The Truth About First Impressions and the Hiring Process.

I’m often asked, “What’s the most important thing you have learned throughout your thirty plus year career as an HR professional?”

I always respond with, “Hire the right person for the job.”

Coworkers sitting together conducting an interview.

Although everyone starts with that intention, some hiring managers aren’t trained in using effective interviewing and selection techniques. Additionally, the demands of their job often take priority over making time to plan and interview.

How often have we only spent thirty minutes to an hour to hire someone we hope will be with us for a long career?

“Guilty as charged, your honor!”

If you ever served in a hiring manager capacity, then chances are you have made at least one bad hiring decision, and wondered where you went wrong. One of the reasons could be that we are unconsciously biased by our first impressions. I have been guilty of this myself.

In “How to Hire without getting fooled by first impressions” from the Harvard Business Review, Tanya Menon and Leigh Thompson point out that “the key is to distinguish between real and pseudo cues.”

Although first impressions are important, we don’t want them to bias us in a way that causes us to not accurately assess the candidate’s ability to execute the competencies of the job. 

So how do we avoid this mistake?

Let’s look at two common examples.


Suppose the candidate’s personality reminds you of someone you know and trust and maybe it’s a higher performer in your company. When this occurs, you may unconsciously extend a level of trust because you have an affinity for their personality, this assessment is risky.

Don’t jump too fast.

Explore the person in front of you and determine their true abilities despite their personality.


Perhaps the candidate is a referral from someone you trust. Referrals are generally great sources for open positions and should represent a significant percentage of your hires. However, it is a natural tendency and often we unconsciously extend our trust based on a mutual acquaintance.

This is also risky because you are giving trust to a perfect stranger and it may cause you to make wrongful assumptions about their ability to do the job.

Explore the person in front of you and determine their true abilities despite their relationship to someone you trust.

As a side note, if you want to learn more about hiring and keeping the right people for your business, you may want to read this.

What it all adds up to.

Understanding first impressions just scratch the surface when it comes to proper interviewing. There are many techniques to improving your “people reading” skills and selection abilities and it takes a lot of effort to develop them.

The important thing is to develop an interviewing routine that is unique to your company and use it consistently.

One thing is certain. Thanks to technology, today’s applicants are prepared for your interview.

We love bringing candidates and hiring managers together and will be sharing more of our tips from both perspectives in future posts. Stay tuned, and contact us if you want to know more about hiring the right person.

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