Saturday, October 26, 2013

I’ll Know What I Want When I See It (Part 1)

“We don't know where our first impressions come from or precisely what they mean, so we don't always appreciate their fragility.” – Malcolm Gladwell

Thin-slicing is a term used in psychology and philosophy to describe the ability to find patterns in events based only on "thin slices," or narrow windows, of experience. It’s been around since the early 90’s and was popularized in Malcolm Gladwell’s book titled “Blink” (2005). The concept has been applied to a variety of subjects and situations including bird-watching, art criticism, athletic prowess, gambling and speed-dating. Marital expert, John Gottman has even built a predictive model using thin-slicing. He has shown that by looking and listening to a relatively limited amount of interaction between couples (recently married or soon to be married) one can successfully predict if the marriage will survive.

We all “thin-slice” and are “thin-sliced” whether we realize it or not. It is a major factor in the hiring process. Many employers go to great lengths to minimize negative “thin-slicing” when it comes to selecting, interviewing, evaluating and hiring people. And a few of them actually have some success. They find a way to hire the most qualified person, not just the one the hiring manager likes the most. But most of the time what really happens is that companies just end up hiring the one that the hiring manager likes the most.

So how do you minimize the negative effects of “thin-slicing”? Employers need to have a meaningful job description with specific requirements that go beyond prior work history and education. Know what you really want this person to do and identify the proven abilities, skills and prior accomplishments which correlate most closely to success in this role. And then force yourself to objectively measure candidates against these requirements. Likewise, candidates need to understand the specific requirements of the position. Assuming that a candidate is, in fact, qualified, the challenge is then communicating that to the hiring authority.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a closer look at the positives and negatives of “thin-slicing” from three different perspectives: employer, candidate and headhunter.

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