The First 15 Seconds

In the movie “The Big Chill” one of the characters has been dating for 20 years and laments how hard it is.

“I know in the first 15 seconds if there’s a chance in the world,” she says.

“At least you’re giving them a fair shot,” her friend replies.

That may sound a bit harsh, but the truth is you can tell a lot about someone within the first 15 seconds of meeting him or her. This is crucial to remember if you are interviewing for a job or meeting with a potential client.

In my last column I wrote about ways to lose a job in an interview. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people for all levels of jobs in my decades as a Turnaround Authority, and yes it is possible that you can seriously decrease your odds of landing that job within the first 15 seconds.

We all make snap judgments when we meet someone. Will we like this person? Do we want to be around this person? Our brains made fairly rapid assumptions about the personal traits of others. This process is known as thin-slicing, which refers to our ability to gauge what is important and form opinions from limited information.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about thin-slicing in his fascinating book “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” Speaking of the book in an interview he said, “When you meet someone for the first time, or walk into a house you are thinking of buying, or read the first few sentences of a book, your mind takes about two seconds to jump to a series of conclusions…. As human beings we are capable of making sense of situations based on the thinnest slice of experience.”

If you are interviewing for a job, you need to spend time focusing on what you are telling the interviewer about yourself in the first 15 seconds. Here are just a few things I can tell immediately upon meeting someone.

1. Whether they are respectful of others

Did he show up on time? Was she friendly to the receptionist or anyone else I introduced her to? Is he dressed appropriately for a job interview? Does she look polished and put together? Are his pants ironed? Did she wait for me to invite her to sit down?

2. Whether they have confidence

Did she look me in the eye when we met? Does he stand up straight? Did she smile when she met me? Does he seem excited to be here?

3. Whether they arrived prepared

Did he bring a copy of his résumé and references along? Does she know my name?

Frank Bernieri did a study at the University of Toledo in Ohio to find out if there are any particular mannerisms that will help you in a job interview. Two people were selected to be interviewers and were trained for six weeks on interviewing techniques. They then interviewed 100 people for 15-20 minutes and filled out a six-page questionnaire on each person. His conclusion was there were no particular tricks you can use in an interview.

But then one researcher asked to do a second study with the videos they had made of each interview, showing people just the first 15 seconds of the interview as the applicant arrived and met the interviewer. They were then asked to rate the candidates using the same criteria that the trained interviewers had.

In an article in The New Yorker written by Malcolm Gladwell, Bernieri talked about the results. “On nine out of the 11 traits that the applicants were being judged on, the observers significantly predicted the outcome of the interview. In fact, the strength of the correlation was extraordinary.”

Accept the importance of the first 15 seconds of any encounter towards making an impression on someone. And do what you can to make yours a positive one.

One thought on “The First 15 Seconds

  1. Pingback: Give Your First impression A Fair Shake | The Turnaround Authority

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