasion to make a lasting impression, the shirt tail came out as they tripped and their adrenaline kicked in causing the shaky handshake. Should you judge that candidate based on that one act?

Impression accuracy varies depending on the observer and the target (person, object, scene, etc.) being observed. Within the first 6 seconds of eye contact with your potential new employee you have used your cognitive biases to form a flash judgement about that interviewee relating to their presumed personality and competence, just as they have about you as the interviewer.

Despite this, these snap judgments you make about an interviewee may or may not be accurate, but they still exist. And if the judgment made is a negative one, the difficulty in shifting your opinion is extremely high, although this is when we would encourage you to try and not write them off before you have even listened to what they have to say.

But, what subconsciously do we look for in those 6 first seconds that make us make that snap judgement?

  • Similarities to ourselves: Subconsciously or not, as the interviewer you will be looking at the interviewee stood in front of you, trying to find similarities in attitudes and personality. Deviations in their appearance, speech and behavior are likely to affect the initial impression we have of that individual.
  • Halo or horns effect: As an interviewer, you allow one trait, either good (halo) or bad (horns), to overshadow other traits, behaviours, actions or beliefs. You might make the presumption that an attractive person is more intelligent, or an overweight candidate is more lazy.
  • Attribution bias: We tend to ascribe negative behaviors, such as tripping over as in our earlier example, as an intrinsic trait (they are clumsy) rather than the outcome of an external force (the floor was slippery).
  • Contrast effect: The tendency to compare the current candidate we are interviewing to the previous candidate we met. The previous candidate may have been particularly bad and therefore making you feel the current candidate is particularly good as a contrast to the previous person, and therefore inflating your view of them.

These subconscious judgements you make can sometimes be the right one, the interviewee may not be right for your company. As recruitment specialists, we quite regularly find that our first initial judgement has been incorrect.

How do you avoid this?

  • Always look for the positive: As the interviewer, look for the reasons TO hire a candidate, rather than the reasons not to hire them.
  • Pre plan your interview: Have a plan and interview structure so you are gaining the same information for each candidate.
  • Take notes: Listen deeply, take plenty of notes and make the clear conscious decision that you will not make a judgement until after the interview has finished. The notes will allow you to create your final, fully informed decision based on all the facts rather than a knee jerk judgement from something negative you witness. If other interviewers are involved in the process, wait until they have completed their interviews before you discuss your views on a candidate.
  • Try not to judge on appearances or similarities to yourself: A difficult one for the subconscious to avoid doing but in your post interview review, focus on suitability for role rather than likeability.

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