It is said that career change is one of the 5 most stressful experiences in anyone’s life.
So if you are in the midst of a career change, then it’s vital that you create a positive impression in the first few seconds of meeting a recruiter or hiring manager – whether that’s face-to-face or online.
There is an abundance of reliable research that explains why.
Successful career change is founded on first impressions:
Research shows that we humans start forming an impression within 6 seconds of meeting a person. And by the 30-second mark, those impressions are locked in.
The human brain is binary in its nature. The brain classifies any stimulus as safe or unsafe; good or bad; boring or interesting and so on.
Therefore, to form a good first impression with hiring managers and recruiters, you want to be positively classified by the binary brain from the get go.
By doing so, the recruiter will continue to be engaged. But if you make a bad impression, the recruiter’s binary brain will switch off instantly.
Relevant to this is the seminal research conducted by Ambady and Rosenthal (1993). The researchers asked a control group of students to rate teachers across 15 dimensions such as empathy, likeability, honesty, confidence, warmth, and so on (The control sample students were very familiar with the teachers – having been taught by them for a whole semester.)
The researchers then showed videos of those same teachers to another group of students – who were completely unfamiliar with those teachers – to rate their impressions. What was amazing was the second group of students who only saw ‘thin slices’ of the teachers (up to 30 seconds) made almost the same evaluations.
These so-called ‘thin slices’ were enough for evaluations that closely mirrored the evaluations by students who sat through an entire semester’s lectures.
Fundamental attribution error:
Another principle that helps candidates make a successful career change is the ‘fundamental attribution error’.
Fundamental attribution error is where an impression of someone or a group of people has been formed from prior experiences of that person or that group of people.
How does this relate to career change?
Having formed their initial impression within the first 30 seconds, a recruiter or hiring manager is prone to fundamental attribution error in then assessing a candidate for career change.
Let’s say the recruiter or hiring manager has formed a view that a candidate is unintelligent, then the likelihood is that they will have deemed the information coming from that candidate as silly, unimportant or trivial. Those seen to be untrustworthy will be held with suspicion and so on.
The counterpoint to this also holds. People who were considered capable by the hiring manager will be viewed as talented.
First impressions are hard to budge:
The tough news is that initial first impressions are hard to budge. Why? Both thin slicing and fundamental attribution error come in to play.
And if you make a bad impression? It’s all lost.
A study in the US shows that it takes at least 4 positive experiences to unwind from having made a bad first impression.
Your parents might give you 4 chances. But it is unlikely that hiring managers and recruiters will – they have too little time and too much choice.
Looking for a career change? Here are 5 tips on making positive impressions:
1. Dress upwards:
When we conduct professional coaching, we advise candidates to ‘dress upwards’. What does this mean?
In an office environment, that means wearing a full suit. If the recruiter or hiring manager is not wearing their jacket, then we advise candidates to remove their jacket and dress at the standard set by the interviewer.
It’s always easier to ‘dress down’ at the interview. But, it’s impossible to ‘dress upwards’ without having full options at interview.
2. Present yourself attractively:
As author Robert Cialdini points out, we automatically take a liking to well presented people and attribute favourable traits to them, such as talent, kindness, honesty and intelligence.
Like it or not according to Cialdini, the average human makes these judgements without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process.
Now most people don’t look like Angelina Jolie or Bradley Cooper. But it pays to learn to groom well and present well to what your context considers to be ‘attractive’.
3. Exude confidence:
To exude confidence even when your nerves are high, takes skill. When seeking a career change, confidence is critical. People are more persuaded by those who they perceive as more confident, than those who are seen to be hesitant. But too much confidence – arrogance/cockiness – does not make an endearing first impression.
How can you become more confident? Context pre-visualisation and mindfulness techniques such as those suggested in Assertive Humility go a long way.
4. Be prepared:
When professionally coaching people for career change, we advise candidates to:
- ‘Google’ the people they will be meeting;
- Determine their interests so that rapport and trust can develop early; and
- Jot down notes and questions in a notepad leading up to and during the interview.
When the heat of the interview is on, then previously prepared notes help to allay any nerves.
I have found over 3 decades of giving this advice, that when the job seeker asks questions, they re-balance the interview and impress the recruiting manager, enhancing the chances for successful career change.
5. Hone your active listening skills:
As Dale Carnegie famously said, you have 2 ears and one mouth – use them in that proportion. The more that you actively listen, the more present and engaged you are. Indeed as when we professionally coach, we find the best conversations we have are when we ask, more that we speak.
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