The Science Behind First Impressions

A GREAT MANY STUDIES HAVE examined the ‘first impression’, including its neuroscience and lasting effects. One thing is known for sure: first impressions do matter! In fact, opinion can be formed on visual presentation alone in just one-tenth of a second, and this impression is so strong it can override what a person knows to be true. Story by KAPS Recruitment Director Kellie Bishop.

ANY PEOPLE and businesses invest a great deal into providing a good first impression, from the clothes an individual wears to the front window of a real estate office. Setting a good first impression is worth the effort because of the ‘halo effect’, where a positive impression of a person leads to the formation of favourable beliefs about their personality and ability. Consequently, a poor first impression can cost you business, status and opportunities.

For individuals, the need to put your best foot forward when job hunting is commonly known. After all, you will be competing with other people for a position, and creating a great first impression is a large part of demonstrating your suitability for the role.

However, the importance of a good first impression is not just limited to securing a second interview or even gaining a position; the effects of the first impression can impact the entire period of employment. In particular, research suggests that those who make a sound first impression are often rewarded with more desirable tasks and flexibility in their workload than other employees1. This research also suggests that these judgments are not easily overcome, even in the presence of considerable ability, highlighting the importance of getting first impressions right with future employers.

The first impression provided by recruiters and companies is equally crucial; especially when you consider that the goal of recruitment is to attract the best staff for the business. While business development managers and sales agents know the importance of making a good first impression, the same care is not always given to the presentation of the company as a whole. The company itself and anyone representing it also need to make a good first impression. In the case of recruiting, the recruitment consultant may be the first contact the interviewee has with the company the recruiter is working for, meaning the onus is on them to create a favourable first impression for the client.

So ask yourself: are you making a good first impression?

Would you be impressed if you met yourself today and knew nothing about you?

Does your appearance send the message you wish to convey?

Is your body language open and honest?

Do you speak with confidence and an easy tone?


  1. Be positive and confident
    If you don’t believe in yourself, why should other people? Have faith in yourself and your abilities. Similarly, positivity goes a long way. Negative attitudes have been shown to have an enduring and powerful impression on people, but for all the wrong reasons! By believing in yourself and remaining optimistic, you will inspire faith in others.
  2. Be open and honest
    Don’t try to be someone you are not, or portray a personality that is not yours. This is usually obvious and leaves people feeling like they didn’t really know who they were talking to. Something just seems ‘off’ when you are talking with someone who is not genuine.
  3. Know your audience
    Regardless of whether you are a jobseeker or a recruiter, preparation is key. Taking the time to research the individual or company beforehand and developing some informed questions indicates your interest in them and overall professionalism. It also promotes a more detailed and informed discussion between the parties, allowing you to connect meaningfully and create a strong impression.
  4. Listen
    Demonstrating that you value others goes a long way when connecting with people, and listening is perhaps the most useful means to achieve this. Smiling, nodding and asking useful follow-up questions are key behaviours to use here. Conversely, avoid interrupting people or taking conversations off-topic. Allow the other party opportunities to respond to your thoughts throughout the conversation to show you welcome their ideas and contributions.
  5. Take care with your visual presentation
    Recent research indicates that 62 per cent of employers report that a candidate’s dress sense has a big impact on their employability, while 50 per cent of candidates report that the employer’s dress sense impacted their decision to accept a position2.

In addition to selecting attire that is neat and professional, other important presentation factors include avoiding inappropriate make-up and visible tattoos. Both employers and recruiters also report that maintaining eye contact and adopting a firm handshake are crucial, so be sure to employ these practices.

In an interview it’s not just the jobseeker being interviewed; both sides of the bench need to make a good impression. While the jobseeker needs to sell themselves, the employer needs to sell the job and this is often overlooked in the recruitment process. In particular, you need to sell your workplace and company, representing what future and career the interviewee has within the team.

It is crucial to reflect on, or even solicit advice about, the first impression your company is portraying to a prospective employee. Recruitment consultants can be a useful tool for achieving this, or you can consider adopting review processes to evaluate the presentation of your company.

The first impression is a lasting impression. However, once you have this mastered, don’t forget that follow-through is also important. The care and diligence you put into making a good first impression should be applied to how you conduct yourself afterwards, demonstrating congruence between what you appear to promise in your first impression and the behaviour you display later. This will help to instil confidence in you as an individual and in the business you conduct.

“First wonder goes deepest; wonder after that fits into the impression made by the first” – Yann Martel

2. Employers-make-decisions-job-applicants-seven-minutes.html

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Kellie Bishop

Kellie Bishop is experienced Head Of Property with a demonstrated history of working in the real estate industry