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When you meet someone, it’s common to immediately form an impression of that person – for example whether they are an angry, happy or sad person based often solely on a person’s facial features. But, how often do you think that is an accurate assessment? You can check out some of your perceptions in this HCI webinar presented by SkillSurvey featuring Princeton Professor Alexander Todorov. According to his research, people make a lot of decisions based on a person’s facial features – and they’re most often wrong.

When we first read the book review for Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions, by Dr. Todorov, we were intrigued because it focuses on what is a top issue in recruiting– people’s reliance on their gut instincts. Recruiters strive to show hiring managers hard evidence that candidates have what it takes to be successful. But we are always fighting the natural tendencies of humans, “faced with partial information, our brains are wired to take shortcuts to help us in our decision-making,” according to Dr. Todorov.

When we’re hiring and seeking to fill in the true picture of a job candidate, the inputs available are incredibly limited. “Appearance plays a large role in deciding whether to trust another person – especially in one-shot transactions where information about past behavior is sparse.” states Dr. Todorov in his book. In fact, in addition to your own perceptions and the snap judgements hiring teams may make – virtually all of the information that we’re receiving is one-sided in that it is what is being presented by the candidate.

In the webinar, you can see examples of computer-morphed video images of faces and other photos and how they are typically perceived. Dr. Todorov shows that it takes just one tenth of a second of seeing a face before you have enough information to make up your mind. First impressions are literally single glance impressions. He’s also shown the impact of these judgements in the world:

  • CEOs with more competent-looking faces get higher compensation packages.
  • People with trustworthy-looking faces are more likely to get better loan rates.
  • Job candidates who happen to look like past employees who performed well were evaluated as more qualified than those whose faces resembled not-so-good past employees even though they had similar resumes.

It’s helpful to be aware of all the ways our minds are taking shortcuts and making decisions based on face value and take steps to combat it:

  • Recruiters and hiring managers need more sources of data to make hiring decisions.
  • Past behavior is among the most predictive sources of data when it comes to future success.
  • And, the most reliable source of information about past behavior comes from a candidate’s references – people who have worked with the candidate in the past.

SkillSurvey can help you obtain behavioral insights from managers, coworkers and direct reports – on the soft skills that relate to job success. Our online process allows references to provide feedback based on their observations of a candidate’s past performance, so you get more data points on which to base your hiring decisions.

The more we know and are aware of the misleading value of first impressions, the more we can open our minds to incorporating more reliable sources of information.

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