Auto Shop Coaching Blog

The Four-Minute Rule

"The cost of hiring someone bad is so much greater than missing out on someone good."Joe Kraus

Are you a victim of the four-minute rule? I now realize this is what happened to my former client “Randy” back in 2010.  He had just completed an in-person interview with a service manager candidate named “Keith” and wanted me to do a follow-up phone screening.

Randy believed Keith to be the “A” player he’d been looking for, but was bringing me in the loop to make sure. According to Randy, Keith was “the cat’s meow,” “the greatest thing since sliced bread,” and any other metaphor you would use to describe a top performer! I was looking forward to our upcoming call.

The following day, I spoke with Keith and he initially seemed to be as good as advertised. Our conversation took an interesting turn after I asked why he left his most recent job.

“There was a management change, and the new group wanted to move in a different direction.” He said. “That’s Interesting, tell me more,” I replied. “Well Eric, they wanted someone younger for the position. “Is that what they told you?” I asked.

His response was classic: “No, they told me it was because of my poor sales performance and low CSI scores. But I think age was the real reason!” How did these details get past Randy? It’s because he was the victim of the four-minute rule. 

The Four-Minute Rule

According to research conducted by Los Angeles Psychiatrist Dr. Leonard Zunin, the average person decides whether or not to hire someone within the first four minutes of the interview! We gravitate towards people who are like us. For example, Randy and Keith were around the same age and both started their careers working in dealerships.

It’s possible these areas of common ground, caused him to overestimate Keith’s qualifications. So what can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you? Keep reading and you will learn two strategies to keep you from getting stuck with a bad hire.

Recruit Before You Need To

Most recruitment processes begin out of desperation. The more desperate you are, the less discerning you’ll be when interviewing. When your discernment levels decrease, the odds of you falling victim to the four-minute rule increase.

Under pressure, the natural tendency is to look for shortcuts to help with the hiring decision. As mentioned earlier, the most commons shortcut is to hire someone with whom you have hobbies, personality traits, and experiences in common.

The solution is beginning your search while you’re fully staffed. When I mention this to clients, I normally get the following question: “But Eric, what if my employees find out that I’m looking?” The key is to be proactive.

Hold a meeting with your team letting them know you are advertising all positions at the shop to be prepared for the future business growth you anticipate. Offer to pay them a referral bonus for referring you an “A” player they have worked with in the past. I recommend the “up to $1,000 bonus” paid out at $250 per quarter.

When you’re always looking, your people will be less alarmed by seeing your ads, and you’ll be positioned to make better hiring decisions.

Review Past Performance

When assessing a candidate, the strongest predictor of future production is their past performance. In his book Topgrading, Dr. Bradford Smart defines an “A” player as someone who has a 90% chance to produce results that only the top 10% can accomplish. Taking the time to review past performance will keep you from making the four-minute mistake.

How did their results compare to their peers? Did they exceed their plan? How would their supervisor rate their overall performance on a scale of 1-10? Asking these questions for each previous job on their resume will show you patterns and make it easier to predict how they will perform for you.

The best way to ask these questions is to use what Dr. Smart coined as the T.O.R.C. (Threat Of Reference Check) method.  This is where you ask the candidate what their immediate supervisor will say when (not if) you ask him about his performance.

For example: “How will Bob Jones rate your overall performance on a scale of 1-10 when I ask him? Knowing that you will verify their answers will cause your potential employees to think twice about stretching the truth!


Four-minute decisions are easy to make, but hard to recover from. Recruiting before you need to, and reviewing past performance using the T.O.R.C. method will keep you from getting stuck with a bad hire.

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Eric, the Accountability Coach, is an Executive Coach at ATI and has coached since 2009. Eric came to ATI having managed over 60 different automotive repair facilities and having supervised over 500 employees at a given time. He loves seeing members progress beyond what they thought was possible and improve their shop to the point where they can leave for weeks at a time and come back to a business that's better than when they left.