The Psychology of First Impressions

The Psychology of First Impressions

It takes just 7 seconds for a first impression to take shape, with some studies suggesting traits like trustworthiness can be assessed in as little as a tenth of a second. 

  • Your walk. 
  • Your tone. 
  • Your clothing. 
  • Your body language. 
  • Your facial expression. 

We know these elements shape how we perceive each other. People who walk more loosely appear more adventurous. People with a straight posture exude confidence. People who meticulously dress to impress for interviews convey a sense of commitment to their future. People who smile appear more approachable. People who adapt their tone during conversations appear more dynamic. 

The art of making a good first impression isn’t just about the firm handshake or winning smile, though these are important. It is deeply rooted in psychology. 

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The Primary Effect

Imagine you’re at a networking event, striking up conversations. As the night progresses, you meet numerous people, each leaving a unique impression on you. But, when reflecting on the event afterward, you find that you remember the first few individuals more vividly than the rest. This happens because of the primary effect — our brains tend to remember information we hear or see first more than what comes after. Our brain likes to prioritize what comes first. This is also why what you write at the start of your resume matters most. So, making those opening moments count is key.  

Fast vs. Slow Thinking 

Our decision-making process operates in two modes: fast and slow. Fast thinking is like going with your gut instinct, making quick judgements on the spot. On the other hand, slow thinking involves taking your time analyzing all the angles before reaching a conclusion. Our brains tend to favour the fast route, a throwback to our caveman days when snap decisions meant life or death. Nowadays, it means we’re more likely to size someone up quickly based on immediate surface-level impressions, rather than digging deeper into their character.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Picture this: A hiring manager is reviewing a resume that is well-formatted and includes relevant experience and qualifications. But there’s a minor typo in the applicant’s cover letter. The hiring manager makes a snap judgment and attributes the typo to laziness or a lack of attention to detail. This could lead to the applicant being unfairly judged. This is the fundamental attribution error — assuming someone’s intention based on their actions. 

The Halo Effect 

Do you know someone who’s charming in your life or super charismatic? You see this person through rose-coloured glasses. That’s the halo effect, where you focus on that one thing, that one positive trait, and ignore the rest. But this makes an awesome first impression.   

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Entering a Room 

We often assume that our first impression begins when we start speaking, but that’s not always the case. In reality, it kicks in the moment someone lays eyes on you — whether it’s at an event, as you step in to a room, or even when you join a Zoom call. 

Two key factors play an important role in shaping the initial impression: confident body language and positive energy. It’s as simple as holding your head high, straightening your shoulders, wearing a genuine smile, and greeting others warmly. An easy mental cue to give yourself is to come in one energy level higher than the average person in the same situation, setting that vibrant tone from the start. 

Avoiding common mistakes like keeping your arms tight to your body is important. Whether you’re on a Zoom call or entering a physical space, offering up a strong handshake or a warm hug if appropriate, can make all the difference. So, at this point your body language is solid and you’ve come in with big positive energy. 

Now taking time to hype up the people around you, even with a small compliment can leave a lasting impact. Not only does it make them feel valued, but it also shows that you’re not solely focused on yourself. This is especially valuable in professional settings like interviews, where offering a sincere compliment can shift the conversation to highlight the company’s achievements, sparking curiosity and leading to more engaging discussions. This not only energizes the interviewer, but also shows your genuine interest in the company and its successes. 

Translating First Impressions to Interviews

Prepare and Practice: Take the time to dive deep into the company and the role you’re interviewing for. Get familiar with their values, mission, and recent projects inside out. Then, run through some common interview questions and jot down your responses. It may seem obvious, but sometimes our pre-interview overconfidence or jitters can make us overlook these small efforts. 

Active Listening: Really listen to the interviewer’s questions and respond thoughtfully. This shows just how much you value what the other person is saying and can lead to a meaningful conversation.

Clear and Concise Responses: When it’s your turn to speak, aim for clear and concise responses, avoiding rambling, going off on tangents, or over-explaining. This one is a big pain point for a lot of us, because we have so much to say and get across. Structuring your answers logically and back them up with specific examples from your experience is key. While it’s tempting to speak about yourself and your motivation for the role for 15 minutes, remember you have plenty of time to elaborate as the interview progresses. 

Authenticity: And perhaps, above all else, is to be yourself. Let your personality shine through your communication style. Each of our styles are unique and there is no perfect way to get a message across. Employers are not just looking for qualifications – they want someone they can talk to, collaborate with, connect with, share ideas with, and ultimately, build a relationship with. Reciting a rehearsed script can come off as insincere. Speaking in your natural way builds more trust. 

Tone: The psychology of tone is a real deal. If you come off as robotic, and monotone, and never switch up your tone during conversations, it makes you seem untrustworthy.  

    The world moves at an incredibly fast pace, which can leave us feeling buried and overwhelmed. We rush through our thoughts and words. In a society that prizes hyper-alertness, we find ourselves constantly on edge, always activated. But what we truly need is more energy — not the frantic kind, but a calm, grounded presence that allows us to engage fully in conversations without feeling overwhelmed or overstimulated. So, take a breath and slow down. There’s no need to rush. Give yourself the space and grace you deserve. Then, give yourself the grace to listen to your intuition. These may seem like minor details, but they subtly shape how others perceive you.

    As humans, we’re constantly evolving, much like a work of art in progress. While achieving the ‘perfect’ first impression may elude us, we have a wonderful ability to refine and adjust our approach with each interaction. 

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