Throughout my time in recruiting, I’ve witnessed many companies pass on entry level candidates for a variety of reasons that are derived from their first impression. I’ve seen companies pass due to the lack of a follow-up thank you, nerves during the interview, insufficient quality questions, or simply not specifically asking for the job. Although I certainly agree that these first impressions are important, I also believe that it is more important to consider the question of, “Can I coach this person to do the things that they may have missed?”

I believe that most people reading this would agree that it is rare to do everything right during the first several job interviews out of college. Looking back it is a lot easier to recognize why some first impressions don’t go as planned. There are a few common causes for a lackluster first impression, and many of them shouldn’t make or break the interview.

 1.) Lack of Experience

A potential recruiter that I was interviewing asked me recently, “How do you know exactly what to say?”  My response was, “I’m not smarter than you.  I’m just older.”

Think back on when you were in your 20s and didn’t have a lot of experience.  I’m sure you screwed up some interviews badly.  I can tell you that I did.

A poor interview doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a bad candidate.  It may just mean that you lack experience and confidence, which over time you’ll develop.

Although this is embarrassing for me to admit, I am a Cleveland Browns fan (the same Browns that didn’t win a game this season).  I was reading about all of the Quarterbacks they’re looking to draft and all of the things wrong with them.  One had problems with his throwing mechanics, another one didn’t have a strong arm and the final one made poor decisions. 

Why would the Browns and other teams be so high on these players who have such massive flaws and no professional football experience?

It’s because they see potential and know with good coaching, they can develop into something special.

Think about interviewing junior candidates the same way.

2.) Lack of Trust

An important consideration when interviewing a candidate for the first time is the fact that many individuals keep their guard up, as they require some trust to be established before revealing the nuances of their personality. Many people keep information close to their chest, as they don’t feel particularly comfortable divulging everything requested of them during a first encounter with a new person.

There is a lot to be discovered beyond a first impression with a candidate that keeps their guard up. These individuals are rather particular with what they divulge upon first meeting, but this doesn’t mean that they remain guarded forever. If you believe that a candidate is guarded, but can be worked with and taught to excel in their potential position, they likely deserve a chance to break through their shell.

In fact, I always recommend taking them out to lunch because you’ll learn a lot about them in a more casual setting.  I would even tell them to come in business casual clothes and that you just want to get to know them.  The candidate that you felt was uptight might have a great personality and the one with a great personality may let his or her guard down and be unprofessional.  I’ve personally rescinded an offer to a candidate after taking him out to dinner with my team because some of the things he shared.

3.) Lack of Time

Many first impressions are limited in regard to time. There is definitely a lot to say for the initial vibe that a candidate gives off, but generally speaking initial interviews don’t offer the opportunity to get to know someone beyond the surface level.

People are often layered, and require some time to figure out. The combination of nerves and stress can lead to a questionable first impression, which makes the asset of time rather valuable. A certain level of patience is important when considering a candidate whose overall demeanor might not seem comfortable or ideal upon first judgement.

I had a candidate not too long ago say, “The hiring manager talked the entire time and at the end, told me that he only has a few minutes left but wanted to know if I had any questions.  I felt so rushed and asked a couple but felt like I was being rushed out the door so it made it challenging for me.  I didn’t feel like I had an opportunity to demonstrate what I can bring to the table.”

In no way am I suggested that you interview each candidate for 10 hours.  However, make sure you give him or her an opportunity to ask questions as well as show you why they could be a fit for the role.

It is very common that first impressions are not wholly accurate. One of the best entry level salespeople that I’ve ever seen was literally shaking at his interview and could barely get the words out of his mouth.  I personally witnessed it and others were shocked when we hired him.  However, we could tell he was smart, honest, hard working and coachable.  The only thing he was lacking was experience, and I can assure you in a few years he’ll be impressing companies at his interview and be making well into 6 figures.

It’s for reasons like this that I always urge companies to look past a first impression before making a final judgement.  The way a candidate interviews is important but it’s not everything.



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