In the Blink of an Eye: First Impressions Count


Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink may say it all: we form impressions of people within the first few seconds of meeting them. Gladwell says that these snap judgments are unconscious, and they’re hard-wired into our brains as a survival mechanism. They’re almost entirely intuitive, based on hundreds of micro signals we are not even aware of processing. Police and soldiers have always relied on these instincts; knowing at a glance who the bad guy is can mean the difference between life and death. This may have big implications for your job search.

Most career experts will tell you that the decision not to hire is made in the first few minutes of an interview. The recruiting firm Come Recommended surveyed hiring managers and found that 33% of bosses know within the first 90 seconds of an interview whether they will hire someone. That decision is based on posture, dress, eye contact and apparent confidence of the candidate. (In the same survey, 65% of bosses indicate that clothes could be a deciding factor between two almost-identical candidates.) That puts a lot of pressure on you to make a strong first impression.

You may be protesting to yourself as you read this – why would any company make a decision based on such trivial qualities? Recruiters should be paying attention to the important stuff! Of course, by the time you get to the interview, you have been vetted for experience, education and skills. On paper, you have made the cut. The next phase of the decision process is fit.

Fit is hard to describe, but recruiters say they know it when they see it. More importantly, they know when they don’t see it. Some companies call this “the airport test;” the manager asks herself after each interview: “Would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person?” They’re evaluating the whole person, not just your skills: your sense of humor, whether you are curious and interested, and even more importantly, whether you are interesting.

So how can you make sure you’re not eliminated by a snap judgment in the first few minutes of the interview? Here are some tips.

  • First, take care of yourself. A good night’s rest will help you look and feel your best. Regular exercise and a good diet will add to your vitality. Healthy is the new handsome; there’s even data to suggest that stronger and healthier candidates get higher salary offers.
  • Dress the part. Make sure your interview outfit is perfectly crisp, well-tailored and appropriate for the industry and company. Invest is a flattering and current hair style before your interview.
  • Make sure your posture and gait project energy and confidence. Walk briskly; studies have indicated that there is a difference between how happy people and sad people walk. A New Zealand study found that people who slouch also use more negative words and become more self-conscious and self-absorbed.
  • The oldest career advice speaks to eye contact, but it’s one of the biggest indicators we have of confidence; if this is a weak point for you, work on it. The same goes for your handshake. Even after almost 20 years of reading about how a strong handshake is an advantage, I still run into (metaphorical) dead fish at networking events.

Everyone hates the idea of being judged, but it’s simply a fact of life. In addition to preparing to make your case in the interview, be prepared to send the right non-verbal signals when you walk in the door. Those first few seconds before you begin the interview may make the difference in whether you’ll get hired.

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2 thoughts on “In the Blink of an Eye: First Impressions Count

  1. Pingback: Fit at Forty Plus | @work: a career blog

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