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Can You Reserve Judgment Until the 31st Minute?

Judging job applicants too quickly could take a terrible toll on your company.
COLLABORATORS Lou Adler, Troy Henikoff
Can you restrain yourself from passing judgment on a job candidate until the 31st minute of their interview?
photo by flickr user dearbarbie

“When interviewing job candidates, withhold all personal judgments until the 31st minute.”

First impressions only happen once — and if you’re searching for top talent, you should give candidates at least 30 minutes to make one. That’s the advice of executive recruiter Lou Adler, president of the Adler Group.

Too often, hiring managers botch the interview process by allowing their immediate impressions of a candidate to shape the entire interaction. “If you click with someone right away, you go easy on them,” Adler explains. “On the other hand, if you have a bad initial reaction, you tend to ask hardball questions.”

It’s good to be aware of this bias, which can be an unconscious one, so you don’t miss a chance to make a great hire. “One CEO I know found many reasons not to hire a very strong candidate, but what it came down to was, he didn’t like her nervous laugh,” Adler says. He recommends not making decisions about candidates until at least the 31st minute of the interview.

Meanwhile, remember that while candidates are working hard to sell themselves to you, you should work just as hard to sell your company to them. For example, Adler says, a 300-person entertainment company looking for a controller posted a job opening headlined “Oscar-Winning Controller.” The ad talked about how “Everyone will thank you when they win their Oscars and Emmys.” In doing so, “They took a fairly run-of-the-mill position and attracted some great candidates by emphasizing their culture and how they valued the job,” Adler says.



When it comes to hiring, Troy Henikoff (@TroyHenikoff), co-founder of the seed capital firm Excelerate Labs, offers more sound advice: Make sure everyone involved in the decision knows how your internal process works. “Once, when I was heading an early-stage company with no more than 10 employees, I met a great person that I wanted to hire,” Henikoff says. “So I told everyone at the firm that I wanted them to interview her as well. The problem was, I had already made my decision. Of course, they didn’t like her. But I still wanted to hire her, so I had to convince them that they wanted her . . . and she lasted about nine months.”

The lesson? “I screwed up. I wasn’t transparent. You can hire by committee or have it be one person’s decision. Either approach can work — just make sure everyone is clear from the start.”

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Can You Reserve Judgment Until the 31st Minute?

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