Don't Trust Your First Judgment

October 1, 2013

People are told, “trust your gut,” when making important decisions, but that may not be the best advice when deciding to hire a new employee according to Dr. Allen Huffcutt.

“Don’t trust your first judgment. We always put so much stock in first impressions,” said Huffcutt, Caterpillar Professor of Psychology and a leading researcher on improving the accuracy of employment interviews. “Research shows first impressions aren’t that great. It’s easy to think, ‘this is the one.’ But it is usually best to hold on and keep digging.”

He also said job interviews conducted by panels can be problematic as panelists tend to influence each other and develop a sort of group outlook.

Huffcutt has studied ways to structure, standardize, and evaluate job interviews for more than 25 years. He wants to improve the way interviewers assess job-related characteristics and what influences those assessments. He cited standard advice, such as having a firm handshake or making eye contact, as factors that don’t tell much about job skills but can impress and manipulate an interviewer’s perception. 

“It’s just an authentic, universal part of the hiring process,” he said about job interviews. “The interviewer wants to pick the most qualified person and the person being interviewed is determined to present themselves in the best possible light. You have that mismatch of goals and motivations.”

Huffcutt, who has taught at Bradley since 1992, has written books and scholarly papers and presented at conferences. His research also studies how far job candidates will go to manage the impression they create, such as enhancing real experiences or adding experiences that are inaccurate or even fictional. He said that because of legal concerns, it is harder to check candidate’s claims, noting that companies often will only confirm job titles and employment dates because of liability issues. The more structured the interview environment, with the same questions asked in the same way to all applicants, the better the chances for a successful interview. “Structure is a dominant force in conducting the interview,” Huffcutt noted. 

The practical side of his research makes his organizational and industrial psychology course (Psy 321) attractive to students from several disciplines. The current employment situation and economy make his work worthwhile to companies and individuals as they try to maximize value and reduce costs and major corporations regularly contact him seeking advice.

The time and expense in bringing job applicants in for interviews has led to companies exploring alternatives, such as conducting interviews by phone or online via Skype, Huffcutt explained. There is much less research investigating the influence that these alternative mediums have on the interview process.

Hiring the right person is more critical today than ever before. “Nowadays, companies are running in such a way that one bad choice can drag things down. There is a definite trend toward doing a lot of screening, then bringing in your final candidates,” Huffcutt said, adding that the intrigue and challenge of perfecting the interview process fuels his research. “We keep putting in pieces of the puzzle, but we’re still nowhere close to solving the whole puzzle.”