Murray Barrick and colleagues gathered 135 student volunteers keen to improve their interview skill, and put each through two interviews with different interviewers from a pool of business professionals. Each interview proper was firmly structured with predefined questions on competency areas, but commenced with a few minutes of unstructured rapport building. Each interviewee was rated in terms of initial impressions just after the rapport stage, and their interview responses evaluated at the end of the interview. Just as in the 2010 study, the early impressions and final interview ratings strongly correlated.
The judgements we form from first impressions are rarely arbitrary but capture information about the other person, so it's possible the influence of pre-interview rapport isn't sheer bias. Through personality testing, Barrick's team found that first impressions were strongly related to interviewee extraversion, emotional stability, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Conscientiousness is generally associated with better job performance, and tied into several of the study competencies such as 'work ethic' and 'drive for results'. The other traits, while not necessarily desirable in all roles, can appear attractive qualities in a prospective organisational member.
Initial impressions also correlated with volunteers' self-perception of how qualified they were for the job, and also with an independent measure of verbal skill. The latter was assessed through a separate task where the volunteers interacted face-to-face with a series of peers who rated features such as articulacy of speech. These findings suggest that the rapport-building stage was giving early insight into some sense of perceived fit to the specific role, as well as genuine candidate ability, in addition to personality factors. By careful analysis, the researchers found that all of these factors influenced the final interview ratings, and that this was due to the way they shaped first impressions: after those first few minutes, there was little extra influence of these qualities across the rest of the interview.
As social animals we're reluctant to do away with rapport altogether, and impressions can form even in snatches of seconds. The researchers suggest – with the caveat of more research - that interviewers may as well embrace the first impression, explicitly evaluating some relevant criteria, such as those identified in this study, once the rapport stage is over. And candidates shouldn't unduly panic: this study reveals that the first impression is partly down to an accurate appraisal of some of your true qualities, things you can't do very much about.
Barrick, M., Dustin, S., Giluk, T., Stewart, G., Shaffer, J., & Swider, B. (2011). Candidate characteristics driving initial impressions during rapport building: Implications for employment interview validity Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-8325.2011.02036.x