Thursday, April 24, 2008

Interview in a Snap

30 Seconds…

That’s the maximum time it takes to form a first impression according to a number of experimental Psychologists. Some have found that it’s all over with the handshake in the first few seconds. Keep in mind that not everyone interviews this way….it’s just the vast majority that make decisions based on first impressions.

Two Harvard researchers, Nalini Ambady and Robert Rosenthal studied nonverbal aspects of teachers, by having observers rate instructor effectiveness from 10 second silenced video clips. When Ambady ran a second 15 item personality rating based on just 5 second clips, the ratings were the same. They were the same when she showed just 2 second clips. And they were the same as end of semester teacher evaluations. Ambady found that we make snap personality judgments in just a couple of seconds – literally in a snap.

Frank Bernieri, a University of Toledo Psychologist trained grad students to act as job interviewers, and taped the interviews. He then showed the first 20 to 32 seconds to observers – just enough to show the handshake and greeting. The observers then used the same 6 page evaluation as the interviewers to rate each applicant. The surprising results: "On nine out of the eleven traits the applicants were being judged on, the observers significantly predicted the outcome of the interview," Bernieri says. "The strength of the correlations was extraordinary."

"In social psychology, there is an amazing amount of literature and research that show that once we have any expectation, once we have any working theory, any working hypothesis, we are biased in the way we process information," Bernieri said. "We go out of our way to seek confirming evidence. However, in our minds, we think we're being analytical and processing the whole time. So by the time we finish, we think our judgments are based on the data.""People do judge books by their covers," Bernieri concluded. "First impressions are going to predict final impressions."

Do these findings floor you?

So how do you take this information to make it work for you? Ok, the easy stuff: Confidently walk to the interviewer, Shake firmly with dry palms, and look the person in the eyes while shaking and smiling. Don’t chew gum, don’t smell of cigarettes, body odor or too much cologne. Slightly overdress for the interview in clean clothes and shiny shoes, and
dress like the Romans do. But most job seekers already know these tactics….so most serious candidates do the same thing.

If everyone uses the same methods, what can give you an edge? Here’s 6 tips:

Expressiveness: People with animated expressions and vocal variances are seen as more easily read, so hiring managers feel they are seeing the real person, with less guessing involved. This trait makes the interviewee more naturally likable. So leave your “Poker Face” at home.

“Interaction Synchrony”: Mirror postures, gestures, and non-verbal communications of the interviewer. In a way, it shows the interviewer subconsciously that you understand and speak their language. Every hiring manager wants someone who “gets them”, can almost read their mind, avoiding additional explanation and miscommunication.

Eye Contact: Practice your eye contact. Use video with mock interviews, paying attention see if you look at the interviewer while they are speaking, and if you maintain eye contact while answering. Lack of eye contact can give the non-verbal impression that you’re not interested, a poor listener, even that you might not be telling the truth. Have someone else evaluate your eye contact, and give you feedback.

Preparedness: Always go to an interview prepared with a pen and portfolio for note taking.

Posture: Sit forward, never back, with your hands in your lap. Keep both feet on the floor, and sit straight and still. When answering, lean forward slightly. Don’t slouch or kick back, even if the interviewer does (this is one non-verbal cue that you shouldn’t mimic). Some interviewers will lean back as a test…to see if the candidate mimics.

All of these non verbal cues take place in the first 30 seconds. Your non-verbal cues, along with the first impression your resume already gave the interviewer typically determines the hiring manager’s decisions.

What will you do differently during your next interview?

If you’d like more information, a free 30 minute resume consultation, or some advice about your career transition, just email your resume to reCareered at, and we'll schedule a time to talk.


Anonymous said...

Interesting that you posted this blog. I had an interview last week and within 30 secs having met the hiring manager, I knew I would not be moving forward in the interview process. Our personalities just didn't "click" from the very beginning.

I also noticed a change in my overall attitude as the interview progressed. My answers were awful, I fumbled and fought to stay focused. It was embarrassing because I haven't interviewed that poorly in years. And this was a position I was more than qualified for. Do you think I "self-destructed" because I already "knew" the outcome and wanted to be responsible for not being offered the position? Or possibly didn't want the position to begin with?

Tim said...

Question: I had an interviewer who would avoid eye contact, how do you handle that?

Cynthia said...

I think interviewing is a test of poise under pressure. Let's face it - everyone says relax and be yourself. That's partly true. You have to be yourself to stand out - but you must NEVER let your guard down - no matter how well you think the interview is going. It isn't over until you are filling out new hire paperwork in HR. Take every interview seriously - even if you are not a 100% - you learn every time and get better. Mistakes happen - just practice for next time if it doesnt' work out. Most times a hiring manager will expect some nervousness so don't beat yourself up too much. The main thing is getting to the interview that will land you the job -that might be a journey rather than a sprint. Have faith and know that some of it is destiny and some of it is just plain preparation and poise under pressure. The one with the most poise and a natural smile, wins the prize most times.

Phil Rosenberg said...


Thanks for your comment. I agree with most of your statements, but the challenge is that each person in the hiring process looks for different things. To make the process more difficult, each may respond differently to the verbal and non-verbal cues you give (and many of these cues are sub-conscious).

Yes, keeping your head under pressure and never letting your guard down are important. However, the better you can be in knowing what the hiring manager looks for in an employee, the better you can fulfill it. While there's never going to be a 100% foolproof solution (wouldn't that be nice!), I find that research and preparation allows candidates to give an impression that generates a positive response more often than other tactics.

Since most hiring managers make their decision within the first 2 - 30 seconds, any information that gives you a better chance to make a first impression is a big advantage.