Common biases in hiring to watch out for

The Fallible Human

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a strategic imperative for all organizations. Several research studies have shown that more diverse companies outperform less diverse companies on multiple dimensions. It has also been recognized that an organization's diversity and inclusion efforts begin not only with the programs they implement for current employees, but with the hiring processes they architect to bring prospective talent into the organization. Despite this, traditional hiring practices often systematically work against many organization's diversity initiatives due to biased selection processes.

When making hiring decisions, we have to use a combination of human judgement and information gathered from selection procedures to assess a candidate's ability to do a job well. While hiring is in large part an information related problem, where improving the quality and quantity of the information we have access to goes a long way in improving our decision quality, the other side of the equation involves using judgement where available information is insufficient.

While our own judgement can be an incredibly valuable resource to tap when making hiring decisions, there is also an expansive body of evidence indicating that human judgement can be incredibly susceptible to common fallibilities. These fallibilities enter into our decision making process at various points in the hiring process, including sourcing, resume checks and employment interviews. Below, we outline a list of the common biases and fallibilities that we become susceptible to in making decisions, particularly relevant to hiring.

First Impressions

We’ve all heard that first impressions matter, but what if they matter too much? This can be detrimental in all areas of life, but in hiring, first impressions may play an outsized role in the decisions that hiring managers make. There has been a great deal of evidence to suggest that in situations where employers are interacting with job candidates, we tend to overemphasize particularly salient attributes of a candidate that might not actually have any significance to their ability to do the job. Commonly cited examples of first impressions that negatively impact hiring managers perceptions of candidates include body language, tardiness, facial expressions, and much more.

Confirmation Bias

Another commonly cited bias in the selection process is confirmation bias. Partially as an extension of first impressions, there is an abundance of evidence that suggests that once we have made up our minds about another person, we tend to look for information that confirms that viewpoint and ignore information that suggests otherwise. Even more worrisome is that these preconceived notions a hiring manager has can affect candidates before they’ve actually met them.

Similarity Bias

No matter the context, we tend to like people who are similar to us. As it relates to hiring, this can manifest itself in an array of interactions. The one we most commonly hear of is shared membership of a particular group. For example, when a hiring manager interfaces with a candidate who went to the same university as them, there’s often an instantaneous connection made that may unduly impact other candidates who did not go to the same university, but are equally as qualified for the role.

Stereotyping

We all have preconceived notions of the world and the people within it. We have a tendency to make generalizations about one person based on a shared attribute they have with a particular group to which they belong. This includes race, gender, ethnicity, weight, social class and much more. These generalizations make it difficult for us to see the truth in a candidate and often perpetuate many of the biases we hope to mitigate when making selection decisions.

Halo Effect

The Halo Effect refers to when our overall perception of a candidate is shaped primarily on the basis of a more specific attribute or detail about that candidate. As a result, hiring managers can make decisions about a person based solely on the attribute of interest with very little regard for other relevant job information.

Overconfidence

When making decisions, particularly when we’ve made similar decisions over a long period of time, we tend to develop an overzealous sense of confidence in the effectiveness of our decision making capability. In a hiring context, this often manifests itself in a misplaced sense of certainty about our ability to evaluate another person. To exacerbate the issue, most organizations don’t make a concerted effort to track how hiring decisions actually turnout. As a result, the person evaluating candidates and making hiring decisions gets a boost of confidence without actually knowing if the confidence is warranted.

Beauty bias

There is some evidence to show that people who are physically attractive end up being more successful. As you might imagine, beauty might not be any indication of a candidate's ability to do a job well, but it may very well influence the perception of the person who is charged with making a hire/no hire decision.

Conformity

In making hiring decisions, it’s often a good idea to get multiple perspectives from existing employees and team members within the organization. When interfacing with a candidate, different people may get different insights from the interactions that their peers did not pick up on. So having multiple people involved in the hiring decision can provide a more holistic overview on the prospective candidate. This is great in theory, but has a few breaking points, mainly groupthink. Research has suggested that the opinions of our peers may influence our own opinions, particularly when the group consensus is against our own opinion. As a result, there may be a tendency for us to change our opinions to conform to that of the group, whether or not we actually agree to it.

Conclusion

It is abundantly clear that biases in selection are incredibly prevalent. Research suggests that discrimination in hiring is for the most part not an active effort, and that most biases emerge unconsciously in an effort to deal with the complexities of the world by simplifying our mental models of the people within it. While eliminating bias may be impossible, it is undoubtedly the case that organizations can significantly mitigate the impact that unconscious human biases have on selection decisions through a transformation of their selection processes.

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