Closing her laptop, Sarah was glad she had taken one last look and was ready to go. So many steps had brought her to this moment. Grateful that someone had alerted her to this job opportunity, Sarah found the online application process simple and it provided her with a useful format to highlight her experience and ability. Happy when she was called for a phone screening interview she was elated when she followed this up with her own internet research and realized the magnitude of this organization. Today was the face-to-face interview. She reflected on how helpful the company website was, even providing specific driving directions to the headquarters and instructions on entering the parking garage.
Taking her cues from the company website, Sarah spent a lot of time choosing the perfect outfit for the interview. Black suit, crisp white shirt for contrast, shoes in their finest condition and a new briefcase seemed in order. She had heard that blue was a color that elicits trust. Buying a handsome blue pen to complement her ensemble, she knew it would be useful for taking notes during the interview.
She had made a point to leave early. Taking a job with this organization would mean a commute through heavy traffic each day, yet she had reconciled with herself that she was willing to do this in exchange for being able to work for such a prestigious organization. She was really excited. The position described tapped her deep motivations, offered her an opportunity to use her technical abilities, provided the potential of managing a team and ensured the promise of career growth in a reputable organization.
Once in the parking garage, Sarah was fortunate to find a spot near the entrance to the stairway that led to the magnificent building where she would interview. Walking inside, she was immediately impressed with the polished marble flooring, the commissioned artwork and the organization's values featured in brass letters on the reception wall. Trust, Integrity and People Focus were three values that caught her attention. Sarah was reaffirmed as she had read these on the website. She wondered how she could be so lucky to get the chance to interview with an organization that shared the values most important to her.
Arriving at the impressive security desk staffed with two uniformed guards, Sarah was glad she had arrived ten minutes in advance of her scheduled appointment. Before she had a chance to announce her name and purpose of her visit, the security guard inquired "are you here for an interview?" Nodding in agreement and impressed by his guesswork, he gave her a security badge and invited her to sit in one of the comfortable black leather chairs in the reception area. Relieved to sit down, she smoothed her skirt, carefully placed her briefcase on the floor next to her chair and was grateful for a chance to sit and people watch - observing the employees, who may become her colleagues, coming to and from lunch.
Watching the parade of people, it didn't take her long to realize her attire differed greatly from what she was observing. It seemed as if the common theme of the employees going by was jeans, sweatshirts and tennis shoes. Occasionally a female worker would go by in high heels with her jeans. This must be casual Friday and maybe they are planning on going out after work she thought and she began to study this parade of people even closer.
Hearing a voice, she looked up quickly to respond and realized it was an employee simply talking on his Bluetooth. In fact, she noticed most of the employees hurrying by were either looking down at Blackberries or speaking to someone on their cell phones.
Since she was scheduled to meet with the Vice President of Operations, she began to wonder how he might be attired. She also began to worry, did she dress too formally? Her suit seemed out of place. Yet, when she bought it, she had in mind the pictures of the magnificent building on the internet and the photos of the leaders. She had wanted to make an impression consistent with how she had perceived the organization.
Suddenly approaching her was a gentleman she presumed to be her contact. Tony, the Vice President of Operations, greeted her with a casual "Hi. You must be Sarah. I hope I didn't keep you waiting. I don't know if you noticed, today is Friday and we allow employees to dress casually every Friday. Our employees enjoy this."
"I did notice that" she commented. Walking down the hallway to Tony's office she was relieved to see that the impression she had formed about the building seemed consistent from her internet research. Tony had a magnificent mahogany desk with several windows overlooking the city. Tony announced that a representative from Human Resources would be joining them. The woman from HR arrived in jeans, tennis shoes and a hooded sweatshirt. The demeanor of both of these contacts seemed extremely casual and she was surprised when the HR representative dropped into her chair and didn't even shake her hand. Sarah began to wonder, did her online impression of this organization ring true with this offline experience?
As they were talking, she began to remember Tony's description during the screening interview of the organization's commitment to professional deportment. Now in this interview, in his office, it wasn't clear to her what that meant. Two phone interruptions and the frequent vibration of a Blackberry on the table indicating the arrival of a text message, along with their casual demeanor, led her to wonder if something had changed and if they were actually still interested in her as a candidate for this position. She also wondered if she was still interested. She questioned if other perceptions she held about this organization were fiction or reality.
A week later she was offered the position. Did she take it?
Deception or My Ideal Self?
You've heard the story of the guy who showed up for an introductory cup of coffee with his Match.com date only to realize that the photo of the date he was to meet didn't look anything like the woman who was waiting for him. Or, what about the woman who has been chatting online for months with someone who she thought was taller than her and then in meeting him found herself wishing she hadn't worn heels. He clearly embellished his height on the online profile.
When individuals create their persona for online dating sites, they frequently exaggerate or outright lie on their profiles in an attempt to attract a mate. Misleading virtual identities have become common as more and more relationships develop online.
In face-to-face meetings, physical attributes are obvious and personality traits start to emerge early in the relationship. In fact, as the relationship develops, the personality traits tend to override the physical attributes as people begin to get know and relate to one another on a deeper level.
Online dating sites have added an element of mistrust as false identities are able to flourish and remain undetected as long as the relationship remains in the virtual sphere. What do men exaggerate about? Most of the time it is education, profession, socioeconomic status and height. What about the women? The most common complaint of men who have met women online say it is that women portray themselves as lighter in weight and younger in age.
Is the carefully constructed virtual identity an example of deception or simply descriptive of an individual's ideal self?
Beyond Dating Sites.
Questions about authenticity of online identity are not limited to dating sites. For organizations seeking to create a favorable impression and leverage the vast reach of the internet in communications and business transactions, online presence is frequently inconsistent with the offline experience individuals may have with the organization.
Take the example of booking a hotel online. Perusing the pictures on the hotel's website or the discount travel site, you imagine you are going to arrive to a beautifully appointed room, amenities and have the opportunity for a fine dining experience without leaving the hotel. You can't wait to see the look on your partner's face when they arrive at this paradise.
Have you ever had the experience where your expectations of a hotel room did not match up with your online expectations? Instead of a beautifully appointed room, you arrive to a tired room that has seemingly not been updated for decades, evidenced by the brown shag carpeting. When you inquire at the front desk about reservations for your fine dining experience you are informed the hotel no longer serves dinner and in fact, if you wish to have dinner, you are going to need to get your car and go to a different part of city. Or, you can order pizza from the takeout menu they provide.
You instantly realize your credibility is now forever linked with this travel experience and unfortunately, the look on your partner's face is the only cue you will receive for the rest of the evening as they have stopped talking to you.
What went wrong?
Two Seconds to Success or Failure.
Most people remember their very first kiss. People experience heightened attention in the first few seconds of exposure to something new or novel. Research from Harvard University reveals that you will form an opinion of a new person or experience in about two seconds. This first impression is embedded more deeply in the brain due to the chemicals or neurotransmitters that are present at this time. And that impression, favorable or not, will be long-lasting. In his book, Influence - the Psychology of Persuasion, social psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini reports that we are bombarded daily with decisions to make, and without the time to thoroughly investigate every situation, we use mental shortcuts to help us choose and decide quickly. We incorporate those shortcuts in formulating perceptions about the people around us.
When the first impression of an individual or an organization (or a hotel) differs from expectations, we seek to reconcile the dissonance. That is not always easy.
Reality versus Expectations?
Companies go to a lot of trouble to create an expectation of greatness either online, on a discount hotel site or in their marketing materials. Unfortunately, it's often forgotten that you better be ready to meet the expectations you create. Reality is easy to exceed when expectations are low but when people have had the opportunity to form an initial impression, they have already set their expectations and if you created an expectation of greatness, those expectations are high.
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