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Never Underestimate First Impressions

One of my favorite recent commercials, a true piece of marketing genius, is the popular “talking stain” commercial advertising Tide’s stain-removal prowess. It features a man engaged in a job interview who is sporting a coffee stain on his very white dress shirt. The stain is so large and obvious that it distracts the interviewer to the point where all of his words sound like babble.

I’m sure that like many of you, the man in the commercial prepared tirelessly for his big interview, ironing his shirt, researching his potential employer, rehearsing answers for common interview questions, and a host of other tasks. However, his preparation was for naught when he accidentally dribbled coffee on his shirt. While the commercial depicts a comical representation of a typical interview, I feel that it is a stunning example of how sometimes it’s not the glaringly obvious faux pas that can cause an interviewer to form a negative opinion of a candidate, but sometimes it’s the “little things” that contribute to a negative first impression.

After working in the recruiting industry for four years, I have learned a lot about myself as an interviewer. The biggest, and perhaps most shocking personal quality that I have uncovered is that I judge candidates based on their physical appearance. Yes, I said it!  I may be doing it consciously, but I may not. We live in a superficial society and whether we would like to admit it or not, individuals are judged on their outward appearance. Now, I hire individuals for administrative, marketing, and management roles, not for entertainment or modeling purposes. I am not judging people as if they were in a modeling contest, but on the basis of how their appearance and work performance correlate. I am also not judging them in the moral sense of the word. I’m sure some of the scruffiest people have hearts of gold. But at the end of the day, when you are programmed, like I am, to make decisions quickly about the suitability of a candidate for a particular role, the most easily observed criteria often play a large part in my evaluation.

I’m not alone! In fact, major findings by the Job Center of Wisconsin concluded that:

  • 95 percent of the employers interviewed said a jobseeker’s personal appearance affected the employer’s opinion of that applicant’s suitability of the job.
  • 91 percent said they believed dress and grooming reflected the applicant’s attitude toward the company.
  • 61 percent said dress and grooming had an effect on subsequent promotion as well.

“It takes only three to five seconds to make a first impression, but it can take a whole career to undo it,” says Dana May Casperson, author of Power Etiquette: What You Don’t Know Can Kill Your Career.

When preparing a candidate to interview for a job, the biggest piece of advice I can give them is to prepare oneself knowing that the interviewer has perception biases.  For example, my dad believes that all individuals with tattoos or multiple piercings are lazy and untrustworthy.  If my dad were to interview a tattooed candidate, he would not be able to look past the surface exterior of the candidate. He may ask the perspective candidate a series of 20 questions and if one answer semi-matches his perception (all tattooed individuals are lazy) he would automatically think “Aha! I knew I was right about you!” and therefore decide not to hire that candidate. 

While Tide may have not won me over as a customer, they have made me more conscience of the “little things”.  I find myself looking closer in the mirror for stains, wrinkles, or anything else that might do the “talking” for me.  The old philosophy of hiring the most qualified candidate is long-gone. Now, it seems, the qualified candidate who makes the most of their first impression gets the offer.      


Grete Ruder, Celebrity Staff Recruiter

Grete Ruder, Celebrity Staff Recruiter

About Grete Ruder
Grete joined Celebrity Staff in 2005 and has helped build its Kansas City office from the ground up. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Kansas, has served as Chamber Champion for the KC Chamber of Commerce for two years, and has completed numerous training sessions on professional cover letter and resume writing.


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