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Job interviews can be harder than the actual job you are applying for because they require their own skillset. You have to process questions, come up with good answers, and communicate them clearly.
Even if you do everything right, the interviewer’s mood, personal biases, and general rapport can undermine your performance. That’s why you must get every factor you can on your side, including the time slot.
So, is it better to interview first or last? It is better to interview first because you can better connect with the interviewer before she is tired. You also have the opportunity to be more memorable among your candidate pool by creating a first impression. Being last is better when your competition is weak, and you can leverage the contrast.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the advantages and the disadvantages of being first and last. You will also discover which one is better for your specific personality type and qualifications. Let’s get started by talking first about being first.
Interviewing First: A Brief Overview
When you interview first for a job, you make the first impression of the entire candidate list. To the extent that the “first impression is the last impression” dictum is true, you have the advantage of being memorable. But whether you are remembered as a good candidate or a bad one depends on your interview performance.
As the first candidate, you’ll get done with the interview before everyone, but how most people perform will remain relevant to how you are remembered. If you have the option to choose, interviewing first can signal confidence.
But if you don’t have a choice, then you’re left with the slot you’re forced into and must focus on its positives and try to actively offset its negatives. This brings us to the pros and cons of interviewing first.
Pros of Interviewing First
If you do not read through this entire post, you will remember the essential information included earlier. The case is similar with the interview order. While the interviewer may be obligated to finish all the interviews for the days, they may zone out a few interviews in. The pros of interviewing first are almost all associated with the initial focus and energy of the interviewer.
You Get Credit for Their Interest
In his best-selling book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” Dale Carnegie brought up the idea that people give credit for their feelings to those who they are around when experiencing them. More specifically, Carnegie asserted that for one to be “interesting,” they had to be simply “interested” in the other party.
Interviewers do not maintain the same level of enthusiasm throughout the interview order. If you interview first, you’ll get the credit for how enthusiastic they feel when talking to you. But beware, if you ruin their mood as the first candidate, they will disregard most of your positive traits.
Your Excellence Is Memorable
If you’re going to experience close competition in terms of candidate excellence, being first will give you a memorability edge. If you have an idea regarding how tough your competition is and have the choice to go first, try to be the debut interviewee if you think others will perform well.
This will allow people who performed slightly better than you to be undermined by the interviewer’s order bias. However, if you perform poorly, the next candidate will get the advantage where even their slightest positive will be seen as sheer brilliance. In that case, the bias in action is called contrast bias.
You Have Less Time to Overthink
While most resources regarding the subject focus on the interviewers’ bias, the candidate’s psychology is equally important. Humans tend to focus on an impending event, which is why sleeping issues on Christmas Eve are reported regardless of the country, race, or gender of children.
While Christmas is positive, job interviews aren’t always pleasant. For pessimists or even realists, time to think about an interview equals time to get increasingly worried. Only optimists thrive in having a longer waiting time because they are excited, and their excitement can be contagious and refreshing towards the end of an interview day. In all other cases, it is better to get done with the interview the sooner you can.
Cons of Interviewing First
If this post started with poor grammar and bad spelling, you would not have made it this far. Being the first interview candidate entails a similar risk, where you are the first impression for the entire candidate set. While you can do well and set the bar very high for everyone, you can do poorly and set others up for success. Here are the drawbacks that come with this dilemma.
Arrival Time Worries
If you’re being interviewed first, you have to arrive early. Any worries or negative emotion that comes from having to come early will get communicated through your body language. Interviewers can pick up on a negative demeanor and might associate it with the job or the interview.
Setting Others up for Success
As mentioned earlier, you can be brilliant and set a high standard for others. But the risk that comes with being the standard-setter is that if you do poorly, you will set up your competitors for success. That said, if you’re going to have the same level of performance regardless of position, you’re better off interviewing first instead of after better-performing competitors have made their mark.
Interviewing Last: A Brief Overview
The saying, “the early bird gets the worm,” has filled an entire generation with Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), but it is not even the complete proverb. The whole proverb dictates, “the early bird gets the worm, but the last mouse gets the cheese.”
It covers the fact that sometimes, moving on an opportunity first has an advantage, whereas in other instances, observing the first movers is better so you can avoid traps. A job interview represents an opportunity but might feature traps as well. So, does being the second mouse work?
Pros of Interviewing Last
The pros of interviewing last apply in a very narrow set of circumstances and are almost all conditions. As discussed earlier, optimistic extroverts could get excited waiting for their turn, which would allow them to walk into the interview quite energized towards the end. That is a very specific scenario. The pros below are slightly broader but still quite conditional.
The Interviewer Might Retain a Positive Impression
In case the interviewer has to make an immediate hiring decision, recency bias will work in your favor. For long-term decisions, order bias allows first candidates to remain prominent in recruiters’ memory, but for more immediate decisions, the individual who interviews last leaves a lasting impression. On average, interviewing last works better in short-listing stages.
Contrast Can Work in Your Favor
In the instance that most of your competitors perform below average or even at an average level, you will seem stellar for doing slightly better towards the end. Alongside the recency bias, contrast bias works in favor of the last candidate. However, this is so contingent on one’s competitors that it cannot be a part of one’s repeatable strategy.
Fatigue and Ease of Persuasion
When the recruiter or interviewer has to make a decision right after the interview session, being last works because you’re better-rested and therefore in a better position to influence the interviewer. This has to do with the science of willpower.
Research shows that with fatigue and tiredness, one’s willpower gets diminished, and since persuasion is amplified by willpower, the last candidate can influence the immediate decisions of an interviewer far better than the first candidate.
Cons of Interviewing Last
While the pros of interviewing last are conditional, its cons are conditional as well. So even if you are the last one being interviewed, you don’t have to deal with all the drawbacks covered below. Still, it is better to know them in case they apply to your situation.
Managers Can Have Their Minds Made Up
If someone performs just as well as you at the beginning, the interviewer might have mentally hired them. Your job then isn’t to convince the manager to hire you but to first mentally unhire that individual then hire you, which is at least twice as hard.
Less Time Left for In-Depth Connection
While you have more time to prepare and worry less about being on time, as the last candidate, you also run the risk of getting less time. In corporate job interviews, each candidate gets the same amount of time. But for smaller businesses, start-ups, and medium-sized businesses, the time you have depends on the interviewer’s interest.
The Interviewer Might Not Be In a Good Mood
When discussing the pros of interviewing first, we covered how the interviewer’s freshness can get associated with the candidate’s presence. The same can apply, albeit negatively, towards the end of the interview. If the interviewer is annoyed, tired, or irritated, he might unconsciously associate his negative emotions with your presence.
Your interview time slot could be important because it can directly affect your odds of success. In most cases, being first is better in an interview as you get to set the first impression and raise the bar for everyone else. But in case you know your competition is weak, you can be last and amplify the contrast.