First Impressions

By Jerry Randecker & Chris Sitter (Published September 2012 in CED Magazine)

 

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

As we walk through the various planned and unexpected events of our waking hours, we form (and make) an abundance of first impressions: when we’re introduced to our teenage daughters’ new friend; as we notice a new teller at our bank; or even as we walk the aisles of Wal-Mart.

Without forethought, people’s minds naturally and instantly categorize those they bump into as they travel through the minutes of their daily lives.  Thoughts like: “My, that person is tall, or fit, or attractive?  After we get past our first mental imprint, we continue to make these assessments.  We seek to confirm, or negate our initial take on the individual to whom we were just introduced. For example, in business, we might ask ourselves: Can I trust this person? Could I work with them?  Does this person seem to know what they’re talking about?  All of these determinations can (and do) happen rather quickly – but none of them – as fast as that first camera flash on the film of the human mind.

What about the people who are considering working at our companies?  What kind of first impressions will they have about our firm during their initial few seconds on our website?  What will run through their mind on their maiden voyage into our company parking lot?  If that person has just arrived for their first interview with your company, you will probably only hear about the initial impact of their first approach – IF it’s positive!  They will save the negatives for the review they give to their spouse.

Since it’s common knowledge that attracting (and retaining) high quality people is crucial to the long-term success of any company, we should carefully ponder what kind of initial signals we are providing to those promising “first-timers” who are just learning “who we are” and “what we do”.  Sometimes, the little things can make a huge difference, like making sure there’s a smiling face to greet your interviewee, and that he or she has a comfortable, clean and attractive waiting area. Little things like this can help those first 2 minutes be positive in the mind of your visitor.  Remember, that candidate is soaking up every piece of information in front of them.  Offering your visitor something as simple as a cup of coffee, or a glass of cold water can also go a long way in helping you gain an initial “thumbs up” in the mind of this individual who (some manager at your company felt) “could” become a long-term contributor at your firm. Taking the time a day or two before that person arrives for their interview, to distribute the candidate’s resume and other relevant candidate documentation to the people he or she will meet with – is vitally important.  This might seem like restating the obvious, but we can tell you confidently – these things don’t always happen.  To strengthen an initially positive introduction to your company, call your interviewee by name, don’t keep them waiting too long, and have specific questions prepared that relate to their background and the role they are interviewing for.

If your candidate is currently employed, be especially sensitive to their confidentiality. Ideally, have them meet only people involved in the interviewing process.  Since this is a small industry, the less people who see their face at your company, the better.  None of us wants to contribute to a losing finalist candidate having their employment compromised by a supposedly “confidential visit” to our facility. This will always take extra effort and planning, and sometimes, it means meeting them after hours.  Sure, that’s an inconvenience, but it sends a clear and strong signal to your candidate that you care about them enough to sacrifice some of your personal time. I can assure you, this will be remembered, as they consider which companies go on their short list, and ultimately…which offer to accept.

The bottom line of this article is simple: Ask yourself how you would want your experience to go, if you were that person nervously walking in your company’s front door.  Each firm competes against a myriad of other companies for the best talent out there. When you give your potential new hires a strong first impression of your firm, it’s like starting out the game from the 40 yard line, or getting a 10 point lead at the tip-off.  Just a little extra effort (before they walk through your door) could help you edge out that “other company” and cause you to land a strong performer who becomes a 20 year contributor at your firm, or maybe even a future vice president. Seem like a worthwhile investment?  Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.