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The Number One Hiring Mistake That You're Probably Making

First impressions are powerful ~ will the first date pave way for a second? Will the LinkedIn connect lead to a sale? Can the eager interviewee transform sweaty palms and dry mouth into career magic? In fact, first impressions are so paramount you’re probably weighing if this article is worth reading solely based on my first sentences. (How am I doing so far?) Along with getting second dates and sales leads, first impressions are also, unfortunately, the common denominator of many bad hiring decisions.

The Hiring Mistake

According to Monster, many recruiters derive go/no -go conclusions within the first six minutes of an interview, and many say the first 90 seconds are imperative for making a good first impression. Even more alarming, one study in 2000 revealed that judgments made in the first 10 seconds of an interview could predict the outcome of the interview. From a hiring perspective, these quick, uncognitive, and emotional decisions are a disaster and contribute to about 50% of hiring mistakes. In fact, from any perspective these quick decisions can lead to disaster. Imagine applying this philosophy to anything else in your life: would 10 seconds be enough to buy a car, choose a partner, or decide you even want the new job you’re interviewing for? Would 6 minutes even be enough? (We’re hoping you’re saying no at this point.)

We think we can tell a lot about a person quickly — we have this bias that makes us think we can tell a person’s Myers-Briggs, Birkman, and Enneagram scores just by the way they smile or shake a hand. But we can’t; vital decisions, like hiring, retention, and the makeup of a team, should not be made within the blink (or a few blinks) of an eye. Hiring requires contemplation, deep thought, and most of all, money. Hiring on an impulse is costly not only financially, but to your team, and, let’s be honest, your Glassdoor ratings. (Let’s make sure that Glassdoor is NOT a revolving one.) A high turnover rate looks good on no one.

According to thought leader and recruiting expert Lou Adler, first impressions are indeed (and unfortunately) what set the stage for the entire interview. Hiring managers did what we just talked about — made an assumption within the first few seconds — and then spent the entire interview reinforcing that assumption.

“Those who made a good first impression were instantly assumed to be competent and the interviewer used the balance of the interview to seek out evidence to support the initial reaction. If the candidate made a weak first impression, the interviewer would assume the person was incompetent and proactively went out to prove it. Questions that could quickly prove them wrong were unconsciously avoided.”

Lou Adler, The One Hiring Mistake Everyone Makes and How to Avoid It

How to Avoid the Number One Hiring Mistake

So, how does one avoid falling into the pit of the first impression? How can you push aside the honeymoon phase of how someone made you initially feel and make an objective, balanced decision? Here are 5 tips for how to make better hiring decisions:

  1. Study the candidate’s resume ahead of time to get an understanding of their key accomplishments and past successes. Have a concrete knowledge of their past and weigh that against the requirements for your job opening. Just how qualified is this person for this particular job?

  2. Have a phone call ahead of time to screen candidates. This will eliminate any initial judgments of their dress and their body language, even over zoom. 

  3. Take notice when a candidate has impressed you early on and be intentional to make your hiring decision at the end of the interview. Wait at least 30 minutes and allow the first impression to fade before making any decisions. Then ask yourself, are you hiring someone who’s good at interviewing or who will be good at their job?
  4. Make hiring decisions with others in your organization. Although you may have been initially impressed, someone else may not have been quite as won over and will be able to balance out your emotional reaction with a rational one. Perhaps consider a panel interview to get multiple perspectives on a candidate.

  5. Have a structured interview style to even out the playing field. Include a work sample test and cognitive tests as those have been shown to predict job performance well (as Google does in their hiring process, and they’re doing pretty alright).

2020 Team Photos (3)James Bustard

Partner | Recruitment Director

James is a senior recruitment leader who supports brands across tech, retail, education, professional services, consumer packaged goods, etc., in their search for top-performing marketing talent. With his educational background in psychology, he is passionate about the intersection of people and business.


Smart, Savvy + AssociatesSmart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. As a people performance company, we specialize in finding marketing and communications talent in the Pacific North West. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.

James Bustard

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