My Faulty First Impression

Susan BoyleWow, I was expecting something totally different. Yes, from Susan Boyle, but also from Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter post this morning referencing her, with a link, saying this was another reason he believes all interviews should be done by phone.

Yes, I thought. Exactly. Susan Boyle is an excellent example of how our brains look for shortcuts, forming our opinions long before we realize we’ve decided what to think. From then on, we interpret all facts through that filter of opinion.

Generally speaking this is a good thing. Our brains use our experience to judge circumstances quickly, allowing split-second reactions. If it looks like poison oak, you avoid it like poison oak. When the movie starts Freddy Krueger music, you brace yourself. If you’re in a dark alley and a shadow moves… But then there’s Susan Boyle. We make mistakes.

From well-respected geologist Charles Dawson’s hoax of Piltdown Man to our actual greater, measurable enjoyment of a wine we believe is more expensive: we filter the world to match our expectations. Often only when we are spectacularly wrong, such as in the case of Susan Boyle, do we feel the surprise of noticing our faulty assumptions.

Similarly when we meet people we form first impressions, and interpret information to fit them. If you think a good singer looks like Kelly Clarkson and Susan Boyle walks through the door, your only chance to understand her talent is to ask her to sing. Without that opportunity to see her perform, you’ll filter her story through that same lense of disbelief. When you see a candidate that does not look the part, if she can’t sing for you, she loses the opportunity to blow you away. 

And those perceptions persist, regardless of performance. In the NBA, an industry almost obsessed with continual citing of hard athlete performance data, Staw and Hoang showed that for every round later in the draft a player is picked, he gets about 23 minutes less playing time than a player of equal demonstrated performance. He’ll also leave the league more than three years earlier than his counterpart. Likewise someone reading deep in the details that a presenter is a warm person or a cold person is most likely to evaluate them after the presentation as exactly that – warm or cold, whichever was read earlier.

So it made perfect sense what Guy said. Eliminate faulty first impressions from a candidates looks by doing the interview over the phone, and increase your chances of making your decision based on facts.

And then I clicked on the link and found out that’s not what he meant at all.

Update: After creating this post, Guy Kawasaki tweeted back that, in this case, my first impression was correct: ”My message is that phone interviews are good because it help(s) you not form false first impressions….you won’t even consider talent if you make first-impression decisions.”