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Annie Ward


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Trainer’s Diary: First Impressions Last


Byron Kalies
I have a confession to make. I think I've got it wrong. For the past 10 years or so I've been telling everyone on interviewing courses that you shouldn't decide in the first 20 seconds if the interviewee will get the job or not; Byron Kalies explains.

I've spouted research that says people decide on the best candidate for a job in the first minute and then spend the rest of the interview confirming their initial analysis; that is if they feel the candidate is good they ask easy questions. I've told interviewers that research tells us that if they take an instant dislike to someone they will ask difficult questions and look less favourably on their answers. On the other hand if they take an instant liking to someone they will give them an easy time.

This effect has been well studied. In fact there's a whole industry of us out there telling people to beware and stop doing it. Its been described as the 'halo or horns' effect. I have warned people about this and pleaded with them not to do it.

Now, I'm not sure if that's the right advice.

Recently I've read a fair amount about trusting your instincts and listening to your inner self etc. This isn't all about hippies and meditation and listening to your inner self. It's scientific as well.

I've read about a number of situations where this seems to make total sense. After every disaster there are 101 stories about people not going on the plane at the last minute, or deciding not to take that train because of some 'inner sense'.

In terms of choosing people there's an increasing mass of evidence that says that the more instinctive we make our choices the better. Reading 'Blink'? Malcolm Gladwell, you would believe any other way of choosing would be madness. It seems that when we do make up our minds instantly we're often far more accurate than when we spend more time analysing and quantifying.

So what has this got to do with interviewing? My suggestion is that we have two minute interviews. Using this approach it would seem that some form of 'speed interviewing' is the way forward. Just think about it. No paperwork to worry about. No justification needed. No week long assessment tests. The end of assessment centres, exams, psychometric tests etc. Imagine how much time and money that would save?

There is a fundamental problem with this 'instant attraction' theory however it may not be true. It seems sensible and strikes a chord with us because we've all done it. We've all made an instant decision and found out it was true in the face of all the evidence. However, I wonder how often we've made an instant decision and found it to be wrong? I guess we don't remember those occasions. There's a phrase for this in psychological jargon - 'bottom drawer evidence'. This concerns the mass of evidence gathered that doesn't fit the theory and is conveniently hidden in the bottom drawer.

So, perhaps speed interviewing may not be such a great idea after all.

Well, I'm not really sure. After looking at the evidence and writing about it I've just got a feeling there's something in it.

5 Responses

  1. Supporting Information
    Just to back this idea up, there was some research recently published with respect to interviews showing that the “gut feeling” approach to candidates was more succesful than the “full assessment centre” approach. The interviewers were asked to go with their instincts in the first twenty seconds of the interview and made more succesful hires than those interviewers using a full range of assessment tools and structured interviewing. Strange but true.

  2. Gut instinct
    I was astonished to learn from one person who had to do a fair amount of recruiting that he had taken this gut instinct idea one step further. He believed in his secretary’s gut instinct and judgement of character. She was the one who dealt with the interviewee in the moments before the interview and, as she showed each candidate into his office, if she thought the person was suitable, she would offer “Anything to drink?”, otherwise it was, “Coffee or tea?”. He went through the motions with the second category, and made his selection from the first. They swore that it worked for them. I think I’ll keep my opinions to myself and let other readers form their own views.

  3. Worried of Warwick
    What worries me most is the damaging advice the author has been giving people for the past 10 years. I spend all my time as a coach getting clients to trust their intuitions more, as a source of information that they cannot afford to discount. It worries me that the author inplies that listening to your intuition is for hippies. It worries me that it takes a guy with a clipboard and some statistics before some people will trust themselves. He tries to excuse himself by asking ‘how often have we made an instant decision and it turns out to be wrong?’ and of course the answer is never. Why? Because we have the capacity to know far more than we are aware of. When we make a decision ‘rationally’ we discount that weight of information. And as for 20 seconds? I had made my mind up about the article in about 5.

  4. Equal Opportunities
    The big problem I see in taking this approach is where it is challenged under equal opportunities legislation. The assumption is that the employer is guilty until proven innocent. Whilst it is possible to go with ones first impressions one needs to have evidence of competence cf the Person Specification. However one small business owner I knew never advertised, he went down to the pub and offered a job to someone he liked. He closed the business before it became insolvent!

  5. Interview Process Based on First Impressions
    Having worked for a very successful training firm who had a very unusual yet very effective recruitment procedure, I know that we hired the best people based mainly on our first impressions.

    Let me explain the process:
    Our ad would invite people to attend an information evening regarding the positions available.

    All of the candidates (approx 50 – 60 on average) that evening were given a name tag on arrival and given a group introduction to the firm and what kind of positions were available in a theatre style forum.

    We (approx 10 staff from the firm) would have a clipboard with all their names noted.

    At the end of the introduction, an instruction was given to them all that ‘in less than 60 seconds tell us the most important things about you’.

    Slowly but surely, they would stand up and have their 60 seconds – those who stood first and last, and those who tried to take more time – we had a time keeper (we think he must have been previously employed by the Grand Prix timing team!), and those who talked whilst someone else was having their 60 seconds were noted, and we would all make short notes on our clip boards.

    There would then be a short question time where the prospective candidates could ask us about the firm (again, we would note who had questions, and what they were).

    After that, the attendees were invited to apply for the positions and have a short interview.

    These interviews were also structured and very short – the 10 staff would have the same 3 questions to ask the remaining candidates and we would note the responses.

    Once everyone had left, we would discuss all of the candidates from our first impressions – i.e. the 60 seconds they had. Only those who had favourable first impression (or make us notice them) would have their questions discussed from the second part of the process.

    You may be surprised how many of them were suddenly ‘passionate about training’ and therefore went to the bottom of our list, and yet those who said something along the lines of ‘I love tennis’ were so memorable that they were invited back (and the Tennis guy subsequently became one of the most valuable members of our team).

    Any remaining candidates from our discussion process were invited back for a second, more formal interview later that week, where the more ‘usual’ interview process took over i.e. experience / qualifications etc. were taken into account.

    Sound complicated? – I can assure you that we always hired wonderful people this way, and the only reason I moved on was to make a move interstate.

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Annie Ward

Editor, HR Zone

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