One of my favorite Gladwellian Theories (Malcolm Gladwell is the king of cool theories) is thin-slicing: the ability to find patterns and make decisions based on the combination of a limited set of data and a wealth of experience. Call them hunches, call them snap decisions, but more often than not thin-slice judgments turn out to be accurate.
Like where hiring employees is concerned.
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I've interviewed thousands of potential employees and hired hundreds of them. Over time I developed the ability to quickly size up a candidate, sometimes even within a minute or two, based on one or two actions or comments. My snap judgments were rarely wrong.
I know what you're probably thinking: "But that is so unfair. You owed it to every candidate to wait until the interview was over to draw an overall conclusion. You can't make a hiring decision based on one or two minutes out of an hour-long interview."
Fair enough. But keep in mind most interviewers do the same thing. In fact, the more experienced the interviewer the more likely they are to make snap judgments. Fair or unfair, we're heavily influenced by first impressions or by what experience indicates are pivotal moments. If you're the job candidate you can either complain about the unfairness of it all and blow the interview, or accept that fact and use it to your advantage.
Here are some positive thin-slices:
• The candidate immediately thanks me for the interview and says they're excited about the opportunity. I want you to be glad you're here. I want you to be excited about the job. If you're not thankful and excited now you definitely won't be thrilled after six months on the job. Plus an overt "let me see if this job is a good fit for me" interview can often be painful for the interviewer; even if over the course of the interview you realize you really want the job, you probably already lost us. Emotion — positive emotion — is good.
• The candidate needs to make "truck payments." Years ago I was in charge of part-time employees at a manufacturing plant. Full-time employees were required to work heavy overtime but part-time employees were not, making coverage (and my job) difficult. When I asked a part-time candidate about their willingness to work overtime I loved the guys who said, "I'll work all the overtime I can get. I bought a new truck and the payments are killing me." Every job has a hot button requirement: Maybe it's frequent travel, maybe it's last-minute overtime, maybe it's a particular skill… a candidate who finds out the position's hot button and meets it is 90% home.
• The candidate is late — but doesn't tell me why. Say you're late for an interview. Don't tell me about traffic or bad directions or parking problems. Just say, "I'm sorry I'm late. If I've thrown off your day I will be glad to reschedule whenever it's convenient for you." Take ownership, don't make excuses, and offer ways to make things better. Nothing ever goes perfectly, and knowing you will take responsibility and work to fix problems is impressive.
• The candidate asks for the job. Salespeople ask for the sale, and candidates should ask for the job. Just say, "Thanks for the interview. I really enjoyed speaking with you. And I would really love to work here." Why should I offer you something you're not willing to ask for?
And some negative thin-slices:
• The candidate complains. Most people know not to complain about their present employer, but any complaint is a downer. Say you notice a photo of my family standing front of the Colosseum. You say, "Wow, I've always wanted to go to Italy… I've just never been able to afford it." Even gentle whining is a bummer. Don't complain about anything, no matter how justified. Negatives always stand out.
• The candidate isn't ready. Don't you hate when you're standing in line at the grocery store and the person in front of you waits until all their items have been scanned and bagged before they reach into their wallet for their checkbook? The same is true in an interview: Have your resume and everything else you need all set to go. Hit the ground running and immediately focus on the interviewer. "Work" is a verb. Make "interview" a verb too.
• The candidate tries to take charge. Everyone likes a leader… just not in an interview. Feel free to subtly shape the interview and lead the conversation into areas that showcase your strengths, but don't try to take over. Employers need people who can lead and follow. Plus, be honest, you trying to take over is really irritating.
• The candidate gets "comfortable." I want you to be relaxed and at ease during the interview, but I also want you to sit up, sit forward, and show the interview matters to you. Kicking back says you don't really care.
• The candidate asks throw-away questions. Here's the golden rule: When asked if you have any questions, don't make a few up to try to impress me. If you have no questions, say so. Don't ask about something you could have easily learned on your own. Don't ask questions designed to make you look good. In short, don't ask what you think I want to hear. Interviewers can tell, and it ends the interview on a down note.