New Hire Orientation Blog
Hiring Success: Avoiding the Dangers of First Impressions
- August 4, 2020
- Posted by: New Hire Orientation
- Category: Hiring
You’ve heard it before – there’s never a second chance to make a first impression. Human beings often form an image of someone else in a split second. You meet someone, shake their hand, say hello, and almost immediately form an opinion of them.
Of course, while we must strive to make a good first impression, it’s also incumbent on us to avoid the pitfalls that come with those instantaneous judgments. This is particularly true for hirers. Hiring someone based on a first impression can be disastrous. Thankfully, there are ways you can avoid those dangers and we’ll discuss them below.
Why Are First Impressions Dangerous?
Before we delve too deeply into the topic, let’s address a question many of you are likely wondering. Why are first impressions dangerous? After all, we’re primed to make them – it’s an automatic process.
Gary D. Burnison, writing for Training magazine, explains it this way. “First impressions are part of human nature, but they are dangerous for managers since first impressions are based on superficial observations or unsubstantiated opinions.” You must make a hiring decision based not on assumptions and superficial observations, but on a deeper understanding of an individual’s skills, abilities, personality, and fit with your company’s culture.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a closer look at how you can avoid falling prey to first impressions in your hiring process.
Most businesses do this already, but it’s important to screen candidates before having a formal interview. This screening should involve more than just a brief perusal of their resume, as well. It should also go beyond having them complete a basic prescreening questionnaire.
Ideally, you’ll have a pre-interview interview. It can be done over the phone, or through Zoom (an increasingly common choice with COVID-19 muddying the waters). This is your chance to assess not just their basic qualifications, but how they present themselves, how they communicate, and more.
It’s important to note that if you’re outsourcing your screening processes, now’s the time to stop. Building a strong, thriving workplace is critical to company success, and there’s nothing more integral to that than having the right talent in place.
Ignore Traits in Favor of Behaviors
It’s easy to fall prey to this particular first impression. We’ve been taught that traits are vital parts of the person and that the right set of traits can create a good employee. The truth is deeper than this, though.
For instance, someone might have the trait of being a team player. However, that just means that they play well with others. It doesn’t shed light on whether or not the candidate credits other people with their success. Ask what accomplishments they’re proudest of, and then listen to how they respond. Is it all “me, me, me”, or do they make it clear that there were other people involved too? What credit do they give to other team members, coworkers, or colleagues?
Traits can be good indicators that drive interest in a potential hire, but you must look beyond them. Instead, focus on behaviors – how those traits play out in the person’s daily life.
Do They Learn?
To be considered a good hire, a job candidate must be able to learn. They must be open to learning and development. That applies to more than just mandatory corporate training or voluntary upskilling through an LMS, though.
Ask your candidates to describe one of their failures. However, instead of listening to learn how they failed, listen to see if they learned anything from the experience. If they impart important lessons, failures are not negative experiences – they can drive success, improve processes, and forge new connections.
Make sure that the candidates you’re interviewing actually learn from their failures and that they are open about it. What factors did they learn to change or control in the future? How did that failure inform their actions down the road? If they failed to learn from the experience, they’re not good learners (although they could become so with intentional effort).
How Do They Manage Conflict?
Conflict is part and parcel of human interaction. No matter who you are, you’re going to chafe someone. No matter how equanimous your outlook, someone will chafe you. Dealing with that conflict is a critical skill, but it’s one that not all potential hires have.
During your interview (or even on a pre-interview screening), ask how the individual handled conflict in a workplace setting. A simple way to do this (and to get at the important information underlying their response) is to have them describe their least favorite coworker in the past.
Do they reduce that person to a one-word label? Do they show a deep understanding of that person’s behavior and the situations that informed it? Managing conflict successfully requires being able to look beyond how someone acts – micromanaging, for instance – and to the reasons for those actions.
Consider Nonverbal Communication
While we naturally focus on verbal communication, the truth is that most of what we communicate to one another is nonverbal. Facial expressions, the position of an eyebrow, crossed arms, a hand on your hip – these are just a fraction of the myriad ways that we add nuance to the words we say. As such, what candidates communicate nonverbally should be analyzed in as much depth as the words they say aloud.
For instance, when someone communicates confidence, are they also exuding arrogance? Do they lack compassion for other people? Does that frown indicate anger at a situation that may not be warranted? Is that show of confidence actually a show of ego? Or is it a show of hidden but present contempt?
You Can Dig Deep
In the end, digging deep is the only way to ensure that you don’t fall prey to first impressions. They’re quite often wrong. Look deeply into each candidate. Go beyond qualifications and job experience. Delve into communication, their ability to learn, and their actual behaviors to build an accurate picture of the individual and how they might affect the business.
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