Trapped by First Impressions

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Our hiring team debriefed a candidate yesterday. Everybody liked her but me. As we went around the table, I was shocked. Every single member of the hiring team said they made their decision in the first three minutes of the interview. They were proud they could make a positive hiring decision that fast. I was the lone dissent. The candidate will never work out. But I got outvoted, she starts on Monday.

Many hiring managers report they make the decision in the first three minutes of the interview. You are correct. It is a problem, but one that is easily fixed.

During the first few minutes of the interview, the interviewer receives a variety of potent non-verbal data about the candidate. We observe the clothes, the polished shoes, the haircut, posture, tone of voice, pace of speech. Our perceptions are unconscious, but very powerful. During the first three minutes, the interviewer is awash in first impressions.

The problem is, those first impressions have little to do with the qualifications of the candidate. The interviewer has to get beyond initial impressions and collect more data. But most hiring managers attend the interview ill prepared. They have no written questions, or only a handful at best. “Tell me a little about yourself” is NOT a diagnostic question. Your hiring team fell into the same trap. They sat in the interview room without preparation.

If the interviewer asks few questions related to the work in the role, the only criteria on which to judge the candidate is those powerful initial impressions. It’s that simple. Your team made their decision three minutes from the start of the interview, because they collected no additional data to counter first impressions.

The fix is simple. It’s all about preparation. Most roles have 5-8 key areas of responsibility. Preparation consists of identifying the work in each key area and crafting ten questions. Simple. Five key areas, ten questions each, fifty total written questions.

I can feel the push-back from here. Fifty questions seems like a lot of work, but you have a hiring team. Five people on the team nets out at ten questions each. Spread the work, but don’t let them into the interview room without a list of 50 questions. First impressions will still occur, but your team will collect all kinds of data to balance out those first impressions. -Tom

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