Hiring 101: What Makes a Good First Impression?

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This is the first post in Indeed’s small to medium size business (SMB) series. 

We’ve all heard the expression ‘first impressions count’, but what does it really mean in the context of today’s hiring practices? For SMB owners, who often don’t have the advantage of  expansive HR teams, there’s a stronger need to make well thought-out decisions with limited resources. This means employers need to make the most out of each stage of the hiring process, knowing what to pay attention to in a candidate. This begins with the first impression. 

How and when the first impression takes place has evolved alongside the changing job market. Many of the details an interviewer may have paid close attention to 10 years ago (professional attire, tattoos or piercings) are now often overlooked or weighed significantly below such factors as social media and culture fit.

When first meeting a candidate, professionalism and punctuality never go out of style. However, for today’s employers, the candidate’s wardrobe or display of body art are less likely to impact the hiring decision. Many companies have ditched the suit and tie for a more informal attire. A more relaxed office dress code also means that a potential candidate’s wardrobe will not contribute as greatly to how they’re perceived. 

The first impression is forged long before the first interview. There are considerations that inevitably play into the interviewer’s personal biases: a candidate’s online footprint, whether or not they included the company’s name in their cover letter or chose to write a personalized message for the employer, etc.

So what are some of the key things SMBs should focus on when dissecting a candidate’s first impression? We enlisted the help of SMB owners from a variety of industries, including tech, beauty and public relations, to explore this further and learn what really matters when it comes to first impressions. 

Social Media: The real first impression 

As social media plays an increasingly dominant role in both our personal and professional lives, our online presence is often the first thing employers look at. An impressive resume and cover letter simply doesn’t cut it anymore. 

Hiring managers sift through dozens of applications and narrow down their most qualified candidates based on a one-or-two page  resume. However, selecting which applicants to invite for an interview using only this information can be a costly decision. Finding new hires takes away valuable time from the employer’s workday – especially SMBs who typically don’t have dedicated HR staff to do the heavy lifting – which makes it essential to refine the candidate pool at every stage.

Social media provides a useful strategy to pre-screen candidates after their application has been reviewed. Political debates, gifs and videos reposted to an applicant’s facebook wall can help form the building blocks of the employer’s first impression. They can also confirm or undermine any assumptions they had already gathered from a resume.

To put this into perspective, 42% of job seekers agree that a company’s lack of online presence provokes automatic distrust. This works similarly the other way around. Most candidates know that profanity, drug and alcohol consumption or promotion of hateful rhetoric on their social channels  will quickly remove them from the running. However, having no social media presence can equally deter employers. 

Today, even the smallest businesses maintain some online presence. No sign of online activity can suggest that a candidate is not adept at navigating new technologies that may be part of the job responsibilities. It may also give the impression that they have something to hide, and being left in the dark, many employers will move onto a more accessible candidate.  

The good news is, social media can also attest to many of the job seeker’s skills. Online profiles are units of a personal brand. They can help demonstrate a candidate’s creativity by showing their dynamic photography skills or savvy use of multiple digital platforms and editing tools. Similarly, excellent communication skills can be supported by articulate posts and good grammar use. Personal blogs and YouTube channels can serve as further indicators that a candidate is putting effort into curating their brand.  

Look for signs of enthusiasm and initiative

Today’s employer should look beyond a set of bullet points that attest to why a candidate is right for the job. A great candidate needs to “bring a certain energy to the table,” says Avery Shwartz, founder of Camp Tech. In other words, the candidate needs to showcase the attitude they’ll bring to the challenges in their role.

“Do they seem excited? Did they cite the name of the company in their cover letter?” these are the questions Kristen Gale, founder and CEO of THE TEN SPOT, asks when reviewing a candidate. Including thoughtful details about the company in the application or even writing a personalized note to the employer are indicators that the candidate is self-motivated.

Across the board, our panel valued applicants who showed their ability to be self-starters. In the early stages of the hiring process, this means small personal touches that surpass what’s asked for in application instructions. While these often seem like minor details that are overlooked, employers can confirm their impact in demonstrating a candidate’s initiative. It also suggests that they will go the extra step as a future employee.

The step beyond

How can a candidate show passion for the job in the earliest stages of the application process? By doing their homework. This means researching not just the company but the interviewer(s) themselves. Many employers disclose this in the interview invite. If not, a quick search through the company’s website or a professional networking portal will narrow down the people most likely to conduct the interview. If the candidate takes this initiative it shows their interest in the brand that they’ll be representing. It also gives an idea of the level of dedication that they’ll bring to their role.

Doing research will also give the job seeker a better idea of the company’s culture and allow them to prepare to sell why they’ll be a fit for the team. In the end, an employer wants to hire someone who they want to work with day-to-day. Spending long hours together means you need a candidate who you see yourself getting along with.

No matter the job title, an employer will need to look beyond the resume to get a better picture of who a candidate is. Pragmatic use of social media, the ability to take initiative and show enthusiasm through a personalized message or demonstrate having done the research on the company and team are factors that should set the first impression long before the interview. Successful candidates are the ones that make these factors work to their advantage to stand out. Employers then will have the responsibility to probe further following the first impression.

SMB owners weigh in on the skills versus culture-fit debate in the upcoming part two of our series. 

You can also read this post in french