The first impression

Inspired-Search | 13 June 2016

Written by: Marielle Wester.

More than ever companies use recruitment agencies and headhunters for hiring talent and filling in senior positions. For many individuals the prospect of being approached by a headhunter could be an unaccustomed one. In the following blog series we’ll reach out to individuals, just in case an executive recruiter one day does reach out to them.

Keywords: First impression, heuristics, biases, job interview, executive recruiter, consciousness, unconsciousness, preparation

In this blog I like to address the topic of first impressions. Everyday we form first impressions about everything. It is human nature. Why is that, what point is there to first impressions? Are these impressions accurate? And how to make a positive first impression?

Why we form first impressions

Within moments of meeting people, we make assumptions about them, about their status, intelligence, professionalism, capabilities and even personality. Why do we automatically form these first impressions? Evolutionarily spoken, this process is essential to make quick decisions, to judge in a split second whether someone is a friend or an enemy. We decide whether it’s safe to stay or if we have to fight or flight.

Process behind the forming of first impressions

In comparison to our unconscious mind, our conscious mind can only process a very brief part of information, it gets easily overwhelmed with just interacting and not spilling coffee onto ourselves. Due to the large amount of information our unconsciousness can process, we’ve evolved to let our unconsciousness handle first impressions. Heuristics (mental shortcuts) are essential to help our unconsciousness deal with this overload of information. But heuristics can fail to produce a correct judgement, they can result in a cognitive bias. An example of this is that we pay more attention to signs that confirm our beliefs and pay little attention to the evidence that does not support our beliefs (confirmation bias).

Accuracy of first impressions

Is it always safe to trust first impressions? Research shows that first impressions are actually surprisingly accurate. Though it is important that the right information is presented and that we will not be misled by cognitive biases to form an accurate first impression.

Making a positive first impression – initial phase

If you are applying for a job, a positive first impression is essential to get invited for a job interview. There is no second chance to make a first impression. As an executive recruiter (head hunter) in logistics and supply chain myself, I also form first impressions about the people I meet. It already starts with scanning the CV of a potential candidate and the initial mail or phone contact before the initial job interview. Most people forget about this part, which precedes the initial job interview and can get you off to a good (or bad) start. So at the initial phase it already is important to provide the right information accurately which is important for a recruiter to make a decision. For example, if you’re a very good and accurate supply chain analyst, but you didn’t put effort into your (online) CV or motivational letter and it is inaccurate and contains misspellings, chances are high that you will not be invited for a job interview. Also take notion that you have an accurate and representative (maybe even professional) photo. Make sure that your photo matches the message you want to convey. The first impression at the initial phase is key to get invited for a job interview. And if you’re been invited for a job interview, how do you make a positive first impression? Mostly it’s about being confident, smiling, dressing representatively and giving a firm handshake. This will help you to get you off to a good start.

Why preparing for a job interview?

Why even bother to prepare for the rest of the interview if the first few impressions can accurately predict the final judgement? That’s because a good recruiter is aware that these first impressions are not always key indicators for future job success but only a good start. Prior to the interview, a good recruiter has established what skills, attributes or behaviours are needed to be effective in the role so the candidate can be tested on these aspects.  During a job interview, a good recruiter tries to adjust their perceptions by being aware of heuristics and biases that can distort their judgements. Good recruiters also try to convince their selves of a contradicting point of view to overcome natural biases. And we place the information we get into context. For example, a supply chain manager who claims to have helped reduced yearly costs by €20 million, cannot be interpreted right without asking about the context. €20 million would be a lot in a company with a yearly turnover of €100 million. But it would be peanuts in a company with a turnover rate of €20 billion. And finally, good recruiters use methods (e.g. the STAR(R)-method) and additional assessments (e.g. a personal profile analysis) to form an accurate image of the candidate

Making a positive first impression – job interview

So how to make a positive first impression during a job interview? How to transfer your passion for the job you’re applying for? Be yourself, but come prepared! Making a positive first impression is of the same importance when you got headhunted, because the procedure will be comparable to a regular application. There are no difficult questions, only unprepared ones. It is important to do prior research on the company, the job and the person you are meeting. Know what your capabilities, strengths and weaknesses are in relation to the job, what you’re looking for in a job and organisation and where you want your career path to take you. Make yourself comfortable with methods such the STAR(R)-method to quickly give accurate examples of your role in particular situations. Ask questions to see if the job and company will suit you and your ambitions and to show interest. And remember, the best way to avoid misunderstandings during a job interview is to stop worrying about making a good first impression.