THE INTERVIEW: WHY FIRST IMPRESSIONS LAST

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THE INTERVIEW: WHY FIRST IMPRESSIONS LAST

It takes less than 10 seconds to form a first impression of someone. In fact, behavioural scientists believe that we have a seven-second window period to form such a first impression. That means that from the moment a potential candidate enters the room for an interview, and perhaps before allowing the candidate to even utter a “hello” or introduction, your hiring decision may already have been influenced.

The “halo effect” refers to an immediate judgement or cognitive bias, where our overall impression of a person, based on our own prejudices, social perception and individual preferences, affects the way we view the person’s character. As an example, an interview candidate who impresses the panel by displaying positive personality traits, such as being friendly and warm, may be perceived as more competent and intelligent in comparison to a candidate that is more reserved and direct. Various studies have been conducted linking physical attributes and seeming favourable personality traits to perceived competence, although there may be no scientific link between these factors.

How can an employer, therefore, ensure that sufficient and valid information is extracted in the interview, in order to validate their initial beliefs about a candidate?

Competency-based or behavioural interviews entail systematic, structured questions aimed to elicit a response on certain skills or competencies. Asking a candidate to explain how he or she would react in a specific difficult scenario, such as a conflict scenario or ethical dilemma, may lead to more accurate behavioural predictions in the workplace.

Core competencies refer to the desirable, but also crucial behavioural- or technical competencies an incumbent must possess. Teamwork, responsibility, career motivation, communication and problem-solving, for example, are all key competencies associated with a specific role, over and above technical proficiency. There are numerous guidelines to assist with the development of competency-based interview questions, to ensure the key competencies associated with the role are further explored.

How can applicants ensure that they create a lasting first impression?

Make sure you arrive on time (and not in a stressed or flustered state) for the interview.  Increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone) may result in poor memory, moodiness and a flushed face, which will certainly not create the best impression. In addition, try not to fidget and remain focused and upright during the interview.

Be confident in who you are and try to show the interview panel your individual strengths. Do not try to impersonate someone or act out of character, which will come across as uncomfortable instead of authentic.

Make sure you research the organisation and the demands of the position you apply for. Nobody expects you to recite the names of all the directors or managers of an organisation, but rather demonstrate a thorough understanding of the industry and the type of work the position requires.

Practice answers to generic interview questions. Although each interview will be different, thinking about possible answers to questions or scenarios will make you feel prepared and come across as more confident in your abilities. However, be careful not to memorise “standardised” or “textbook” answers. Provide authentic responses instead of saying only what you think the organisation would want to hear.

Finally, and this should go without saying, dress to impress for the interview. Make sure you look presentable and neat and remain cognisant of your body language. We communicate up to 90% of what we are saying through displaying the appropriate body language, only 10% of communication is in the actual words we say.

The “halo effect” may distort reality through creating false impressions in terms of competency and performance. From the employer’s perspective, interview questions must explore behaviour in further depth to enable the organisation to make the best possible hiring decision. Candidates can leave lasting impressions by being comfortable and honest during the interview.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE).