First Impressions: How Important Should They Be in the Hiring Process?

You know the age-old adage – you never get a second chance to make a first impression. The moment a candidate walks into an interview, you have formed some sort of opinion about their character. When your staff sees a new face in an office, be it temporary or permanent, they likely have no idea what to expect.

In reality, however, first impressions can be unpredictable, especially in the workplace. For one candidate, it’s like looking in a crystal ball; but, for another, it’s a snap judgment based more off a feeling than actual knowledge. When you’re in the middle of the hiring process, the stress and pressure of finding the right candidate can cast unpredictable shadows. How do you know what’s real and what’s rehearsed?

First impressions can be revealing.

It’s human nature to categorize, and in our fast-paced, high-tech world, we establish these categories in a matter of seconds. We need to, in order to be efficient, and we’ve adapted to lifestyles that reinforce this need. Studies show that students can tell in less than one full class period if a teacher will be effective. Likewise, HR managers can tell in a matter of minutes if a candidate will be a good fit for the team and a productive addition to an organization.

But they can also be limiting.

In the end, a first impression is still just a moment. The person has a lifetime of experiences that are playing second string to the persona they project in a few short minutes. Once a first impression has shaped our thoughts and opinions, we’re likely to act in a way that feeds into that perception, thereby limiting any potential the candidate may have had. Just because someone looks strong, doesn’t mean they can move mountains, and just because an employee is quiet, doesn’t mean they won’t speak up when it’s needed.

First impressions can provide an honest assessment.

Call it a gut feeling, but when your boss hired that new accountant, you just knew something was amiss. Maybe it was the way he seemed so protective, secretive even, about his past employment and projects. In a few short months your first impression proved correct – he was not to be trusted.

Our bodies speak our minds. Issues weighing down our thoughts will almost always come through in the way we carry ourselves. First impressions can often give us glimpses of those issues.

First impressions be intentionally shaped.

That doesn’t mean that first impressions should be blindly trusted. The candidate is there to impress you. Every action and statement has likely been rehearsed and planned, with your company’s mission and values as the main motivator. Is a new hire’s enthusiasm really for your company or simply for employment? On the other hand, if a candidate fumbles a first impression, it may be that they are actually an incredibly genuine person, one who gets a little too nervous when placed in the spotlight.

What to do with first impressions?

If a fouled first impression is the only thing holding you back, consider conducting a casual second interview, even just over the phone. Give the candidate a chance to rewind and start over. Be sure keep an open mind. For this to be effective, you have to be able to wipe the slate clean, truly and completely.

Now, if you have a handful of qualified potential employees, some of whom wowed you right away, then consider a first impression as another pre-screening tool. Either way, it shouldn’t be your only reason for pitching a resume in the wastebasket, especially if the job seeker is the most qualified candidate in the pile. At times like these, partnering with a staffing agency can really take the burden off your shoulders. Give us a call today and let Contemporary Staffing Solutions support your hiring team.