On a cold March day in 2004, Michael Gill walked into a Starbucks on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Gill was the son of a New Yorker staff writer, a Yale graduate, and former creative director at J Walter Thompson, but his life had recently unraveled. He was a divorced, unemployed, 63-year-old father of five. A young woman in a Starbucks uniform seated at the next table smiled at him and asked, “Would you like a job?”
“She seemed so secure and confident,” Gill remembers. Without thinking he said, “Yes.” Several years later Gill wrote his bestselling memoir, “How Starbucks Saved My Life.”
Gill made an impulse decision borne out of desperation, but he would not have stuck it out to become a “Starbucks Coffee Master” if Crystal (the young woman who offered him the job) had not made an immediate impression on him. Respect and dignity were a part of the Starbucks creed. Crystal tolerated no cursing or street talk. “Partners” (what Starbucks calls its workers) were never told to do things; they were asked—politely. “I could be sincere at Starbucks,” Mr. Gill writes, “because I was finally in a work environment that valued those precious moments of truly human interaction.”
Michael Gills exceptional story underscores a fundamental reality. The first encounter between employer and employee is critical, and first impressions can make all the difference. We respond intuitively and emotionally before we assess rationally. We make our first judgments rapidly, and we are bad at seeking out evidence that might disconfirm those initial judgments. First impressions stick, and it’s hard to get them unstuck.