Young men and women start their lives looking for a mate—the mating ritual. We can see it with us and in the animal kingdom around us. Men and women try to make an impression for the purposes of finding someone that fits their ideal for a partner. As a matter of fact, every day people seek to impress others for some reason—to keep or get a job, to fend off those who would hurt us, to make those around us think we have it together, and on and on and on. 

What if your young son finds a young lady who creates a favorable impression? She even buys him a canoe, because she knows he loves to fish. She provides other delights for him as well. But for the time she’s with him, she hides who she really is. She even impresses others around him. Though a few see things he doesn’t, things that alarm them, but he does not see them. 

Soon, he marries her, and from that day on, she changes and looks for what she can get for herself out of the relationship. When she finds it’s not enough, she begins to look for other men three months into their marriage. All she was before is swallowed up by the real hurt today—sociopathic, no empathy, no conscience. 

It’s now easy to see the marriage was a mistake, but it takes a lawyer and a year to get to the point to end what has just begun. This really happened. It happened to my son and my family. After a lot of money, pain, and spiritual growth, he’s better now. He’s much better and with a beautiful bride about to have their first child. 

Understanding Impression Management

So, why do I tell you this story? Today, some estimates point to three of 20 people who may be subclinical sociopaths, narcissists or psychopaths. Theses types of people in our candidate pools are seeking to impress us—consciously or unconsciously. They want and need a job. At the same time, we need a sales rep because we have lost opportunities, need someone who can sell, and must keep the profits up. 

Impression management is a social influence process involving interactions between an actor and a target audience. Social influence theory suggests every social interaction involves one party trying to influence the other, because they want an identity and a material outcome. 

In business, it occurs when someone wants you to think they can sell so they can get the sales position you have open. They attempt to manage your impressions of them. Candidates use self-focused and promotional tactics to create perceptions of sales competence. During those short durations of some hiring processes, perhaps yours, candidates work to listen well, dress well, and behave as a competent person. 

In that finite and short time during interviews, versus the time you will see them on the job, you make a decision with limited knowledge of their past history. You don’t know how they will behave in real life and in real selling situations. The candidate will actually work to limit your cognitive effort at understanding their weaknesses relative to the job and their future performance and behaviors. This happens in the personal situation I mentioned and in hiring interviews. There are three reasons for this. These reasons lower your predictability that the candidates can sell what you sell at the level you need, and they make it difficult to predict that the candidate will behave in a way that will cause customers to love you, stay with you, and give you repeat business and referrals. 

  1. They manage your impression of them, and no one else helps you with your evaluation. 
  2. You wear rose colored glasses, because you need to hire someone.
  3. You use a recruiting system with very few screening tools and steps, and, if you use an assessment, you use it after your final interview instead of before it.

The Science Behind Impression Management

Before we look at what you can do to eliminate these very real limiting factors and make good sales hires, let’s look at the latest science. The following is from a meta analysis of research into impression management and interview ratings from frontiers in psychology by Jessica Peck and Julia Levashina.

“Impression management is used more frequently in the interview, rather than job performance settings. These self-focus tactics are more effective in the interview rather than in job performance settings. Impression management has a somewhat stronger impact on interview ratings. Impression management also has a stronger impact on interview ratings when the target of the impression management is also the rater of performance than when the rater of performance is an observer. 

Impression management is ubiquitous,” and I had to look that up. That means it’s all prevailing throughout the interview and during employment. And actually, social influence is ubiquitous throughout the world. Candidates and employees strive to put their best foot forward to impress employers, and impression management is defined as: conscious or unconscious, deceptive or authentic, goal directed behavior, individuals behave or display props in an attempt to control the impressions others form of them in social interactions. 

They found that self-promotion, and other focus tactics, both impact structured interview ratings: “Self-focus tactics positively influence perceptions, because the tactics limit the cognitive effort raters must go through to assess competence and instead directly provide attributional evidence for the individual’s competence. Other focus tactics are often used to elicit attraction, interpersonal liking, or perceptions of similarity which are important influences on rating outcomes. Interviews are shorter in nature and require less time for an individual to keep up impressions compared to ratings over a longer period of job performance. 

Asymmetric information during an interview allows candidates to engage in substantial impression management, because the interviewer does not have prior experience or knowledge of the candidate other than what is presented during the interview and in other selection measures such as resumes and personality tests. Prior research suggests that other focus tactics increased manager liking of subordinates and perceptions of similarity to the subordinates, leading to increased performance ratings. We find support for a hypothesis that self-focus tactics are significantly related to interview ratings.”

Countering Impression Management to Increase Predictability

To increase selection predictability, first, realize that impression management is real, and it will decrease your chances of making a good sales hire if you are the sole rater. For that reason, get someone to help you by listening to your interview, the candidate’s responses, and by helping you with some of the screening steps in the hiring process. 

Make a final decision with the help of someone else on your team. Evaluate the evidence together—the work samples, assessments, applications, resumes, interviews, and references. If either of you are unsure of proceeding with an offer, do not do it. As a matter of fact, make your decisions separately, and tell each other what you have decided. That will increase predictability. 

Next, take off your rose colored glasses. Some of you have a belief in others that causes you to be less skeptical and trusting like my son. Trust people, but verify work to screen people out as a poor fit for you and them. Realize that you’re predisposed to hire. When you need someone to fill a role, you tend to see things that are not real in a candidate. That’s another reason that you need a second pair of eyes. 


Finally, use multiple screening steps, different tools, and involve other team members in your evaluation. If you use a validated assessment, use it before the final interviews. Why? Because it can be another objective “stop” to your rosy senses before they get in front of you and work on you for an hour or two. Good assessments will also give you other areas of focus during the interviews. They will give you things to look for. 

You can stop your bad hiring decisions. You can learn better habits in judging the competence, character, and intent of other people. We want to help you in that direction. These things helped me, and I know they will help you as well. Your profits will increase and your pain will disappear. Life and business will improve as you learn to see and avoid false impressions. You will learn how to recruit and hire the best.

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