Sales Performance - Does it Correlate with First Impressions?

Posted by Dave Kurlan on Mon, Feb 07, 2011 @ 06:02 AM

Last week I interviewed 16 candidates for 4 positions for 3 clients.  The interviews took place either by phone, high definition video conference, in my office, or in our conference room.  We aren't recruiters but we do help clients with recruiting and selection when they lack the bandwidth to do it themselves or when their track record from doing it themselves isn't pretty.

Coincidentally, I also happened to be reading two chapters in Malcom Gladwell's book, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures, on Talent and Interviews.  He wrote that people form opinions of others, including at interviews, in as little as the first 2 seconds, and everything that happens after that supports the opinion formed.  For example, if your first impression caused you to like a candidate, and later during the interview she pushed back, you might think, "Wow, she's bold!"  On the other hand, if your first impression caused you to dislike a candidate who later pushed back, you might think, "Wow, he's such a jerk!"

Hold that thought.

Let me talk about the first impressions and the follow up thoughts I had on 3 candidates.

I met candidate #1 in our reception area and my first impression was, "Oh boy, what awful hair!"  He was at least my age (55) and his eyebrows were very light brown, so the hair shouldn't have been jet black and it certainly shouldn't have been combed up (think 70's on a woman) so high.  I hadn't spoken with him in person yet and already I didn't like him for the position!  But I forced myself to recall the phone conversation I had with him the previous week where he scored off the charts.  Sure enough, he had a terrific demeanor, was clearly a superior salesperson and was a very likeable guy.  I was able to override my first impression.  BUT, how would my client, very particular about appearances, react to his bad hair and, even more importantly, how would their existing and potential customers react?  Would they be motivated to do what I had done and look beyond the hair?  Smart as I can be about such things, I don't leave thoughts like that to chance.  So I confronted him about his hair, learned that a college professor friend had advised him to color it for the interview, and he agreed to get it cut and let the black fade away.

I met candidate #2 an hour later and he was angry.  Real angry.  His car hit a pot hole just before pulling into the parking lot and cracked an axle - although he didn't know the actual diagnosis when he walked in the door.  And he was mad at me because he drove to the wrong office.  He was supposed to be interviewing with the client, not me. Fortunately, rare as it is, my client happened to be just 10 minutes down the road and offered to come to our office.  Guess how that interview went?  In this case the first 2 seconds could not be undone.

Candidate #3 was someone I interviewed by phone and liked for the position.  After I attempted to schedule the follow up interview with my client, he sent me two emails that scared the hell out of me.  They were nasty, aggressive, mean, accusitory, cuss-laden and immature.  They were bad enough so that I changed my mind and decided not to allow this candidate to meet my client.  I couldn't see that behavior coming from the phone interview but the assessment did say he would get emotionally involved, that he didn't have any need for approval, and that he didn't recover well from rejection. That combination is not usually problematic but when it's a lunatic all bets are off! The funny thing is that he was never rejected!  It turns out that I didn't receive one of the emails he sent so he assumed that I rejected him and BANG. 

Do we form those first impressions that Gladwell wrote about?  Yes, I would say we do.  Do they support the rest of what we see and hear from that point forward?  The three examples above demonstrate that it may not always be the case.  I would like to think that the Sales Leaders, CEO's, Presidents and Sales Development Experts I have trained to interview sales candidates would be able to remain objective and unemotional enough to modify the first impressions they get.  My experience tells me that most of the people who interview do in fact make and retain their first impressions, and that's why their track record is so hit or miss with the candidates they decide to hire.  On the job sales performance simply has no correlation with the good first impressions that sales candidates make in their job interviews.  And the bad first impressions?  In most cases we'll never know!

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Topics: Dave Kurlan, sales recruiting, sales management, sales candidates, What the Dog Saw, Malcom Gladwell, sales selection

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Best-Selling Author, Keynote Speaker and Sales Thought Leader.  Dave Kurlan's Understanding the Sales Force Blog earned a medal for the Top Sales & Marketing Blog award for six consecutive years. This article earned a Bronze Medal for Top Sales Blog post in 2016, this one earned a Silver medal for 2017, and this article earned Silver for 2018. Read more about Dave.

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