Photo credit: Rttmsdag, DeviantArt
Psychological assessment and selection is based on the assumption that the more information you get, the more accurate and valid the assessment gets. Generally speaking this is a valid assumption in many cases. However, there might be some exceptions to this rule. Some qualities may be more reliable assessed by intuitive-like first impressions. These first impressions can also be called ”thin slices of behavior.”
First scientific evidence of this was attained in 2009 when Katherine A. Fowler, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Christopher J. Patrick published a study about detecting psychopaths from brief (5 – 20 second) samples of interviews. They concluded that the features of psychopathy can be reliably and validly detected by lay raters from these very brief samples – the briefer the better. Ordinary people detected psychopaths from very brief samples.
How can this be possible? What might be the mechanisms behind this phenomenon? One plausible explanation is that the longer we observe or interact with someone, the more we interpret – and sometimes distort – the information. As we humans have used to live in communities and are used to cooperate, it is possible that in a situation where we unconsciously try to explain our observations and feelings in a positive way to have better possibilities to cooperation. If we have strange feelings whilst discussing with somebody, we might explain the feelings: ”Maybe I’m just tired”…”Maybe I have a bad day”…”Maybe she has a bad day”…”Maybe she has been ill treated in her previous workplace and that makes her grumpy”…
Being able to detect some vitally important qualities very quickly (like psychopathy) might stem from humans’ long evolutionary history. If you couldn’t detect quickly who’s dangerous you simply wouldn’t survive.
When conducting personnel assessment or an interview often the problem is to find an optimal combination of using enough of information but not too much. Listening to your intuition but being analytic and systematic at the same time is the challenge. Intuitive information is hard to document and quantify and it is also subject to bias – but it is possible that incapacity to trust your intuition and first impressions makes assessment inaccurate.
As a recruiter, what can you do to ensure to use also first impression and intuitive judgments to the fullest? How to use these thin slices of behavior to the fullest?
Here are some tips that I have used in my interviews.
- Before the interview: Take care that your mood is a bit on the positive side. Intuition works best when we are on a good mood. Different methods for ensuring this good mood can be variable. Thinking about all the wonderful things I can learn when discussing with different people works for me.
- Before the interview: Put conscious attention to the environment (room) where you conduct the interview. You create a more relaxed and honest atmosphere in a room that is quite informal. For example, no big tables in between of you and the interviewee. A great thing to do is also to walk around in the workplace together if that is possible.
- Interview with someone else – a colleague, HR-professional, team mate… You are able to concentrate better on observation if you take turns in asking the questions and observing. After the interview you can compare your impressions – do they match?
- Make really quick brief notes: don’t think too much about what you write down, just record impressions. Impressions tend to fade if you don’t record them immediately.
- In the long run, collect information about the performance of recruited employees. Only in that way you can understand what kind of impressions and other data collected during the recruitment really predicts good future work performance.
Lilli Sundvik, Ph. D. (Psych)