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Hiring 101: Don’t get swayed by first impressions

The first impression is often the best impression, and that's exactly what you must beware of when hiring. The most important hiring rule is to hire slow.

Sandra was in a hurry. Her team had been tasked with a new project and she needed to hire fast. After what seemed like going through zillions of resumes, she came across Swati’s profile. On the face of it, the resume seemed perfect. Swati had the right skills and a great work background. Sandra’s boss was impressed with the resume and decided to go ahead with just the interview. Soon, Swati was hired and everything fell into place.

However, slowly Sandra started noticing certain behavioural issues with Swati. She would spend very little time at her desk, would constantly be chatting with some co-worker or the other, threw her hands up at the first sign of stress and didn’t seem to know what to do at all. To make it all worse, the very skills that Swati was hired for, Sandra discovered to her mortification, was what she was worst at. For Sandra, it was unbelievable. At first, she thought maybe the change in environment had something to do with it. So she tried to reason with Swati, but to no avail. The mistakes continued and all of it just added to Sandra’s stress. Sandra was in a fix: What do I do now?

Read: Are you hiring the best people available?

We all are familiar with this story. Replace Swati and Sandra with anyone else and I’m sure there are many managers out there who wonder how they end up with a bad hire, especially when no alarm bells ring during the hiring process. Each one of us has been taught from our childhood to put our best foot forward on any occasion. First impression is the best impression. But the economics of modern workplaces demanded that we go beyond those first impressions because after all you expect people to have the right answers during the interviews. So what went wrong in Sandra’s case and what can be done to fix that? The most important hiring rule to keep in mind is to not get swayed by first impressions. The effect of the first (and often best) impression must be countered in the following ways:

1. Straying from the routine hiring process: Hiring processes are created for a reason. No matter how incredible a person may seem at first or may have superb intellectual capabilities, everyone should go through the grind. Today, talent is a company’s greatest asset. That puts a great amount of responsibility on the recruiter or HR manager to make sure that they pick the right person in the right way. By not insisting that Swati take the test and being swayed by her resume, Sandra committed a cardinal sin.

2. Snap judgment vs. informed decision: Battling first impressions is tougher than you think. When we meet someone for the first time, our brain is already busy judging whether we would love or hate the person; it all happens in the blink of an eye, according to research by Association for Psychological Science. Those initial few minutes decide how we want to interact with that person from that moment. Interviewers prefer candidates who are likeable and similar to them, even physically attractive. If you are being led (or misled) by your emotions, then you can end up making bad decisions. That is why it is important to evaluate the candidate on job related tasks and experiences. Use your instinct to rule someone out, not in.

Read: 8 ways to screen your candidates better

3. Spending time with the candidate: Tom Gimbel, Founder and CEO of LaSalle Network, a US-based staffing company, recommends the use of the ‘airplane test’. You need to be able to spend at least four hours with the candidate and actually enjoy the time spent with them. If they pass the test, then they may be the right fit. The candidate should be genuinely nice and have a strong work ethic. Don’t let the likeness of a particular candidate affect hiring—you should be able to find out whether the candidate’s innate characteristics will help him/her align with the job and the organisation’s culture. Initially, Sandra thought that Swati had a great personality. However, she spent so much time wandering around in the office that it really frustrated Sandra and the work that she turned out was also well below professional standards.

Read: Is your Careers Page getting you enough applications?

4. Remember that attitude is a variable: It is absolutely essential that you make sure the candidate has the requisite skills needed for the job. Getting the right resume is half the battle won and that starts with a good job profile. Brad Wolff, Managing Director of JumpVine, says that in order to ensure that bias does not affect the hiring decision, use an objective and scientific assessment process that will help focus on the candidate’s experience and values. Prepare questions in advance so you don’t get sidetracked. A bad attitude may be the result of a poor fit with job or the environment. Wolff says, “Attitude is rarely a stable characteristic. It usually becomes more positive or negative depending on job and culture fit.”

5. Evidence-based management: Natalie Wilkins, Talent Strategist and Associate Professor, Business School Lausanne, says it is essential to gather all the evidence that you need before making a yes/no decision. In an article for LinkedIn, she writes, “Wait half an hour before you make any judgements. If you begin to think a certain way about the candidate before this, counteract it by entertaining an opposing thought.” Instead of seeking to find evidence of your initial response to the candidate, try to get information to prove yourself wrong. Make notes during the interview about the candidate’s knowledge, behaviour and social skills. At the end of the day, compare your notes with your first impression to get a wholesome view and even discuss it with a colleague to get a third party view. The idea is to build up the evidence to rule out or in favour of the candidate vis-a-vis your first impressions of the candidate. This way, you will be able to ensure that you don’t get the bad eggs!

Read: Hiring lessons from the who’s who of business

6. Fire fast, hire slow: If your hire is not working out, then don’t hesitate to move on quickly, especially when they begin to hurt your productivity. In Sandra’s case, Swati’s non-performance was hurting the team badly. The tasks that Sandra hoped Swati would be able to take up fell astray. Sandra ended up spending a lot of time reworking all the tasks Swati did and this eventually started to stress her out. Swati’s presence in the team was not only affecting the team’s productivity, but also Sandra’s productivity. So, she decided to put an end to it all.

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