Your Perception vs. Reality

Hiring Lessons Relearned at 33,000 Feet

lady or womanEarlier this month I was returning from a business trip when catastrophe happened at 33,000 feet — I had finished my book, read the airline magazine, eaten lunch, was wide awake and had 4 1/2 hours of flying left! Out of sheer boredom, I donned my earphones and watched “Spiderman.” (I don’t have enough thumbs pointing south to tell you what I really thought of the movie!)

But, there was one nugget of a scene that made it worthwhile for me. In it, our protagonist, nerdy Peter (soon to be Spiderman) Parker is in his backyard one night with his next- door neighbor, Mary Jane, who he has been secretly in love with since he was six. In a touching scene Peter is sympathizing with Mary Jane’ about her hard life with her father. Peter offers wonderful words of encouragement. When he finishes, Mary Jane visibly heartened by his words, looks into his eyes and says, “Peter, I never realized you were so — tall! You’re taller than you look.” In that instant — with those words — Peter Parker became taller and larger in life than Mary Jane had ever thought — her perception of him changed in that one moment.

The Hiring Dilemma — Perception vs. Reality

Hiring is a very judgmental process. As hiring managers we’re being paid to make judgments about people. But, we need to make these decisions based on facts and reality. How do we do this when our perceptions of a person come very quickly and easily and our emotions get in the way?

Here’s what usually happens in our hiring process:

Scenario #1

You’re a hiring manager who works out religiously. You’re in great shape and believe strongly in the sound body/sound mind philosophy of life. A candidate who is qualified for your job shows up for her interview. This candidate has 30 pounds to lose, hasn’t seen the inside of a gym since high school, and looks like she could use that Macy’s personal shopper! You’re put off immediately. You proceed with the interview with moderate enthusiasm.

Scenario #2

Qualified candidate #2 comes through your door. Hey — the woman reminds you of you! She’s trim and well- groomed, firm handshake, winning smile. Surprise of surprises — she shops where you do, has some friends who went to your alma mater, loves the artwork in your office — need we say more. You’re ready to hire — cancel the other candidate interviews.

While Candidate #1 may have been the better hire, unfortunately, most of us would hire Candidate #2. Why? Because we lose emotional control in the interview process.

Getta Grip!

According to Lew Adler, best-selling author of “Hire with Your Head” we are all susceptible to losing emotional control during the interview process. When this happens, we either “click into” or “turn off” on a candidate based on our emotions. Furthermore, after we “click into” a candidate and are so very enthusiastic, we cannot hear the negative things that candidate may be saying. Conversely, after we “turn off” on a candidate, we can’t hear the positive things.

So, how can we fix that — or at least minimize it?

The “30 Minute Rule”

One antidote that Mr. Alder suggests is suspending our emotional reaction for 30 minutes. (In his book, reviewed below, he writes of more detailed strategies to help you succeed with this.) But, for the quick fix, I’ve boiled it all down to what I call “The 30 Minute Rule.” I’ve used this in our hiring and it works

Here’s how:

  • At the very beginning of the interview, look at your watch and note the time. Write it down. You may even want to jot down one or two words of what that first impression is.
  • Proceed with the interview with questions based solely on the job — keep the interview focused on the job criteria.
  • After 30 minutes, now jot down what your impression of the candidate is.

You’d be surprised how many inches a person can grow — or how many inches they can shed — when you listen to their words and stay focused on their qualifications.

Mr. Adler writes, “There are some great candidates out there who don’t fit our personality or physical templates so well. If you can suspend your emotional reaction for 30 minutes, you’ll find some stars hidden behind your own emotional blinders.”

(By the way, what did you see in the graphic above? The old woman or the beautiful young lady?)

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