How Important Is the Initial Response of Individuals in the Hiring Process?

By Jerry Sain, Director, CVCC Writing Center

Batteries Image

Recently, I stopped by the local home improvement store to purchase spare batteries for the remote home devices.

I was slightly overwhelmed by the vast number of options available.

The uncertainty involved in making my selection reminded me of an article that I had read earlier in the day.

I was selecting a product on the basis of some unknown bias—that the brand I bought would provide the longest lasting service.

The selection process reminded me of the uncertainty of the hiring process.

Psychologists understand that the “biased mind” shows favoritism or partiality to objects or people influenced by predisposed thinking

The point of the shopping story is that, clearly, many other people like myself, often make less than informed decisions on a daily basis when faced with uncertainty.

Research suggests that such ambiguous decisions are subject to recent events that often rely on some unrecognized, preconceived notions rather than well-considered information.

Robin Roberts, CEO of the company Rehearse-it, an interview performance enterprise, studied academic and government research on decision-making from a number of behavioral science authorities in the world.

While investigating decision-making strategies, Roberts wanted to learn how decision points in “critical meetings” emerged.

For example, “critical meetings” commonly occur when making financial investments or hiring decisions, where decision makers are strongly biased by behavioral cues of others.

My indecision over a simple purchase echoes the research observations that decision-making strategies for hiring potential employees is subject to similar unknown biases.

I must admit that my limited familiarity with the brand of batteries I decided to purchase affected my decision.

Prior knowledge encourages most people to rely upon mental shortcuts when making decisions.

Those mental shortcuts, called heuristics, allow us to simply ignore information and rely upon our biases and opinions to guide our behavior in uncertain situations.

The memories we associate with individuals or with past experience with products contribute to what psychologist Daniel Kahneman refers to as confirmation bias.

People typically look for confirming evidence more often than disconfirming facts in an effort to “seek…data that are likely to be compatible with the beliefs they currently hold” according to the author of Thinking, Fast and Slow.

People have a tendency to follow suggestions, especially when they are “compatible with the beliefs they currently hold” says Kahneman.

When job applicants meet potential employers for the interview, confirmation bias as well as heuristics related to behavior and appearance may be at work in the decision-making process.

Adam Gordon, author of “Win First Seconds of a Job Interview and Ride Tailwind of Confirmation Bias” in Forbes magazine cited a study by the University of Glasgow, in which “interviewers’ decisions about a candidate are set within the first half of the first one second of the interview.”

Roberts suggests that if the initial reaction to an individual by human resource interviews meets the standards of their expectations as well as matching prior conceptions of the right person for the job, that employers will “unconsciously seek to confirm their first gloss approval” by posing less difficult questions and fewer challenges.”

While individuals conducting job interviews may be unaware of the biases that are affecting their decisions, their choices often reflect instantaneous judgments about interactions with other individuals who have met the requirements for similar hires.

The truisms about the initial handshake, eye contact, and body language that mirrors the actions of the person conducting the interview are claims that behavioral research claims as adding greater value to the initial response of the interviewer than most recognize.

Essentially, the checkboxes for hiring, such as skills, training, and experience, most likely have been predetermined with the job application and the resume.

The real test for compatibility or the ability to function well in an environment without problems or conflict comes with the face-to-face meeting that relies upon an emotional and intuitive intelligence.

This personal evaluation of rapport and harmony may be highly informed by the interviewer’s bias that you are the best candidate for the job.

Apparently, the human response to the uncertainty of decision-making when bringing a new employee on board relies heavily upon bias and intuition.

Knowing that the interviewer lacks all the information needed to make a purely logical choice when hiring is valuable to the job seeker.

This knowledge should lead job applicants to create the most positive human connection possible during the initial impression in the interview process.

To land that next position, make your first impression confirm that you are the perfect candidate to energize and recharge that position while adding greater value to the organization.