Decisions on People Should be Made Within Ten Minutes of Meeting Them

I think the most important decisions relating to people should be made within minutes of meeting them — something like within the first two to ten minutes.

Every major decision I’ve made on people, I’ve come to the conclusion within the first few minutes. Trusting that initial judgement is usually good. This applies to friendships, dating, hiring, and investing. Spending more time can help rationalize or introduce exceptions to my initial judgement but should not corrupt it.

These judgements can go all the way back to when I was a kid. I remember talking to a classmate in the fourth grade and immediately thinking we should be friends; he was funny and we had a blast together. We weren’t that close in school, but 13 years later we ended up in the same city and became close friends. Even our judgement within minutes of meeting each other in the fourth grade was good.

Few things stand out about our initial impressions of people. We’re able to gauge whether someone is trustworthy, whether we have conversational chemistry with them, whether we can have fun together, whether they’re smart, and whether we can work well together.

But it is also difficult to know some things from first impressions. It is hard to know if someone can be resilient under pressure, whether they can recover from setbacks, whether they will be consistent and reliable, whether they are neurotic, whether they are motivated for the right reasons, and whether they have endurance — the ability to do something for a very long time, usually a few decades.

You should not trust your initial judgement about a person if there’s a personal insecurity or jealousy that’s preventing you from liking them. For example, if you think that a person is truly better at something you value and that’s the main thing stopping you from having a positive impression of them, then ignore that feeling because it will eventually go away when you genuinely start to understand and admire the person. In fact, that feeling is likely a sign that you’ll get along with this person because you both value similar things!

There’s a reason that Y Combinator interviews are just 10 minutes. Within 10 minutes, they’ve been able to identify founders who went on to build Airbnb, Stripe, and Coinbase.

I found a conversation between Paul Graham and Tyler Cowen on this topic interesting. Tyler spends many hours interviewing candidates for Emergent Ventures and Paul for YC.

GRAHAM: You know what we do in YC interviews? We basically start YC, the first 10 minutes of YC is the interview. You see what it’s like to work with people by working with them for 10 minutes, and that’s enough, it turns out.

COWEN: So, you think the 11th minute of an interview has very low value.

GRAHAM: I’ve thought a lot about where the cutoff is. Like, where’s the point? If you made a graph, what’s your probability of changing your mind after minute number N? After minute number one or two, the probability of changing your mind is pretty high. I would say YC interviews could actually be seven minutes instead of ten minutes, but ten minutes is already almost insultingly short, so we kept it at ten. We could have made it seven.

COWEN: I think there’s often a threshold of two, and then another threshold at about seven, and after that, it’s very tough for it to flip.

GRAHAM: Yes. Although that doesn’t mean you’re always right.

COWEN: It could just be, after three hours, you would still be wrong.

GRAHAM: It’s just not going to flip. I didn’t say seven minutes is enough to tell, notice. [laughs] I said seven minutes is the point where you’re probably not going to change your mind.

COWEN: If it’s going somewhat badly, and the person is flipping positive at minute six, what is it that’s happening, both in the interview and in you?

GRAHAM: If it changes from two to seven, uh —

COWEN: Clearly, from zero to one or two, they get over nerves, or they adjust the sound volume. There are plenty of those stories.

GRAHAM: It’s probably that we misunderstood what they’re working on initially.

TLDR: Trust your initial judgement about a person, with a few exceptions.