9 Snap Judgments Managers Make in Job Interviews

By Jeff Haden | August 23, 2011

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. (Although I didn’t always avoid making one of the biggest hiring mistakes.)

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.


My Story

Being in my job for a few years, i’ve conducted quite a fair number of interviews sourcing for potential candidates for my team’s position.

The article above, i feel is steered towards “ang-moh” countries culture where candidates have to voice out, while we Asians are of a more conservative and introvert bunch. Nevertheless the differences in culture, i do think that some points are still valid to an extend.

  • The candidate is late. – I have encountered quite a number of late candidates, most of them would apologize and blame it on the traffic or getting lost finding the place. I personally don’t find those as valid reasons. If it’s the traffic, you should have planned and left for the place earlier, being early in interviews doesn’t harm but being late does! Getting lost finding the place? I would be thinking, you didn’t bother to prepare enough – don’t you do a search in google map or gothere.sg before you come down? Of course, if either map does not detect the place, maybe the office is new or restricted area access, i would think it’s still excusable. I just don’t like people who blame others for things that doesn’t goes right, but themselves.

The worst lot – who don’t inform that they are going to be late, arrived without a word of apology

  • The candidate complains. – Don’t complain at the slightest bit, you’re being judged at all different perspective. I wouldn’t want to hire a potential pessimistic and brings negativity influence to my team members.
  • The candidate tries to take charge.  – Employers need people who can lead and follow. It’s ok if you can’t lead, at least you can follow. But if you just want to lead without following, maybe a CEO position would be a more suitable job for you.
  • Honesty – If you do not have experience in this area, you better not act like you know it. We can easily throw some technical questions to you and the way you answer it, we know how good you are. And if given a range to rate yourself on how good you are at the skill, especially you are a fresh graduate with not much experiences, probably just FYP, don’t give yourself a rating of > 8 / 10. We’ll admire your confidence very much, but sorry, we Asians need humble and realistic people.

I think different interviewers have different expectations and opinions, sometimes you just need some luck that you’ll meet the interviewer who has the same values as you are.

One comment

  1. Heera says:

    Nice article but though would like to read your another story of other side of the coin for example the dying fashion of replying to job applications by the employers like using at least an auto message as if they don’t care, is that also about being conservative?

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