A definitive guide on not assessing in just 10 seconds if a candidate is hireable

“It comes with experience. I can tell if a candidate is hireable within the first ten seconds of my interaction”, I heard a senior HR professional say this three years ago when I was eavesdropping at the break time of an HR conference in Hyderabad. I was still fresh on the job, with hardly one year of experience, and I wished if I could be like him one day.

Fast forward to 2021. I couldn’t still be like him. I read a few human behaviour books in the interim, read about body languages, did a formal course on BEI and watched some TED/TEDx videos on the subject since interviewing is one of my favourite things to do. As yet, that’s a dream not come true, and I wish it stays that way.

Back in college days

I come from the middle part of Kerala state and went to undergrad college in a nearby district. I was a hosteler where we had inmates from all across the state. Those who know Malayalam would know that the way Malayalam is spoken differs almost every 100km within the state. I had a friend from Malabar region whom I heard, on the first day on phone, speaking to his mom, “Ningal evide poyathanu?” (verbatim: Where did you go?). The word ‘ningal‘ (=you) is treated as a word without respect, except probably in a formal setting, in my area of living. One would easily get offended if I would use that word.

I was assuming that my friend was angry with his mom and I did ask him if everything was alright. To my surprise, he was all cool. When probed, he told me that it is common to use that word, without any lack of respect, in the Malabar region. That was sort of a cultural shock for me. The life thereafter was full of such cultural shocks, different ideas, fighting over ideologies, settling for compromise, understanding that people would have different opinions and that the world is no binary. That understanding, maybe, comes with age and experience.

Each candidate is a story book that’s not to be read in 10 seconds.

Then why?

Every person’s story is different. Very unique in every aspect. We know our story. We may know a few others’ stories as well. That does not mean that we know every story. Humans have a tendency to look for patterns in everything they pursue. We are like a machine learning algorithm where there are preset stories (knowledge so far) which we try to match with the new entrant. Unless and until we have sufficient data to classify the new entrant, the algorithm will fail. That classification is the learning process, which needs sufficient data to process.

Hence it is very important that we provide sufficient time hearing people out. This is the only basic step to remove our own biases in the evaluation processes. We need to hear people out. We should look for what they have done in the past, and most importantly why they have done those, and try to extrapolate it to what can be done. This process takes time and this is why I don’t digest when one says they can assess if a candidate is worth hiring in the first 10 seconds itself!

Interviewer is not a machine, nor is the candidate

Both are humans. Even the most learned machines need at least a dozen inputs to identify patterns for an evaluation. Then how can a human being, with their very limited knowledge—howsoever big one would assume it to be—understand a candidate in a few seconds? That would mostly be a biased opinion, I may think.

As both the candidate and the interviewer are not machines, we need to listen. A candidate may be late to the interview, they may have dirt on their dress, their language may not be perfect, their hair may not be combed, they may have had a gap in their career—how would one know what’s the story behind it without them telling us? What if they have a story that will justify these? If an interviewer is suddenly decides on the hirability of a candidate, that’s way too unjustifiable for the very same reason.

Way forward

Tech interviewers may have a different reason to identify if a candidate is suitable for a role faster, but HR interviewers should spend sufficient time to listen to stories of the people. Candidates are adults with a totally different life story than ours. This is exactly why some great companies have thorough and sufficiently long interview practices, even if the candidate may possibly seem a bit off in the first few minutes. HR interviewer’s responsibility lies in traversing through the story to see if there is a new story the candidate can build at your company. Past predicts the future and history is not a subject learnt in 10 seconds.

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