Wise Employers Shake Off Some First Impressions

By Bill Hendrick

If you’re a business executive interviewing job candidates, here’s a little tip from the scientific community: Don’t read too much into a dead fish handshake. Or a clammy palm. Or an applicant who doesn’t look you dead-on in the eye.

First impressions matter, but could be —- and often are —- wrong, new research indicates.

Snap judgements based on first impressions could prove costly to businesses that must spend more time and money on new applicants after showing those with clammy handshakes the door.

“People make attributions about people that are not valid,” says Murray Barrick, a professor of management at Texas A&M, who with colleagues has conducted several studies on employment interviews. “What you pick up in first impressions does not predict later job performance.”

People in position to hire are biased against people with limp or wet handshakes, he’s found. Not only that, but interviewers often may rate women who don’t shake hands as firmly as men lower than would be warranted by their qualifications.

Interviewers should take into account what happens after the first three minutes, he said.

People who’re experienced at interviewing are practiced at handshakes, making eye contact, flattering the interviewer and knowing how to field structured questions, he said, but that doesn’t mean they’ll make good employees.

Most interviewers know these things intellectually, but still put too much stock in superficialities.

“It’s unconscious,” Barrick said. “It’s not rational. But it happens.”.