Second Looks

Professor Hank Burnette was on the call with one of the major employers of graduates from his program.  He was reviewing candidates that they were considering inviting for a site visit.  This was a special practice that he offered employers to help them in their recruitment of candidates for new hire positions.

Once they had given him their list of candidates, Burnette asked them:  “I’m surprised that you didn’t have Joyce Atkinson on your list.  Was there some reason?”

The response was surprising:  “She just doesn’t have the look of one of our employees.  She really needs some fashion counseling, as well as someone to teach her about makeup and hair styling.”

Burnette was shocked that they would even admit to such a bias.  Rather than argue about how absurd their comment was, he responded by telling them about a former student:  “Thirty years ago, I had a similar conversation.  A student by the name of Tom was rejected because his resume didn’t fit the standard format.  I encouraged them to at least give Tom a second chance.  They did.  You know Tom.  He is one of your corporate directors today.  I’m betting he has more career moves before he retires.”

The recruiting team was shocked.  Then Burnette continued:  “Let me tell you more about Joyce.  When she came to our university, she was homeless.  Her dorm room was the first place she ever lived that had indoor plumbing and heat.  She has had to work throughout college just to make it.  I doubt that she has more than 3 sets of clothes.  In spite of all her challenges, she is clearly the best in her class.  But more important, she is everyone’s best friend.  There is no one in our program that Joyce hasn’t helped.  She was the only unanimous choice for commencement marshall that we have ever had.”

Like Tom in a prior time, Joyce was put back in the consideration list and one of three students to get an offer.

One of the most destructive quotes of all time is that:  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”  First impressions are frequently flawed.  Abraham Lincoln would never have been given the chance to lead our nation if first impressions were used to judge him.

First impressions are often manifestations of our latent biases.  They give us an excuse to exercise our bias without it being apparent to others.  After forming a first impression, we always need to ask ourselves:  “Could my first impression be wrong?”

Second looks take time.  They require empathy.  Who wouldn’t give Joyce a second look after knowing her story?  Just think of how often you have relied on only a first impression without a second look.

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“It’s pretty simple, pretty obvious:  that peoples’ first impressions of people are really a big mistake.”  – Vincent D’Onofrio (actor, producer, director)

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Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.