• Bruce Malcom

You never get a second chance to make a first impression… but does that really matter?

Updated: Nov 30, 2019

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? Things aren’t always what they seem - According to an article I saw, a “First Impression” is made within 7 seconds of meeting someone.

In the history of legitimate job interviews, no one has ever purposely tried to create a bad impression. Candidates go to an interview with one purpose in mind … to show themselves in the best light possible – and why not?

An Interviewers purpose, on the other hand, is to try to figure out, as accurately as possible, who they are dealing with and what a candidate has to offer. If you are the interviewer you’ll need to evaluate the various components of the interview and one of those components is your first impression of the candidate.

Doctors do it all the time

As interviewers, we can learn something from the medical profession.

Doctors basically have two methods of decision making when coming up with their diagnoses. They can either decide in their mind, using their own intuition – as in “I’m guessing those red spots on your face must be measles”, or they can follow a formula based on logic, observation and experience, as in “you are uncoordinated, you carry an open red marker in your hand all the time and you keep trying to place it behind your ear”

The first approach is called clinical decision making (in municipal HR, we might call it a “gut feeling” ) and the second is called actuarial decision making … actuaries deal in numbers … so you could say about an interview based on the actuarial approach, “do the numbers add up or not?” For most jobs, I favour the latter approach … this is one reason why at Ravenhill, we quite often suggest that interview questions be accompanied by a method for scoring the answers.

One researcher* I read, believes that actuarial decision making beats the pants off clinical decision making in a variety of scenarios. So, in thinking about this in terms of a job interview, it boils down to this:  it’s the difference between an interviewer who goes with their “gut feeling” about a candidate and the interviewer who trusts a verifiable fact -backed formula that compares certain traits with job performance. While it might be hard to come up with a guaranteed formula that will work for you and your municipality, you can pay attention to the traits of your most successful workers, then keep your eyes open for those traits during your interviews.

The actuarial decision-making approach could rule out some things that may be irrelevant like gender, race or physical attractiveness, and instead look for traits like intelligence, creativity, and leadership –  all factors connected with successful job performance.

Psychologists have found that there is a strong connection between the ‘first impressions’ a candidate makes and the effect that has on the interviewer’s judgment of a candidate’s answers to interview questions. Outgoing and verbally skilled candidates made better “first impressions” overall which almost inevitably meant getting the job was based on  being outgoing and verbally skilled

If the job you’re hiring for relies heavily on social skills, a first impression can be a useful factor in your decision.

The challenge we have in municipal government is that interviewers may possibly give extraversion and verbal skill too much weight in the hiring decision, particularly in cases where they aren’t all that relevant to the job. Extraversion and verbal skill are important when hiring a salesperson, for example. Hiring an engineer– not so much.

“Never hire the best salesman, unless, of course, you actually need a salesman” dbm50

Thankfully, when you partner with Ravenhill Group Inc. for your recruitment needs, you don’t have to worry about relying solely on your first impression. We have a number of proprietary selection tools that will screen candidates for “FIT’ in your municipality. This will ultimately help you to make the most appropriate hiring decision for you.

*Dawes, R. M., Faust, D., & Meehl P. E. (1989). Clinical versus Actuarial Judgment. Science, 31(243), 1668-74


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