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Why the First Impression Isn’t Always the Right Impression

When you’re a hiring manager or part of your supervisory duties is to interview candidates for your team, then there’s a good chance that you pay attention to the first impression someone gives you. If someone comes into the interview looking tired, disheveled, or they send you a negative vibe, you probably won’t put much weight on their answers. Yet far too many hiring managers are finding that candidates are able to “fake” a good first impression, causing what ends up to be a big hiring mistake.

Just about everyone who is responsible for hiring has made a bad hire or two over the years. It can rob you of your confidence, cause long-term problems for your team, and then there’s the financial costs of training someone you end up not wanting to keep. Here’s how you can avoid the trap of only seeing one side of a candidate during an interview.

#1. Don’t focus on their traits. Focus on the candidate’s behaviors instead. Anyone with a few bucks can polish an application to make it look like a million bucks. Look at their behavioral cues to see if they match. If they say they’re energetic, is the interview room filled with positive energy? Or do you feel like you need an IV filled with scotch once you’re through?

#2. Focus on what they perceive to be failure. Questions about a candidate’s weakness or how they responded to failure are common during the interview process. The goal here is to see if the candidate was able to learn from their mistakes. If all you’re hearing is a bunch of excuses as a response, then maybe it’s time for your dog to “accidentally” chew up their application.

#3. Handling conflict is more important than being a “team player.” Every job requires some level of interpersonal interactions. Instead of talking about the need to work with others, listen for labels that they may assign to people with challenging personalities. Relationships are more complex than someone “being difficult” or “micromanaging me,” so look for complex answers about how conflict is handled for better results.

#4. Listen to the body language. It is easy to confuse confidence with arrogance. It’s also equally easy to confuse defensiveness or indifference with confidence. Sometimes the most competent people sit back, cross their arms, and listen more to what you have to say. That’s because they’re reading you to see if you’d be a good candidate as an employer. If someone is invading the space of others, not making eye contact, or disguising a smile with a sneer, then what you’ve got on your hands is an attitude of contempt. You don’t want that in the workplace.

#5. Look for something substantive. Many people are skilled enough to adapt their personality, body language, and overall attitude to what they think you’re going to want in an employee. Many managers see this and stop looking for substantive answers because they’ve been seduced by how articulate and eloquent the candidate before them happens to be. If someone can edit themselves in an interview, then they can become a very manipulative employee in your office.

The goal of an interview is to make sure you get the assessment of a potential candidate as correct as possible. We all have gut feelings that we follow and other subconscious influences that affect our choices. With these tips in mind, however, you can help to make sure that the first impression you receive is an authentic one instead of one that was created for your benefit.

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