How a candidate acts during their first interview can be telling of how they’d be as an employee.
Here's what you need to know:
- Showing up on time for the interview is critical
- Candidates, their hair, and their clothes should be clean and interview-appropriate
- Interviewees need to demonstrate that they’re paying attention
- Candidates should be polite to everyone they encounter and adhere to basic social norms
- Ideal job seekers should seem genuinely interested in the job and the company
As a trained interviewer, your job is to delve deeper than the surface to the uncover talents and potential a candidate holds. You rely on the information presented, verbally and non-verbally, to make the right hiring decision for our organization. You discuss information, but you’re also assessing presentation, gestures, and body language. These first impressions can be as important to a good hire as the interview discussion itself.
When a job seeker shows up late or asks if it’s okay to ‘light one up’ during the interview, you know you’re not dealing with someone serious and dedicated. First impressions matter, especially during first interviews. The candidate wants something from you — the job. If they’re not willing to put their best foot forward at this point, it’s a safe bet they won’t be star performers if hired.
Here are 5 areas you’ll want to get the best first impression from when you recruit.
Being on time for an interview doesn’t mean showing up on time. It means coming in a few minutes early to fill out any necessary forms and/or to be available as soon as the interview was scheduled to start.
Showing up on time for the interview is critical: it makes it easier for you to assess whether or not they’ll be likely to show up on time for their shift. Occasionally things happen, like traffic jams, but a candidate stuck in one should call and let you know there’s a problem. For every other candidate, being on time is a critical first impression.
Being on time for an interview doesn’t mean showing up on time. It means coming in a few minutes early to fill out any necessary forms and/or to be available as soon as the interview was scheduled to start. If an applicant arrives an hour early, it might be a red flag. Yes, we want dedication, but don’t you have a life? Fifteen minutes before the scheduled time (give or take) is on time when it comes to interviews.
You’re not expecting them to show up in Armani, but they should be neat and presentable when the come to the interview. Well groomed doesn’t mean they just walked out of the salon. It does mean they, their hair, and their clothes are clean and interview-appropriate. Are they dressed for Monday morning or Friday night? Are they ready to hit the club or go to garage band practice? The answer can let you know if they’re serious candidates or not.
Applicants and their attire should be clean, but there are exceptions. A candidate may let you know their current employer asked them to work late and they didn’t have time to go home, change, and get to the interview on time. This one may be a keeper: not only did they help out their current employer when needed, they got to you without being late.
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Your job as the interviewer is to ask questions and give the candidate the floor. When you’re speaking you want to see they’re paying attention. If you have to ask questions repeatedly before getting a straight answer they may be distracted or they may be trying to dodge the question. Either way, it’s a red flag.
You shouldn’t have to ask an applicant to put their phone down or away. They should know their attention should be on you and the interview process, not who’s trending on Insta. Unless they let you know their partner may go into labor at any moment, there’s no reason for their phone to be out or beeping during the interview. If they’re not paying attention now, imagine what they’d be like in a hazardous work environment.
Manners actually do matter. You want to see candidates who are polite to everyone they encounter and adhere to basic social norms. Someone who is rude to your receptionist while they wait their turn isn’t someone who will treat their colleagues with respect (by the way, always ask the receptionist if the candidate was polite). Someone who is courteous with strangers will do so with their coworkers and your customers.
Look for candidates that thank you for your time before and/or after the interview. No one works in a vacuum; new hires will have to assimilate into the group to become productive members of the team. They’ll need, at the very least, basic social skills to do so. A good indicator of these is courtesy.
Bonus points to candidates who follow up after the interview with an email or text thanking you again for your time. Extra bonus points if they offer a bit of flattery (who can resist) on how informative the interview was.
They may be ghosting you down the road, but you want to interview candidates that seem genuinely interested in the job and the company. These job seekers ask smart questions – “what do you like best about working here?” — and listen to your answer. They may interrupt you (politely) to ask for more detail. These are green flags (opposite of red) that the applicant is engaged and wants to make an informed decision about working with your company.
Candidates that are interested in working for you should have done their homework on your organization. Unless you have absolutely no online presence, they should know enough about your company to ask pertinent questions. If they don’t tell you outright they’ve done their research, you should be able to figure out they have by the questions they pose and the comments they make.
Interested candidates wrap up their portion of the interview with “when can I start” or “when will you be making a hiring decision” questions.
Bonus points to candidates who follow up after the interview to let you know they’re enthusiastic to join your team.
Candidates that are interested in working for you should have done their homework on your organization. Unless you have absolutely no online presence, they should know enough about your company to ask pertinent questions.
The importance of first impressions
For recruiters, research suggests first impressions actually inform the tone and possibly the outcome of an interview. Studies found employers ask questions that confirm their first impression of a job seeker. If it was positive they look for information the supports their feeling, and if it was negative the opposite may be true. Further, if a first impression of a candidate was good, employers are more likely to “sell” the job to the recruit. That could mean a better candidate experience and a higher chance for a new hire.
First impressions can be lasting impressions. You won’t soon forget the person who showed up to the interview reeking of weed and French fries. They may very well have been a great applicant for the job, but it was impossible to see them through your watery eyes. Always consider candidates who make a neutral first impression — neither positive or negative. Race to hire the candidates who made a great first impression.