Posted by: Professionals In Human Resources Association (PIHRA) | July 2, 2010

First HR Impressions

By Mike Deblieux, SPHR

It is said that you do not get a second chance to make a first impression. If that statement is true, it is ever so true in HR. A First HR Impression has a lasting effect on the credibility of your HR program and you as an HR professional. The problem is that the opportunity to make a positive First HR Impression can occur at any time. Let’s see what look at three real life examples.

The Job Candidate
Maria is a promising job candidate. She arrives early for her first interview. She follows the signs to HR. She hears voices in the back of the office, but no one is there to greet her. She stands waiting. No one appears. She sits down just as, Monica, an HR Rep, comes around the corner, and says, “Oh, I didn’t know anyone was here. Can I help you?”

Is this a positive First HR Impression for Maria? Is she thinking that this is a company she wants to join? Will she tell her friends and family that she had a good feeling about her interview experience? At best, she is off to rocky start. At worst, she thinks HR is discourteous, unorganized, and impersonal. Let’s create a second chance at a positive First HR Impression.

The night before the interview, Johanna, the HR Manager, meets with her team to review the expected events for the next day. She assigns Monica to be in the HR lobby waiting for Maria. Monica calls Maria right after the staff meeting. She introduces herself and tells Maria that she is looking forward to meeting her. She follows up with an e-mail that includes a link to a map, Monica’s picture on the corporate website, and phone number in case Maria has any questions or problems. When Maria arrives, Monica is waiting for her. She greets her with, “Good morning. You must be Maria. I am so glad to meet you. Please come in. We are going to be meeting with you in the conference room. It is right this way. Please follow me.”

Which experience would you want to have as a candidate? Which First HR Impression is most likely to maximize Maria’s interest in working for the company?

The Needs Some Help Employee
Harvey is struggling with some issues with his supervisor Chaquille. He does not want to create a problem for her. He does want Chaquille to listen to what he has to say. His co-worker, Peoria, tells him that it is time for him to talk to someone in HR. He thinks about it for few days and finally decides to go to HR for some advice.

Brenda is the first person Harvey sees when he walks into HR. She is on the phone with her back turned to him. The door closes with a sound that is loud enough to let Brenda know that someone just walked into the office. Brenda continues her conversation on the phone with her back turned to Harvey. She is obviously talking to a friend about an after work activity. Harvey stands nervously waiting for Brenda to acknowledge him. When she finally finishes her conversation, Brenda stands up. She does not turn to greet Harvey. Instead, she walks to another cubicle to share her phone conversation with another HR employee. She eventually comes back to Harvey and says, “Did you need something?”

Ouch! What does Harvey think of HR at this moment? What will he tell Peoria about his visit to HR? How many other employees will hear about his HR experience? With luck, Harvey stays and explains why he is in HR. Chances are, however, he tells Brenda that he found what he wanted in a brochure on the table and makes quick exit from an unfriendly HR environment. Let’s give Brenda a second chance at a positive First HR Impression.

Harvey walks into HR. Brenda is on the phone with a friend. When the door opens, she tells her friend, in a voice loud enough for Harvey to hear, “I am sorry but I have to go. An important visitor just walked into HR. I want to help him. I will call you back later.” She hangs up the phone. She stands and walks toward Harvey. She smiles, extends her hand, and says, “Good morning. I am Brenda. I am an HR Rep. How can I help you this morning?” Harvey breathes a sigh of relief and says, “I need to talk to someone about a problem with my supervisor.”

In this scenario, Harvey stays to tell his story. He shares a positive story about his HR visit with his friend Peoria.

The Rough road to Training
Anita is an outside consultant. She is at Steigenberger Industries to teach an AB 1825 Sexual Harassment Seminar for supervisors. The class is scheduled to start at 9:00 AM. Anita arrives an hour early to allow time to set up and take care of any last minute glitches. She introduces herself to the front lobby Receptionist and explains the reason for her visit. She asks for Shannon, the HR Manager. The Receptionist gives Anita an incredulous look and says, “You are a real optimist. Shannon is never here this early. I doubt she will be here before 9:15. Have a seat. You will just have to wait for her. There isn’t anybody else I can call back there to help you.”

Shannon walks into the lobby at 8:45 AM. She does not say “Good Morning.” Instead, she tells Anita about how much traffic she encountered. She laments about how inconvenient it is for her to come in at such an early hour. Two visitors in the lobby hear her story. When they get to the training room Shannon tells Anita, “I hope you know how to make this projector work. I don’t know anything about it. Tom in IT is off today. I have to go get the pastries out of my car and make some phone calls. Hopefully, I will be back before it is time to start.”

What is Anita’s First HR Impression? Do you think the class will get off to a good start this morning? Let’s rewind to give Shannon a second chance at a positive First HR Impression.

This time when Anita arrives, the Receptionist greets her by name. She knows who Anita is because Shannon shared her picture on the consulting firm website the night before. The Receptionist calls Petra, an HR Clerk. She asks Petra to walk Anita to the training room. When they arrive, Shannon greets Anita with a warm smile and friendly “Good morning.” She places a copy of the Steinberger Industries Sexual Harassment policy on the last two seats in the room. A caterer arranges food on the table near the entrance. Natalie places a pen on the table for each participant. The projector is on and ready to go. Shannon walks toward Anita and says, “I am so glad you are here. Our supervisors are looking forward to your presentation. Let me help you set up your laptop. Natalie can put your handouts at each seat for you. I would like to take a minute to go over our policy with you to show you a couple of things I want you to emphasize in your presentation. I have also printed out a list of three or four common issues that I see in our workplace. I would like you to reference them in your remarks.”

It looks like the training investment in this second scenario will be much more effective.

HR success is all about First HR Impressions. You do not get a second chance to make a positive First HR Impression. An effective HR professional looks at each encounter as an opportunity to foster a relationship that enhances positive employee relations and a lasting image of support and openness. Each exchange is approached through the eyes and ears of the constituent on the other side of the encounter. It is designed to send a message that says HR is prepared, professional, and capable.

Have you critiqued the quality of your First HR Impressions recently? You should. Start by keeping a list of people you meet in one day. Review your list through the eyes and ears of each person you encounter on that day. Drop your defenses. Be bone honest with yourself. Ask yourself if you created a positive First HR Impression. List what you did right and what you could do better next time.

If you are an HR Manager with a supporting staff, invite your staff to participate in a “no blame, no shame” evaluation of their First HR Impressions. Help them decide what they are doing right and what they need to change. Help your staff measure their progress. Be sure to measure your own.

Mike Deblieux, SPHR, is a Human Resources Consultant. He provides onsite-coaching support for supervisors and managers. He presents seminars on people management topics. Mike writes HR Concepts to help HR professionals better understand and use fundamental HR principles. Mike can be reached at


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