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Monday, September 17, 2007

Your first impressions, then second and third

Have you ever encountered a situation when someone seems great at first impression, then lets you down? Or (presumably more rarely), you encounter someone who just doesn't seem right, but turns out to be wonderful and effective?

Is there a way around the problems of false assumptions and stereotypes -- so you hire the right people and, equally important, seek the correct prospects to work with and become your clients?

I believe first impressions are, indeed, important -- but you need to set the stage so you see the right, spontaneous first impression that measures the right thing. And then you need to validate your impressions, quickly.

Take, for example, your decision to hire an employee. Assuming the candidate is not someone you already know (perhaps from a freelance assignment or previous arrangement), do resumes and formal face-to-face interviews provide much useful information? Yes, but you know they are filtered -- both by the stereotyping of the function, and the fact they can be faked to some extent. (Resumes certainly can be dressed up.)

You still want a 'first impression' but is the resume what really matters? Our solution: A pre-employment questionnaire; designed to test certain job related skills, ask one or two screening interview/type questions, and describe the job. Obviously, the candidate's decision not to complete the questionnaire solves the 'first impression' question. And the actual responses, and the way they are presented (and whether they a re consistent with the design and writing style of the resume) provide us with plenty of additional information.

Then, there is the interview. A structured sit-down interview invites stilted questions and responses. A 'surprise' prequalification phone interview provides much better first impression validity. (Of course we are respectful that the call may not actually be convenient to the other person and will reschedule if appropriate -- again, the fact of the inconvenience, however, may be another first impression 'signal' -- is the person at another job, or trying to juggle some hidden problem around?)

These first impressions are vital to us -- without good results on the early going, there is no reason to take it further. But this still doesn't help with the people who know how (either deliberately or intuitively) to 'connect' right away.

We then seek to use objective measuring tools. This can be an online sales test (for salespeople), or (for most candidates) some brief work assignment, either hourly or freelance, that at least partly reflects the actual work. We want to see if the person actually can do the work.

Finally, there is the 'last impression' -- the reference checks and validity; usually at this stage, we've weeded out most problems, but it never hurts to have a final verification (and a clear employment contract).

In other words, sure, first impressions are important -- just be sure the first impressions you are 'counting' really are relevant to the work at hand -- and, whatever you do, validate your impressions before making any commitments.

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