In research done with juries after a trial, and with mock juries in experiments, when asked the question “When did you decide the defendant was either guilty or innocent?” it’s been discovered the answer was within four minutes. There is some evidence to say it could even take as little as seven to 17 seconds of interaction with strangers before they form an opinion of us (then you’ve got up to four minutes to recover from a negative first impression before it becomes lasting).
In other words, most people take one look at the defendant, before they’ve even had a chance to speak, and decide either guilty or innocent. Then the filters go up and all they hear for the rest of the trial is anything that proved them right in the first place.
In another experiment, featured in a TV programme about the human mind presented by Professor Robert Winston, six men dressed identically in black, including black woolly hats. They were put one at a time in front of a mock jury of 12 people who were then asked, based on appearance alone, who looked most guilty. The results were, and this wasn’t after a full four minutes – it could be as little as between seven and 17 seconds – that the jury felt that people with symmetrical faces or, if you like, reasonably good-looking people, were less guilty. Whereas people with asymmetrical faces or, in other words, ugly people (and you know who you are), were felt overall to be more guilty-looking. You may cry “Not fair!” but that’s just how it is. Plus, we know as much as a whopping 55 per cent of your communication is non-verbal or what you might call your body language.
And all of this is most often happening on an unconscious level.
It turns out you really never do get a second chance to make a first impression. This means if you’re unlucky enough to have a face that looks like a bulldog chewing a wasp, you’re going to have to work twice as hard in those first four crucial minutes.
We might not be able to change our physical looks and I’m not suggesting you should. Although, you might want to invest in a decent haircut before the big day.
However, what you wear and how you come across in those first few critical seconds of a job interview can be controlled. Whether that’s in the room or on Zoom.
My number-one tip is remembering to immediately and confidently smile. In fact, practice doing so in advance. Also, if the interview is online, practice looking down the lens of your camera rather than at yourself on screen. And yes, sit up straight. It not only looks better but also makes you feel more confident.
Light up the room or the Zoom – and that’s why it’s also critical that they can see and hear you in your best light and that the background isn’t the first thing they notice.
A smile makes a connection before anyone has spoken with the added bonus of making you feel more relaxed and confident. Even if you have to fake it, the feelings will quickly follow.
And if you’re the one doing the interviewing? Ensure you go way past first impressions.
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