In 1999, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Dan Simons, and a colleague, Chris Chabris published the result of a study on selective attention. They coined the phrase “inattentional blindness.” They asked subjects to watch a video of six people passing two basketballs. One team was dressed in white shirts and the other team was dressed in black shirts. The subjects were instructed to count how many times the three players wearing white shirts passed the basketball while ignoring players wearing black as they passed their own ball. In the middle of the video, a person wearing a gorilla suit walked into the picture, beat its chest and walked off. They found that 50% of the subjects failed to notice the person in the gorilla suit.
This phenomenon has often been cited by attorneys questioning witnesses to a crime. It is been proven over and over that at least 50% of the time, the viewers of an activity, especially a fast moving activity, like a crime, don’t remember seeing what was right in front of them.
So how does this affect your interviewing? Well, it’s really quite simple. You need to be aware that any interviewing or hiring authority has a number of key issues they are “watching” for. These issues can range anywhere from looking for a particular type of experience all the way to trying to avoid someone who has had too many jobs, lives far away from the place of employment, or doesn’t have a degree.
Candidates can do the same thing. They will often tell us they want to “avoid” one or two particular issues they think had something to do with the “bad experience” they just had at the company they are leaving or have left. For instance, candidates who had to leave a small company for any reason tell us they want to go to work for a big company with stability. They think there is more stability in larger companies than there is in smaller ones. Candidates simply want to avoid what they think just burned them.
What happens to both parties in situations like this is that they will focus their attention so much on what they want to try to avoid that they miss the “gorrilla.”
I can’t tell you the number of interviewing and hiring authorities who have missed understanding a very important part of a candidates experience or background… the part that could really help them… because they got hung up on focusing on one or two aspects of the candidate they were concerned about. We have candidates who will get so focused on one or two issues of a company, a job or a hiring authority that they miss important qualities of the company.
As a candidate, you need to realize if you have any risk factors like being out of work for an extended period of time, having had three jobs in three years, being fired, etc., a hiring authority is going to automatically focus on that issue and there’s a good chance they will not see the qualities or experience that make you a good candidate. By knowing this, you will be able to emphasize those strengths and qualities so that the hiring authority will see them.
Know what your risk factors are in the eyes of the hiring authority. Realize they may get so focused on those, they don’t see the reasons you are a quality candidate. Don’t be a victim of inattentional blindness.