The first ten seconds of a job interview – The Caveman Brain

Intro

In my previous blog post Do’s and Don’ts of a Job Interview I described the importance of the first ten seconds of a job interview from the interviewee’s standpoint. In this post I will dive into the importance, limitations and traps of the first ten seconds, but focus instead on the interviewer’s standpoint.

The Caveman Brain

Have you ever noticed that when you talk with people you have never met on the phone, you always try to picture what they look like? You try to imagine what their face looks like, if they are tall or short, slim or heavy, if they have dark or light hair, all based on their voice. Of course, when we actually meet the person we usually realize we were completely wrong. What happened was your brain tried to classify the voice into a collection of labels, such as: height: tall, skin color: fair, hair color: brown, weight: somewhat heavy, background: maybe from New York, and so on.

Your brain is doing this because in our early evolutionary stages, for the last tens of thousands of years up until the last few centuries, we needed the ability to make quick decisions based on very little information. You literally had to take one look at someone and decide if he or she was a friend or a foe. Can you trust him or her in a deal? And by “a deal” I mean trading a sheep or a goat. It is much easier for our brain to make decisions based on small number of factors, so we learned to classify anything and everything, and we continue to do so to this very day.

We look at people and make snap decisions about them. We decide that they are fat or thin, black or white, American or foreign, straight or gay, Republican or Democrat, etc. Our brain quickly classifies people all the time, whether we want it to or not. We’re often not even aware of it. I call this part of us the Caveman Brain.

What this has to do with me?

You are probably thinking that this has nothing to do with you. When you’re interviewing someone for a position at your company, you are a professional and experienced interviewer, with a list of questions, tests, and clear criteria for an ideal candidate. So what does this have to do with you?

The reality is it has everything to do with you, because we are people not machines. How many times in the past when you interviewed someone did you get a “bad gut feeling” about him or her? How many times did you “sense something is wrong”? How many times could you “not put your finger on it, but…”? This is our Caveman Brain hinting us towards what it concludes is the best assessment of this person.

Remember that it has nothing to do with intelligence or experience, it is a deeper and more instinctual reaction, like fear, that you can’t control unless you are aware of it. With that in mind, let’s talk about how the Caveman Brain affects the interview process.

The First 10 Seconds of the Job Interview

Our Caveman Brain quickly categorizes anything it sees into small sets of classifications and informs us of its decision, and this happens within the first seconds of seeing our interviewee. Of course for some it takes longer than ten seconds and for others it takes less (they call themselves “intuitive”). The point is that very quickly, before the intelligent part of the brain has had any time to collect substantive information, our Caveman Brain already made a decision and told us about it. Before you asked a single question, some part of you already classified the person, already put them into a neat little box and labeled them.

Let me be clear, I’m not saying we’re all bigots that make snap decisions about people based on their appearance and other shallow factors. I’m just emphasizing the fact that the instinctive safety mechanism nature embedded in us many, many generations ago is still there, and we need to be aware of it when meeting new people.

The goal of a successful interviewer is to reverse the order of things: let the intelligent brain think and collect information, so it can make an informed decision and then let the Caveman Brain add some “gut feeling” to the mix.

Put on a Blindfold

Think of yourself as a judge on “The Voice” TV show, where candidates are judged on their talent before their appearance is even known. I don’t suggest literally covering your eyes, although that would be interesting (should probably try it one day) but rather mentally blocking yourself from focusing on the exterior. Be mindful of the fact that some part of you will want to immediately analyze and categorize the person in front of you, and blindfold it. It’s not simple, but with practice you can do it.

Discuss Anything but the Interview

Take the first few minutes and discuss anything but the interview, talk about the weather, traffic, a movie, etc. It will put the interviewee at ease which should put your Caveman Brain at ease as well. I, for example, go to the waiting area and walk with the candidate, offer the interviewee a drink, chit-chat about something for the first two minutes.

Start with the Intelligent Brain

Some people do just the opposite; they move directly into the interview. They will wait in their office, briefly welcome the candidate and jump right into business. This approach, although it sounds cold and impersonal, has a great advantage: you put your intelligent brain in the driver’s seat from the get-go. It’s harder for the other person, but as the interviewer it’s much easier since you don’t need to shift gears/brains. Again, because this is much less personal make sure to be extra nice.

Post-Interview

Think about the candidate and the interview for a few minutes after the interview is over. Once the person is not in front of you, the Caveman Brain is no longer in charge and the Intelligent Brain is in the driver’s seat. Think, analyze, process and write your thoughts down. Talk with others who interviewed the candidate about their thoughts, and evaluate other perspectives.

Final Thoughts

Doing this is hard, I know, but it’s much harder to find really good people. Now that you know about the Caveman Brain you’ll be more aware of it and hopefully take its suggestions with a grain of salt. There’s nothing wrong with your gut feeling, after all it helped your ancestors survive for generations, just don’t let it drive your business while the Intelligent Brain sits in the passenger’s seat.

 

Running a Startup without Losing Your Family

Prefix

This post is for everyone, married, singles, with children and without. I tried to focus on a few, non-common, lessons I’ve learned along the way. If you don’t have children but plan on having some in the future, please continue reading at your own risk. If you do have children, please sit down…

A starting Point

You really though it will be easier than this, didn’t you? You though you can do it all with time to spare. I can almost hear it “I can do/manage multiple projects at once, how difficult can it be?” or “I’ll just have to be more efficient” or “I will change!” or “my wife will help…” or probably all of the above. Instead, it became your life’s biggest underestimated challenge and you find yourself in an uncharted territory. It is very challenging to have a demanding job while raising a (mentally) healthy family.  I’m not going to tell you that it’s going to be easy or share some “tricks” I’ve learned that will make it all better and easy. There are no easy answers or 10 golden rules that, if followed, life will be rosy and simple. Than again, if you read this post you’re not looking for a simple and rosy life.

However, I will tell you that it IS possible. I will tell you that you don’t have to choose between your carrier and your family! You just have to adjust some things in your life, people’s expectations (including yourself), think about it as much as you think about issues as work, and make even more sacrifices.

Ready?

Balance

Think of your life as a triangle with the following sides: your family life, your professional life, and your personal life.  This triangle needs to fit into a 24 hours timeframe. You can’t increase one side of the triangle without shortening another. The first instinct we have is to believe we can cut our personal life to zero, but it really doesn’t work. Everyone needs some time for themselves, to charge batteries, to enjoy life, to take a break. We don’t even notice it we just end up in front of the TV or with friends or at the gym or at another conference, which cuts the family side of the triangle.

Once you realize the triangle of life and understand that every part of the triangle needs to be represented, you start understanding the need to balance. Many years ago, when my first son was born, my wife kept telling me I have to stop working seven days a week. I didn’t understand what she’s talking about and kept saying I’m only working six days, at most. So she started taking notes every day, when I left and when I came back, when I started working at home and when I finished. After a few weeks she showed me the list. I was shocked. I was working seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day. I didn’t even notice. I realize there was only one side to my triangle and I need to make room for three. I needed to balance my life.

Share is Caring

Many people don’t tell their husband or wife almost anything about their professional life. Yeah, there’s the chit-chat about office stuff and the usual “How was your day honey?” but with no real substance. Starting a business, working on a tough project or any other challenging effort impacts our life and resonates on the other sides of the triangle. There are no firewalls in our head; there is no switch we can turn On or Off when we get home. You can take your clothes off your body but not your mind off things.

The answer is to make everyone at home part of your professional life, your wife/husband, your children, your parents, everyone! The more they understand what it is you do and how important it is to you, the more they’ll help, the more they’ll empathize, the more happy they’ll be when you are, and the more understanding they will be when you’re not.

Once you start sharing you’ll realize how much you gain by it and in ways you can’t imagine. When I explained to my older son what is Docstoc and what I do, he was so exited he started thinking with me about new features and how to make the site better. Many times, before he goes to sleep we think together about new features, the product roadmap, and the features he wants. He’s ten years old.

Be More Efficient At Work Not At Home!

It is important to be efficient, to be able to achieve more in a given unit of time. If you prioritize your tasks in order of importance, you can usually accomplish half your daily list, if you’re good. If you finished your list for the day, you did something wrong… at work, it’s all about efficiency.

At home it’s NOT! You cannot and should not be efficient with your kids or your wife. The concept of “quality time” is nonsense, as you cannot efficiently play with your kids. You cannot efficiently prepare them for life. You cannot have an efficient relationship with your wife. If you need to finish stuff at the office better stay late that day and come early the next day. It’s better than coming “somewhat late” both days and spent seven and a half minutes with them.

Sleep

Our society made us believe that sleeping is overrated. We find ourselves sleeping less and less stretching ourselves to the limit. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy stretching myself to the limit but I also understand what it means.

The problem with sleeping less is that we use most of our energy during the day, at work. That leaves very little energy when we get back home. We’re tired and cranky and don’t really enjoy what is an important part of our life.

Dude, get some sleep, you’re a mammal, a human, it’s natural, you need it.

Get Energized – With Them

A lot of people get energized when they’re by themselves, with friends, hiking, running, reading, watching a movie, etc.  Think about doing some of these activities by with your family. I’m not talking about a family trip to Vegas or Hawaii. I’m talking about doing whatever YOU need to get energized but taking someone with you.

I really don’t like floor games, it’s boring and hurts my back. I do like hiking and biking, the air and the wind are great for recharging. So I spend less time playing Chatters and Ladders and more time hiking/walking/biking with the kids. Find what YOU like to do and see if you can fit your family with you.

Last Words

Someone once told me that you could either be a businessman or a family man. I believe life’s ultimate purpose and challenge is to be both especially if you want to make a positive change in the world. It doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, a Rabi, or the president of the United States, you do better if you do both.

P.S.

If you’re lucky you’ll also have a loving, understanding, and supporting wife with endless patients that will help you along the way. I certainly do. Thank you Orit, I love you very much.