To a large extent, sales professional and Sales Manager alike place a heavy emphasis on their “first impression” of the other when deciding whether they want to work together. Evidence of this is the frequency with which we hear both sides share “I knew within 5 minutes…” after the first interview. A recent Harvard Business Review article sheds light on how we form first impressions and their limitations in guiding good decisions. Understanding these limits is a big key in making better choices. Relating this back to sales interviews, I believe that first impressions are at the root of many mishires. In this article I hope to share several pitfalls with sales interview first impressions and give you a few tips to make better career choices.

How First Impressions Serve Us.

The gut reaction you feel when you first encounter another person or situation can prove crucial in high stakes, snap judgement situations. This “feel” is based on the sum of your life experiences and is rooted in a subconscious process designed to guide us when we don’t have time enough to think through a situation. Essentially, the “first impression” is a decision making shortcut that works well when we’re facing an important decision that needs to be made quickly. Unfortunately, we rely on first impressions even when we have the time and opportunity to thoroughly evaluate a person or situation. Relating this back to a sales interview, I’d like to share a few examples of how I’ve seen first impressions steer Sales Managers and sales reps wrong.

Sales Interviews – Examples of How First Impressions Fail Us.

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The body of research points towards a link between attractiveness and sales performance. The researchers of one article suggested that “more attractive agents may be using beauty to supplement, rather than to complement, other productive activities.” In other words, it’s easier for attractive sales reps to sell but they don’t work as hard as their less attractive peers. On balance, this aligns with my own observations. Attractiveness correlates positively with the ability to sell and negatively with grit and perseverance.

Likeability.

A key lens used in making our first impressions is trust. We tend to trust likeable people. The challenge is that likeability doesn’t correlate very well with performance. I’ve blogged previously how Likeability is Overrated in Sales Hiring.

Extraversion.

Especially in its friendlier forms, extraversion can be a very appealing trait. Unfortunately, research shows that introverts and extraverts perform similarly in sales. To that end, our first impressions might lead us to work for a more extraverted but less competent boss.

Reminds me of.

Human beings love using comparisons to help bring certainty to uncertain situations. This phenomenon is on full display during the NFL draft. 2 years ago, Hall of Famer Jerry Rice shared that a certain first round draft pick reminded him of Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young before calling him a “no brainer”. The player he was referencing? Johnny Manziel.

Don’t Let First Impressions Bypass Discernment.

Many simply stop evaluating a sales rep, job or potential boss if their first impression is strong. Unfortunately, the interview process becomes more of a technicality than a series of stringent vetting stages. To counteract this, the easiest way to prevent a first impression from influencing you to make a bad choice is to continue evaluating. The HBR article at the top of this blog called this shifting from “phase one” evaluation (the first impression), to “phase two” which is a more “thoughtful” and “informed” approach to decision making. If you’re interested in how to make better decisions I recommend Harvard Professor, Dan Gilbert’s Why we make bad decisions Ted Talk. His research shows that “our brains systematically misjudge what will make us happy”. In other words, it’s not just first impressions that contribute to decision making mistakes.