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Excerpts from

First Impression Counts

by Neil Murray

 

Qualifications may get lost in an interview that doesn’t go well

 

Shouldn’t we give at least as much consideration to intelligence as we give to appearance? Is preparation less important than personality? Is experience an important qualification? Should we totally disregard understanding of the issues? ... The candidates under consideration here are not political. They are those who compete for jobs. Some startling results from recent studies of job interviewing show that we tend to quickly draw strong and lasting impressions about job candidates based on little or no substantive information. ...Studies highlighted in a recent New Yorker article make it dramatically clear that interviewers hastily rush to snap judgments about candidates before they weigh candidates’ responses to their questions.

 

Those who have studied interviewing concluded long ago that the initial moments or minutes of an interview count the most. And it has long been established that whatever impressions are drawn early in an interview tend to last. If you get off to a good start, lapses later in the interview will be overlooked. Conversely, to stumble in the beginning can be devastating, no matter how much you shine in the later stages of an interview. The only real question has been timing. Some experts have said it’s the first three to five minutes that set the stage. Others have argued that the all-important time frame is even less than that. To raised eyebrows, some have even contended that the die is cast in the first few seconds and that it is based largely upon visual impressions — how the candidate looks and how those looks translate into perceptions in the interviewer’s mind. Now, more than ever, that point of view seems correct: In job interviews, appearance counts more than substance. Weigh the evidence.

 

One study by Harvard experimental psychologists Nalini Arnbady and Robert Rosenthal focused not on interviewing, but instead upon the importance of nonverbal factors in teaching. Silent 10-second video clips of teachers were shown to observers with no prior exposure to the teachers. They then rated the teachers on a 15-item personality assessment. When the clips were cut to five seconds, the assessments were the same. Even at two-second viewings, the ratings were unaltered. Amazing as that is, it is just the tip of the iceberg. When the resulting ratings were compared to those of student evaluations conducted after a full semester of exposure to the teachers, a very strong positive correlation was found. That’s convincing testimony to the strength of first impressions.

 

A University of Toledo study makes the same point, focused more clearly on interviewing situations. In that study, interviewers who had six weeks of training conducted interviews with 98 volunteer job candidates. The interviews each lasted 15 to 20 minutes. The resulting ratings were then compared to those of completely untrained observers who were only shown 15-second videotapes of the initial entrances of the candidates. On nine of 11 traits being rated, the untrained observers who only saw brief, introductory videotapes reached the same conclusions as the trained interviewers who had conducted in-depth interviews.

 

Neil Murray is director of career services at UCSD.

 

 

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