First Impressions: it’s in our DNA (Part 1)

Author Justin Byrne

Handshake

​​Take a second to ponder how many times throughout your professional life you’ve heard the phrase, “first impressions count”.

As far as English-speaking colloquialisms go, I don’t think I’d be wrong to say it’s up there as one of the most widely-known and moreover universally respected.

But why is that all-important first impression so very crucial? Why is it that we form snap opinions of a person – and then only very reluctantly turn them around, if it happened that we were wrong?

In this two-part series we’re going to be exploring the psychology behind first impressions, why we humans have the tendency to judge so quickly and, most importantly, what you can do to ensure yours is as positive as can be.

“You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

You may have heard, that it takes merely 7 seconds to make your first impression – that’s 7 seconds to sell yourself and display a transparent, genuine projection of who you are.

What you may not know is that, 7 seconds aside, it takes only one-tenth of a second for our deep subconscious to make that judgement.

Do we even stand a chance?

What we want to know is why it happens altogether. Why is it that we can seemingly decide within a matter of split-seconds what we think of the person stood in front of us? (With that said, research shows that we even make first impression judgements based on still photos too – but that’s a whole other kettle of fish we need not get into today…)

The answer is simple: it’s in our DNA.

“First impressions are the most lasting.”

Think back – way back – when people were first exploring the planet, perhaps coming upon new people for the first time. Back then, a first impression didn’t mean the difference between getting the job or not; first impressions were inextricably linked to whether you were going to SURVIVE or not.

Evolution did away with many unnecessary or now-redundant skills and senses of ours, but not the first impression. We’re designed to judge a face based on a few key details, quickly – the main, most important of those things being trust. And we simply can’t help doing so.

What else do we look for subconsciously? Fascinatingly and moreover unbeknownst to us, when we see a face for the first time our mind flips through troves of memories to identify whether this face is familiar to us – it could be that it shares features with an aunty or old friend, generating feelings of warmth, love and trustworthiness; equally, this particular face could share fundamental similarities with that of an estranged ex-partner or old boss.

You see how things can go downhill, fast.

Other factors include gender, race and, interestingly, attractiveness – I suppose it makes sense that, once upon a time, survival meant picking a mate. Whilst we all know fundamentally that you can’t judge a book by its cover, our innate, human instinct does often take the reins on this one.

So, what does this mean in a professional setting?

Interviews can be daunting enough without all of this uncontrollable malarkey to think about – so we reiterate to our candidates day in, day out, the importance of doing your bit to protect that all-important first impression.

We might not be able to stop evolution, but we can certainly help ourselves along the way.

Think posture. Tone of voice. Eye contact, expression… The list goes on. All of these things go a long way to creating a genuine, positive and – I hate to use the word, but – generally GOOD first impression.

Check back in for tomorrow's article, where I’ll be spilling the tea on what 20+ years of recruitment experience teaches you about first impressions – what to do, what not under any circumstances to do, and everything in between.