The candidate comes through the door. You shake their hand and begin the interview. Within a couple of minutes, you’re convinced this is the person you’ve been looking for.
But have you been misled by your first impressions?
Judging a book by its cover
It will come as no surprise to anyone that’s ever been interviewed for a job that candidates try to put their best foot forward. The goal for the candidate is to show themselves in the best light; the goal of the interviewer is to see the candidate accurately. This mismatch in goals and the informational asymmetries between each party means both have to make a decision on limited information. For the interviewer, they have to weigh all the data points they get, one of which is their first impression of the candidate.
What does the science say?
In the realm of medical diagnosis, practitioners have two methods of decision making to utilise when proscribing treatment. They can either make a decision in their mind, using their own judgement, or they can follow a prespecified formula that’s based on empirically established relations between symptoms and treatments. The former is known as clinical decision making, whereas the latter is known as actuarial.
Research by Robyn Dawes and colleagues* has shown that actuarial decision making bests clinical decision making in a variety of settings. In the context of a job interview, this translates to the difference between an interviewer solely trusting their own judgement of a candidate’s ability to perform in the role, and trusting an empirically-backed formula that correlates certain traits with job performance. While you mightn’t be able to develop a foolproof formula for your own recruitment, you can pay attention to the traits of your most successful workers, and look for them when interviewing candidates.
A process informed by actuarial decision making principles would, for instance, disregard irrelevant things like gender, race or physical attractiveness, and instead attend to traits like intelligence, creativity and leadership – factors that have been shown to correlate with job performance, according to the American Psychological Association**.
In the realm of employment interviews specifically, Murray Barrick and collegues found*** a strong relationship between the initial impressions a candidate made on an interviewer, and their subsequent judgement of the candidates responses to structured interview questions.
The judgements themselves correlated with two of the candidate’s traits: their extraversion and their verbal skill. As a result, the “first impressions” the interviewers held were not first impressions of all the candidate’s traits, so trusting their first impressions in making an employment decision amounted to judging the candidate on those two characteristics.
If the job you’re hiring for relies heavily on social skills, a first impression can be a useful factor in your decision.
The authors hypothesise that interviewers may possibly give extraversion and verbal skill too much influence on the employment decision in cases where they aren’t particularly relevant to the job. Extraversion and verbal skill are important when hiring a salesperson, for example. Hiring an ICT engineer, on the other hand – not so much.
So, can you trust your first impressions when making hiring decisions? It depends. If the job you’re hiring for relies heavily on social skills, a first impression can be a useful factor in your decision. For jobs where they’re not so important, a first impression is more likely to prove a distraction.
Thankfully, when you partner with Monash Talent for your graduate recruitment needs, you don’t have to worry about your first impression. With our Mercer Match software, we test candidates on a variety of cognitive, emotional and social traits, allowing you to make your decision more objectively. Contact us today for more information on how we can find the right graduate for you.
* Dawes, R. M., Faust, D., & Meehl P. E. (1989). Clinical versus Actuarial Judgment. Science, 31(243), 1668-74
** American Psychological Association. (accessed 2018, March 22). Which traits predict job performance? Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/predict-job-performance.aspx
*** Barrick, M. R., Dustin, S. L., Tamara, L. G., Stewart, G. L., Shaffer, J. A., Swider, B. A. (2012). Candidate characteristics driving initial impressions during rapport building: Implications for employment interview validity. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 85, 330-352.