Initial impressions: What they are, what they are not, and how they influence structured interview outcomes

J Appl Psychol. 2016 May;101(5):625-38. doi: 10.1037/apl0000077. Epub 2016 Jan 4.


Nearly all employment interviews, even those considered highly structured, begin with a brief meet-and-greet conversation typically coalescing around non-job-related topics (i.e., rapport building). Although applicants and interviewers often view rapport building as an essential, value-adding component of the interview, it may contaminate interviewers' evaluations of answers to subsequently asked structured questions (Levashina, Hartwell, Morgeson, & Campion, 2014). Yet research has not determined the extent to which initial impressions developed during rapport building influence subsequent interviewer ratings through job-related interview content versus non-job-related content; whether these effects extend beyond more commonly examined image-related factors that can bias interviewers (i.e., self-presentation tactics); or how these effects are temporally bound when influencing interviewer ratings during the formal structured interview question-and-answer process. Addressing these questions, we integrate interview research with the extant social psychology literature to clarify rapport building's unique effects in the employment interview. In contrast to prior assumptions, findings based on 163 mock interviews suggest that a significant portion of initial impressions' influence overlaps with job-related interview content and, importantly, that these effects are distinct from other image-related constructs. Finally, initial impressions are found to more strongly relate to interviewer evaluations of applicant responses earlier rather than later in the structured interview. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Personnel Selection*
  • Social Perception*
  • Young Adult