385 Seconds to make a First Impression at Interview
When I was trying to find the details of a well-known piece of research into the interview pitfalls associated with first impressions and jumping to conclusions, I stumbled across the above declaration. It comes from an article by Tom Howe, written in 2014 on the same subject. He refers to recent research from Monster.co.uk which concluded that candidates for a job have just 385 seconds to make a good first impression on their interviewer by which time their employment decision will have been made.
This may well be the case and apart from being a shocking indictment of the interview process, it also goes some way to explain why so much research concludes that interviews, on their own, are poor predictors of good performance.
We’ve all heard the claim of the Army recruiting officer who boasted that he could identify “officer material” from the resonance of the applicant’s knock on the door or the firmness of the hand shake.
Anybody entrusted with the huge responsibility of conducting interviews has a duty to fight against this very normal temptation to jump to early conclusions.
Even if we don’t realise it, we’re all influenced by a whole barrage of factors which hit us when we meet a candidate for the first time. What do they look like? How old are they? What gender, or ethnic origin? What are they wearing? Have they got a beard? Do they avoid eye contact or stare at you incessantly because they’ve been told by a well-meaning friend to keep eye contact with the interviewer at all costs!
Apart from being potential drivers of unlawful prejudice and discrimination, none of the above are likely to be remotely relevant to the successful performance of the job in question.
Much more effective will be the structured approach of situational questions linked to the previously clarified competencies which have been identified as essential or desirable for the job. Candidates’ responses should be scored rationally and later ranked against the answers given by the other candidates. Then some sensible decision making can be made.
Over the years we have come across some astonishing first impression conclusions: “Tell him to chop off his ponytail and we’ll give him the job”, “I liked the way she drove out of the car park”, “he did his military service in a Tank Regiment like I did, so he must be good”!
No wonder interviews alone are such poor predictors, especially if they only last 385 seconds!