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A Second Look at First Impressions

NEWSLETTER • volume 3 • number 1

In our Effective Interviewing!® training, we try to stress how unreliable first impressions can be, and how easy it is to be misled by a single encounter with a candidate. The problem, though, is that even those who should know better make snap decisions about other people, often within a few minutes of meeting them. I recently made that mistake. Here's what happened:

I had my heart set on a new car that happens to be highly popular, and so on a recent afternoon, I found myself jockeying for position at a local dealership. Much to my surprise, the overworked salesman greeted me with what seemed to be genuine enthusiasm. Although it was a few minutes before closing, he took the time to present a detailed comparison between the car I wanted and a new, even sleeker model that would be available in a month. My first impression of the salesman was positive; he seemed very attentive and customer-focused.

Statistics on the second model looked good, but I'm 6'3" and was concerned about headroom. The salesman said he would be test driving the new car the following week and would call immediately after that with the information I wanted. I was impressed enough with his apparent reliability, conscientiousness, and enthusiasm to place a credit card deposit on the car and to ensure that my name appeared near the top of what promised to be a long waiting list.

As you may have already guessed, I never heard from the 'attentive' salesman - about headroom or anything else. And I never received a receipt or other acknowledgment of the order. Two weeks later I visited the showroom and questioned him about headroom in the new model. "Oh," he said squinting at me as if I were a total stranger, "didn't I call you? What? A receipt?" Another searching look. "Well, ah, here's one." My positive first impression was quickly waning.

As in life, so in the interview. A good first impression is just that - a first impression. Be careful about basing any decisions on it. Instead, always look for repeated evidence of performance.