When you get emotionally impacted by a candidate's first impression the likelihood of making the best hiring decision is reduced by 50%.

As bad, when you overvalue a person's technical skills before the person's team skills the likelihood of making the best hiring decision is reduced by another 50%.

However, by putting your reaction to a candidate's first impression into the parking and assessing the person's team skills first, you'll increase the accuracy of every single hiring decision you'll ever make.

Here's the why and the how of this rather contentious contention.

Most interviewers tend to unconsciously go out of their way to prove a person with a good first impression is competent. Similarly, they go out of their way to prove a person with a weak first impression is incompetent. Under this spell of first impression bias many attractive, affable, articulate and assertive candidates are hired who under-perform. Under the same spell many top people are not hired since they don't fit the hiring manager's mistaken belief of what a strong candidate needs to look, act and sound like.

The problem is demonstrated in the 2X2 grid. What I've discovered through trial and error is that hiring errors due to first impression bias can be eliminated by assessing team skills at the beginning of the interview. Here's how this is done.

  1. Script the opening of the interview to increase objectivity. By scripting the first 30 minutes of the interview, everyone will be asked the same questions. The Appendix to The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired has a complete set of sample scripts that cover the first 30 minutes of the interview.
  2. Measure first impressions at the end of the interview. Whether the impact of first impressions is important for on-the-job success or not, it's important to assess it objectively. At the end of the interview ask yourself whether the person's first impression will help or hinder on-the-job performance.
  3. Shift your point of view 180°. By assessing team skills before technical skills, you'll quickly understand how others reacted to the candidate both technically and interpersonally. Start with a work history review looking for the Achiever pattern and as part of this ask this team question:

Can you please describe a major recent team accomplishment?

Role playing this question will help to better understand its value. Have the candidate start by describing the accomplishments and then ask the following clarifying questions:

  • Who was on the team and what roles did they play?
  • When did it occur and what was your assigned role? Did this change at all during the project?
  • How did you get on the team and did you select any of the team members?
  • What were the objectives of the team and were they met?
  • Describe the plan or project and how the team was managed. Were you part of this?
  • What was your biggest contribution to the team? How were you recognized formally for this?
  • Who did you influence the most? Did you coach anyone? Did anyone coach you?
  • What did you like most about the team? Least?
  • What would you change if you could about the team makeup?
  • Who were the executives on the team and did you influence them in any way?
  • What was the biggest team problem or conflict you faced and how did you handle it?

This team question and fact-finding reveals a lot about any candidate's team skills. When the same questions are asked for other major team accomplishments with different timeframes even more is learned. The trend of a person's team accomplishments provides tremendous insight about the candidate. Growth in the size, scope, scale and importance of the teams indicates the candidate is respected and trusted by senior people in the company. How and why the person got selected confirms work quality, reliability, cultural fit, the ability to deal with customers, vendors and executives and if the person has developed a cross-functional and strategic perspective.

Focusing on team skills this way is vital, especially since too many interviewers overvalue a candidate's first impressions and his/her individual contribution and technical skills when deciding whether to hire the person or not. You can improve your hiring success rate by more than 100% by putting your first impression bias in the parking lot for 30-60 minutes and focusing on the person's team skills and team growth. As you'll discover, some of the best people in the world aren't great interviewers and some of the least best are.