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Tech Industry

The six-figure handshake

That's the critical time period in which hiring decisions are made, according to a number of recruiting professionals. Within the first half-minute of a job interview, a candidate's movement, voice, bearing, and look will either impress the hiring authorities or leave them with a nagging feeling of uncertainty. Job candidates can spell out their accomplishments in exacting detail and brandish shining recommendations, but if they have sweaty hands or the wrong haircut, they can say good-bye to upward mobility.

Thirty seconds.

That's the critical time period in which hiring decisions are made, according to a number of recruiting professionals. Within the first half-minute of a job interview, a candidate's movement, voice, bearing, and look will either impress the hiring authorities or leave them with a nagging feeling of uncertainty. Job candidates can spell out their accomplishments in exacting detail and brandish shining recommendations, but if they have sweaty hands or the wrong haircut, they can say good-bye to upward mobility.

Although many might find such an arbitrary process disturbing, it's an oddly comforting idea to keep in mind when reading about the extensive time and money companies invest in looking for CEOs and other high-level executives, especially for those who haven't managed to climb into the upper ranks no matter how impressive their accomplishments. For if there's one phenomenon that Silicon Valley seems to pride itself on, it's meritocracy. In fact, other than "win-win," "meritocracy" is the term one hears most. What has turned the former peach orchards of Northern California into a thriving hub of technology and wealth? A system, say supporters, that allows the individuals with the greatest talent and intelligence to rise to the top.

Perhaps, but there is also room at the top for those with the best sense of dressing for success in their respective trades. Think of it: Eckhard Pfeiffer at Compaq, Robert Palmer at Digital, Robert Allen at AT&T, and Bill Fairfield at Inacom. Four CEOs, one helmet haircut. That doesn't happen by accident.

"There is a style part to being a CEO," says Shanda Bahles, a partner in Eldorado Ventures, a venture capital firm in Menlo Park. "They've got to be able to raise money and recruit talent. If they can do that, you're halfway home."

The appearance changes by industry, she adds. "In an Internet company, there is a certain incremental increase in hipness that you are looking for. In semiconductors, you are going to get a lot of mean SOBs," she says. "There's a direct correlation between gross margin and the SOB factor."

Put in perspective, the climb to the top seems far less daunting than it's often made out to be. The average corporation has approximately seven layers of management. That comes out to seven interviews. Timed right, that means that three and one-half minutes of really good hygiene can launch someone to the top of the corporate ladder. So why even bother with all the resumes and hawking of qualifications? Just start off looking for candidates who fit the type.