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Hire without getting misled by first impressions

The search begins

Perry is a top performing Program Manager at an Indian IT major. Passionate about technology and its impact on business, he wanted to hire someone to run an important project he had won from a prestigious client.

His search for a talented Project Manager led to the careful evaluation of over hundred resumes. Along with the HR team, he conducted numerous interviews and background checks, finally deciding to hire Sam, a highly credentialed MBA who seemed to check off all the boxes Perry was looking for in the new hire.

But within a couple of months, Perry realized that he’d made a big hiring mistake. Despite a stellar performance in the interview, and an impressive show during the first week at the office – Sam didn’t live up to the initial promise. In fact, things went downhill pretty soon.

Something amiss

Sam communicated with clients and his team members mostly via curt emails or complicated spreadsheets, instead of trying to reach out and connecting on a personal level. It was also widely observed that when he attended meetings he seemed absorbed with his smartphone, not engaging in discussions or appearing collaborative.

“During the interview, I was taken in by Sam’s credentials, his achievements and knowledge of technology. He was supremely confident and came from a reputed college with great work experience to boot,” Perry admitted. He then confessed, “I chose to see only that side of Sam, and completely missed perceiving the side we ended up seeing every day at the office.”

First impressions count, but…

First impressions as we have heard so often, are very important in forming an opinion about an individual. However, this impression can sometimes be misleading; setting up companies and managers for wrong hires that can lead to disastrous consequences. This is a constant worry for hiring managers: How can you get beyond superficial impressions and determine the real talent and attitude that lies underneath, in a short span of thirty minutes or so?

It took Perry over a year to replace the wrong hire with the right hire. In addition to the stress it caused in the relationship with the client and within the team – it made Perry question his own judgment.

Real cues vs pseudo cues

Faced with hundreds of resumes and dozens of interviewees, sometimes hiring managers have no choice but to scan quickly when narrowing down a pool of candidates. While HR technology plays a part in ensuring a good match – the human element still remains critical in the interviewing process.

Thus, gut reactions can often lead even the most seasoned interviewer astray because of how we subconsciously read the candidate. In the case of Perry, he was taken in by Sam’s resume and credentials. However, he had lost focus on the more pertinent skills and attributes that his new hire would need every day on the job. He failed to rigorously evaluate Sam on his abilities to motivate and lead the staff – as well as interact with and deliver to the client.

The key is to distinguish between real and pseudo cues. A good example of a pseudo cue is the halo effect that may surround candidates due to physical attractiveness or the ability to communicate well.

So in order to find the best candidates, a smart interviewer must unsee the pseudo cues that grab attention but maybe irrelevant to the job in question. Fine-tune to pinpoint the real cues that matter for performance. Instead of “going with the gut,” the use of analytics will help to hone in on the right type of candidate.

Fine tuning

Past data on who has succeeded and failed in the role (or similar roles) and analysis of each person’s characteristics in a regression will throw up some important patterns. Independent variables (such as college scores, extracurricular activities, interview answers, achievements in previous companies) can predict success or failure. Studying such data can help learn the hidden profile of success that will help distinguish the real cues that matter from the pseudo cues that don’t.

The best interviewers avoid the traps from first impressions or gut feelings because they recognize the subconscious factors that might be at play during in-person interviews. Being aware and using some of these ways can help prevent being misled to hire wrong.

 

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