First Impressions: How Important Should They be to the Hiring Process?

No matter how often we’ve been told not to judge a book by its cover, we just can’t help ourselves. We are swayed by first impressions. But when you are hiring, should you suppress that first reaction to a candidate to make a more reasoned and careful decision?

Or is your gut telling you something that it pays to listen to? We tend to like people who are like ourselves, it’s an inborn bias. Ask yourself if this is a factor that may be in play when evaluating a candidate.

Why do we Judge?

Studies have shown that we judge the traits of others as good or bad in as little as 250 milliseconds. That’s a tough instinct to override. But there are reasons that you should try to set aside that initial judgment whether it is positive or negative.

What’s the Problem With a Good Impression?

When you are swayed by your first impression, you may not treat each candidate the same. If a candidate gives you a good first impression, you may not push as hard in the interview. You’ll ask questions that confirm the impression you have already formed. You like them, you want to get the job filled quickly, so you decide that they are close enough to filling your requirements.

Bad Impression, Good Fit?

Bad first impression and you could check out mentally. You ask questions but don’t really pay attention to the answers or ask questions that are near impossible to get right. Look for reasons to confirm your impression that they are not the right fit. You just want to get them out of your office and get on with your day. But how do you know that you’re not missing out on your perfect fit.

How Can You Override Your Bias?

Structure your process. Each candidate should be treated the same and be asked the same interview questions.

Phone screen. Reduce bias by screening every candidate by phone so that you are focused on skills and experience instead of their appearance.

Focus on past performance. Make decisions on objective factors rather than subjective. “She’s overachieved her sales goals for the last eight quarters” offers you a better chance at a great hire than, “I just didn’t like him.”

Don’t discount your gut entirely. We have instincts for a reason. Just be sure that it’s only one factor in a hiring decision and doesn’t weigh as heavily as the quantifiable ones.


Need help finding candidates who make (and live up to!) a great first impression? Contact the staffing and recruiting experts at Malone today. We handle recruiting, screening and initial interviews for you, so that you see only the contract and direct hire candidates with the most potential.


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