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good first impression
non verbal cues
facial expression
military precision
self assurance
job interview
body language
Making A Good First Impression At A Job Interview
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When we go for a job interview, it goes without saying that we all want to make a good impression. Some people take a lot of care over their appearance, often investing in a new outfit and planning their look with military precision. How much does your appearance matter? Well quite a lot. When we see someone we’ve never met before our brain immediately takes a snap picture rather like a photograph composed of 1000s of pixels, of all the different signals that we give off. Our brain immediately stores this head to toe image along with any emotions that we might feel for future reference. Although we may go on to spend more time with people and learn more about them, the original impression never entirely fades.

Of course it’s not just our clothing that contributes to a good first impression in an interview context, it’s also the non-verbal cues (body language) that we give off, such as our facial expression and whether we’re smiling or not, how we walk and hold ourselves and how strong our grip is when we shake hands with the interviewer or panel. The problem is, if judgements are being made so quickly, how accurate are they?

Psychology Today reports on a study that was set up to test just that. Using people who were not trained interviewers they asked them to view 20 to 30 second slots of job applicants greeting their interviewers and rate them on different attributes including their self-assurance and their likability. This study revealed there was little difference between the assessments made by those who had viewed the short clips and the trained interviews who had spent 20 minutes with the applicants. In some ways this sounds quite alarming. How can an impression of 20 to 30 seconds be accurate?

According to some experts the judgement can be made in about 3 seconds from a person’s facial expression and apparently were quite good at doing this, a gift we have honed from our ancestors where their ability to be able to read expressions was key to their survival. Of course in our modern world making snap judgements is generally not a life and death situation. However, we still use that skill to assess whether someone is going to have a positive or negative effect on us . As for how accurate those first impressions are, well that is still open to debate, although psychologist are now more aware of which parts of the brain are involved in making these snap impressions and have monitored heightened brain activity.

Although we are able to assess reasonably accurately whether someone would have a positive or negative effect on us, this is only if a person’s expression is genuine and depending on exactly what’s being judged. Emotions can appear on people’s faces for only a couple of seconds, allowing us to make an accurate judgement and we wouldn’t actually learn any more by going on to spend more time with them. However, we also have to factor in our ability to stereotype from visual images and that we favour certain faces as being more trustworthy than others or more healthy, assumptions that can easily be inaccurate.

So what relevance does this information have to going on a job interview and the first impression you want to make? Well it’s still obviously important to be well prepared for an interview and do all your relevant research and also take care of what you wear. However, probably the simple most important thing you can do is make sure you smile. As humans we all search out a smile and if someone’s smiling at us, it’s very difficult not to smile back. So if you want to make a good first impression at a job interview, think of it as the 3 second rule and remember to smile.

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