Six steps to avoid the pitfalls of #firstimpressionbias:

Most of us overestimate our ability to accurately judge what a person is like based on our first impression. This overconfidence gets reinforced because we are often not in a situation to actually get to know someone and thus reassess our prejudices - good or bad. As humans we are basically hard wired to form a judgement quickly - our brains just do it.

But how does all this impact our ability to hire great people? A LOT!

One study showed that better hiring decisions were made when managers only got to see resumes - interviewing seemed to mess things up.  So what is happening in the interview that frequently sends us down a wrong path? Researchers found that, left unaware, most of us are prone to validate our first impressions in the interview. This means that we will be biased towards either ‘I like this person’ and we don’t dig deep and may overlook potential gaps, or ‘this person is X’ and we become an over critical interviewer making an already nervous or stressed candidate even more so.1

The good news is that if we don’t let our ‘gut feel’ dominate our initial conclusions we might find amazing people that others have overlook, the bad news is that, left unchecked, our first impressions will bias our interviews and we will tend to hire people who more closely resemble those we would like to date versus the best person for the job.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?  We need to have a plan so our natural hard wiring does not start us down the wrong path.  A good start is to follow a structured interview.

6 Steps to mitigate first impression or ‘gut feel’ bias:

*Note – interviewing is a time consuming and, for most people, an exhausting process so make sure your candidates are well screened for the non-negotiable before you meet with them. 

  1. Develop a set of questions that you use for everyone (based on a thorough job analysis). 
  2. Reserve judgment until the end of the interview. Proceed as if they have made the opposite impression.
  3. Ask accomplishment based questions and dig deep to gain a clear picture of what this person did, the role he/she played, how he did it, challenges he encountered and how he overcame them. Ask situation or problem solving questions and inquire about related experiences. It is better to dig deep into a few accomplishments than gloss over and make assumptions on many. Remember what the letters in ‘assume’ stand for.
  4. Limit prompting (telling them what you hope to hear and/or mostly asking them yes or no type questions).
  5. Make sure that you only talk about 20% of the time.
  6. Allow enough time for the person to ask questions at the end of the interview.

If the interview has gone well and the candidate is strong, but you are still concerned about a negative impression you have, you should:  

  • address it directly BUT be very careful not to ask questions or make comments that could land you in a lawsuit,
  • have them interview with more people and
  • conduct quality reference checks.

Taking the extra time to plan and execute a more disciplined hiring process I guarantee will save you hours of time and money.  Getting the right people on your team is a key to success, getting the wrong people has actually cost people their businesses.  If you plan on going it on your own take a course on hiring or at least read a few books on the topic. There is a wealth of knowledge for you to draw on, so please don’t wing it – your success depends on it.  Of course you can also enlist our support to help you prepare, conduct or train your team. Over the next few issues I will do my best, in small bites, to share my insights and expertise to help you get better at hiring the right people for your team. 

Leanne is the President of Premierehire, an Executive Search and Staffing company that provides a wide variety of services to help companies attract, recruit and retain great people. Their exclusive SmartStart program helps with assessments, onboarding and leadership/ team development.

Differences understood create synergy, differences not understood create conflict.”

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1  Levashina, J., Hartwell, C. J., Morgeson, F. P. and Campion, M. A. (2014), The Structured Employment Interview: Narrative and Quantitative Review of the Research Literature. Personnel Psychology, 67: 241–293. doi: 10.1111/peps.12052

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