Friday, October 30, 2009

Do you trust your first impressions?

I’m in the middle of hiring three new staff people for my team, so I’m doing a LOT of job interviews. (Approximately 6 first interviews for each position and then 2 or 3 second ones for each – that’s about 25 interviews in about 3 or 4 weeks!)

I’ve been in leadership positions for about 12 years, so I’ve sat through hoards of interviews and hired a lot of people. I’m happy to say that I have almost always hired people who end up being a joy to work with. I think I’m a fairly good judge of character. Or at least I know how to pick people who will fit well with my personality and the team I lead (which – truth be told – is often most critical).

Even though we (I usually do it as part of a panel) ask a lot of interview questions, and almost always interview people twice before hiring them, plus we check references carefully, the truth of the matter is, much of it boils down to first impressions or gut instinct. Yes, the person needs to be qualified to do the job, but when we've done the initial screening and we're faced with two or three candidates with fairly equal qualifications, I’ll go with the one that I have the best gut feeling about.

It’s not that my opinion is fully formed in the first 30 seconds after I meet a person, but it’s not unusual that the person who impresses me the most throughout the interview process is the one that I felt a connection with almost instantly. If I were to try to quantify what it is I’m trying to pick up in the moment I shake the person's hand (and if you're doing interviews, I highly recommend shaking hands and looking the interviewer in the eye), I’d say that I have to see some evidence that the person is likeable, flexible, relational, pliable, attuned to their surroundings, self aware, eager to learn, and has a sense of humour. I know it's a lot to try to pick up all at once, but it's often surprising how accurate those 30 seconds can be. (For some interesting reading on this subject, I’d recommend Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. He’s got some interesting evidence for the power of first impressions.)

What about you – do you trust your first impressions? Have they ever steered you wrong? (In the interests of full disclosure, I do remember once when I was wrong and the person I liked at the beginning turned out to be a bit of a con artist.)


Jackie said...

Yes! I have to say this is one of my strengths. I usually get a feel for people right away.It works for me and I trust my instincts in that area.Heather can you come do my hair ? wrap it like yours? It sends a message that says. I am relaxed but strong , creative but serious:)

sherry ♥ lee said...

I haven't always followed my first impressions/instincts and when I haven't I can honestly say I was hoodwinked..or I hoodwinked myself!! So I have learned to be more mindful and when my first impression comes on strong, I know it's telling me something.

As for interviewing and hiring..when I was working in a situation where I was on the frontline of the hiring process..i.e. calling applicants to set up appointments, I could tell from the phone call who would get the job. And I wasn't the one doing the interviewing and making the ultimate choice. I was never wrong either.

Stephanie T said...

I've gone with my first impression before. Sometimes I'm right, but I've also been wrong. Here's the other thing: I think I can be really awkward and weird when I first meet someone, and I'd hate for that to be the lasting impression I leave. So I like to keep an open mind.

Anvilcloud said...

I think first impressions are important, but sometimes they're wrong, and one has to be open to that possibility.

Linnea said...

Missed this. My first impressions are rarely wrong. If I get a "tug" in my gut about someone, I almost always see what caused that "tug" eventually. That said, I often ignore it and give the person a chance anyway. I'm not always right, after all.

Pamela said...

Unfortunately I've given too many the benefit of the doubt..

I need to hone my skills with my new volunteer "job"