By Lou Adler
Hiring is too important to leave to chance. Here’s the problem: if you like someone when you first meet, you maximize their positives and minimize their negatives. If you don’t like someone, you maximize their weaknesses, and minimize their positives.
While team skills are essential (and everything else job-related), it’s not possible to measure these while under the spell of first impressions.
If you can get past the first 30 minutes you can actually make an objective assessment. This is harder than it sounds, but here are some ideas that might help you:
How to Minimize Perception-driven Hiring Mistakes
1) Wait 30 minutes. Hear all of the evidence, pro and con, before making any decision. In the case of interviewing, wait for at least 30 minutes after the interview starts before concluding if the person is a possible hire or not.
2) Divide and conquer. Don’t give anyone on the hiring team a full yes or no vote. I use a talent scorecard (a copy is in my new book) listing all of the competencies and factors driving on the job success to make the assessment. I suggest that each interviewer be given only a few of these to “own.” During a formal debriefing session each interviewer is then required to substantiate his/her ranking on just these factors with evidence. This way the whole team makes the assessment, neutralizing the impact of biased assessments.
3) Be more cynical with people you like. When you like a candidate you naturally go into sales mode, ask softball questions, and ignore or minimize negatives. To overcome this natural tendency, force yourself to ask tougher questions, digging deep into the person’s accomplishments that most directly relate to your job opening.
4) Treat people you don’t like as consultants. Sometimes candidates are nervous, sometimes they’re different in appearance or personality, and sometimes they talk with accents you don’t like. And sometimes, these are great people. To find the truth, assume they’re great, and treat them as expert consultants. After 30 minutes you might discover they are.
5) Ignore fact-less decisions. During the debriefing session, ignore assessments that include these terms: feel, think, like, dislike, bad fit, too soft, too aggressive, anything about personality good or bad, or the term “soft skills.” These are all clues that the candidate was interviewed through a biased filter. Note: I added this after most people read the post. The idea here is that while personality, style, “soft skills” aka non-technical skills, are important, it’s better to measure them at the end of the interview when the interviewer is more objective. A rule of thumb: measure first impresssions at the end of the interview. Example of how to do this: examine the teams the person has been assigned to and the impact the person has made. If the teams are growing over time including more multi-functional leaders the person has strong team skills even if the person is quiet or a little nervous at first.
6) Don’t conduct short interviews, use panels instead. If you want to make the wrong hiring decision have 5-6 people each spend 30 minutes with the candidate, then add up their yes/no votes. Well-organized panel interviews (60-90 minutes) with 2-3 people each take less time in total and force objectivity.
7) Conduct phone interviews first. Conduct a 30-minute exploratory phone interview focusing on major accomplishments before meeting in-person. This alone will minimize the impact of first impressions.
Note to Candidates: if you want to be assessed more accurately, make sure you’re phone interviewed first, especially by the hiring manager. This is something I get all hiring managers to agree to as part of any search assignment I conduct, since I know how problematic the first meeting can be.
While team skills are essential (and everything else job-related), it’s not possible to measure these while under the spell of first impressions. Interviewers typically seek out evidence supporting their initial reaction to a candidate, filtering out conflicting information. This is how perceptions become reality. By forcing a delay into the hiring decision, and demanding that interviewers justify their assessments with evidence, you’ll overcome this insidious impact of human nature. Changing perceptions starts by recognizing first how they change you.
Lou Adler is the Amazon best-selling author of Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007) and the award-winning Nightingale-Conant audio program, Talent Rules! His new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired, will be published in December 2012.