First Impression is the Last Impression

First Impressions

Having been in ‘Talent Acquisition’ for an MNC, now-a-days, when I interact with students, I disclose to them that during your ‘personal interview’ (PI), you are ‘short-listed’, in the first five seconds!! Period. And sadly, you’ve not even had the opportunity to get across your views/ thoughts/ ideas to the interviewer/ panel. A very small percentage of times does one change the initial prognosis. I see a number of daggers being drawn. Well, let me amplify with some research.

Some years ago, an experimental psychologist at Harvard University, Nalini Ambady, set out to examine the impact of non-verbal aspects of our interactions. She used ten second (later five seconds) videotapes of teachers with the sound off, reviewed by outside observers on the effectiveness of teachers by their expressions and physical cues. A two second silent video clip of a teacher they have never met, will reach conclusions about how good the teacher is, are ‘similar’ to those of a student who sits in the teachers’ class for an entire semester. We make a snap judgement which are invariably accurate.

Recently, Frank Bernieri, a psychologist at the University of Toledo and Neha Jain, conducted a similar study (videos), with 98 interviewees from various ages and background. Two interviewers were trained in the art of interviewing. Subsequently, these videos were shown to random people off the street, who just saw the greetings and their ratings were no different from the interview results.

Tricia Prickett, a undergrad Bernieri’s student, used the videotapes to test “handshake is everything“. Purely based on the handshake clip, a series of strangers were asked to rate the applicants. The ratings of selections were similar to those rated by the interviewers. Apparently, human beings don’t need to know someone in order to believe that they know someone. Ambady, Bernieri and other researchers believe in the power of first impressions. What we conclude after two seconds is pretty much the same as what we conclude after twenty minutes of interview or even a semester.

The fact remains, that people who simply see the handshake arrive at the same conclusion as people who conduct the full interview; also perhaps that initial impressions colour our other impressions that we may gather subsequently. The first impression becomes a self fulfilling prophecy; we hear what we expect to hear. Thus the interview is hopelessly biased in favour of the nice. Psychologist call this tendency to fixate and overlook the influence of context to “The Attribution Error”.

Be Nice

But YOU must be aware that YOUr PI is done and dusted in the first five seconds. First impression is indeed, and rightfully, the last impression.