What Not To Wear to a Job Interview

Business SuitsI was walking through the shopping mall the other day and observed a teenager filling out an application for employment for one of the nearby clothing retailers. From the waist up, she looked dressed for success. HOWEVER, she was wearing denim shorts with frayed holes and flip-flops. This attire was suitable for shopping and not for seeking employment. Perhaps she was caught off guard by a job opportunity or perhaps she was friends with the manager who would not judge her for her appearance.

While conducting an employment interview, a young professional entered my office for an interview. On paper, he appeared well suited for the position. His appearance told a different story.  He was wearing a blue velvet sport coat and skinny tie. His face displayed a 2-day shadow of a beard. If he was going out to the club this would be a splendid look. HOWEVER, not when you are trying to impress someone who is deciding if you are suitable for employment in a professional environment.  When someone shows up looking like this, I have to conclude they are not serious about the job.

Nalini Ambady, professor of psychology at Tufts University, has conducted a great deal of research into first impressions. She is probably one of the foremost experts in the field. In a 1993 study with Robert Rosenthal, Professor Ambady determined how quickly we could assess someone on the first impression.

The researchers used three different video clips of thirteen teachers in ten second segments. Fifteen different characteristics were used to determine the rating of teachers on a scale from one to nine. These factors included empathy, likeable, dominant, confidence and others. The ratings were very similar among the nine judges. At the end of the semester, the students using the same criteria, rated the same teachers.

A significant correlation was found between the semester long judgments versus those exposed to the ten second video clips. The researchers shortened the clips to five seconds and finally to two seconds. Unbelievably, there was still a significant correlation with the end of the semester ratings. What this extraordinary study revealed was that the first impressions of people exposed to a person for a mere two seconds did not differ significantly from those exposed to the person for an entire semester of weekly lectures.

The researchers then showed fifteen second clips of the interviewees entering the room and shaking hands. They discovered that the original intent of the study was to learn whether interviewees coached in certain nonverbal gestures would do better in an interview. They did not.

In another study of first impressions, Dr. Frank Bernieri now a professor at Oregon State University, conducted a study while still at the University of Toledo. One of his undergraduate students tested whether the initial handshake was important. She had heard that “the handshake is everything” and wanted to test that old adage. She used a 15-second video clip showing the candidate knocking on the door, shaking hands, and being greeted by the interviewer.  

The results were surprising. What the researchers discovered was that in nine of the eleven categories that applicants were judged upon, they found that those brief glimpses mirrored the final evaluation of the ratings from those who sat through the full interview. Bernieri told The New Yorker. “In fact, the strength of the correlation was extraordinary.”

So, here we are back to the professors rating by Dr. Nalini Ambady. You can do all the evaluating you want, but those first few seconds of exposure will allow you to sink or swim. If you are applying for employment, an internship, or conducting a sales call, you must stand out. I am not talking about standing out like a clown at the rodeo. You must be memorable. You must make that personal connection. Your appearance, your stride, your posture, the tone of your greeting, your smile, and your handshake are essential elements. You can practice mock interviews and go through all kinds of tutoring and sales training. You might know your product inside and out, and that knowledge may have a bearing as time goes on, but if you flop on the entrance, you may as well pick up your ball and go home.

For more information on interviewing first impressions and job interviewing skills, take a look at: FACE 2 FACE : Observation, Interviewing and Rapport Building Skills: an Ex-Secret Service Agent’s Guide http://www.amazon.com/Face-2-ebook/dp/B009991BII/ref=sr_1_6?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1354630000&sr=1-6


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