Every day we’re overwhelmed with information. It comes at us from everywhere. The people near us, our surroundings, computer, phone.
All of which our brains need to filter. To make sure we avoid danger and stay safe.
But often we don’t have time to think. We need to quickly process the information and react. So our brains have developed to do this automatically. Without our knowledge, deep in our subconscious.
While these unconscious decisions can be essential for our survival, they affect all areas of our life. We can’t simply switch them off when we need to. Most of the time this isn’t an issue. But many of them affect the way we interact with, and judge, other people.
Needless to say, this is problematic for recruitment.
But by better understanding our biases we can compensate for them. Helping us to treat candidates fairly and more accurately judge who will be the best person for the job. Below you’ll find 6 types of unconscious bias that can really affect your recruitment. Along with some tips on how to limit their impact.
On an unrelated note, I’m happy to say that this newsletter finally has a name. It took 15 newsletters, but I finally got there!
So, welcome to The Inside Job.
Hopefully it’s a bit more memorable than ‘the in-house recruitment newsletter’ - it surely can’t be any worse 😉
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We all want to be comfortable. And often we’re most comfortable when we’re around people we can easily relate to. People we understand - and that understand us.
But how do we find these people?
Generally we look for people similar to ourselves, or someone we know and like. It could be as basic as the way they look. Or their background. Any shared experiences. Or common interests.
And once we’re comfortable with someone, we’re also likely to treat them differently. For example, imagine you’re interviewing a candidate. They’re shifting in their seat. Breathing deeply. You can see the panic in their eyes.
What do you do?
Say you have something in common - you both play tennis. So you smile and start speaking about tennis to put them at ease. Once you see they’re relaxed, you start the interview. Which they’re sure to do much better in.
But had you not had something in common, you may not have put them at ease. Resulting in a very different interview and a missed opportunity.
It’s likely that we’ve all fallen victim to the contrast effect at some point. That item that caught your eye, not because you wanted or needed it, but because it was heavily discounted. It looked like a steal.
But was it? It’s certainly cheaper than the original price. But is it objectively cheap? And is it good value?
For many things we know their value. A kilo of bananas is a kilo of bananas.
But some things it’s not so clear. Like what is the value of a good night's sleep? Where it’s difficult to determine absolute value, we tend to revert to comparisons.
Recruitment is particularly susceptible to the contrast effect. It’s never clear what value each person can objectively offer. So when reviewing a CV we tend to judge it based on the two or three that came before it. Similarly, we can rank the people we interview against each other, not against what a great employee looks like.
To minimise the impact of the contrast effect, we need to identify what we value. What are the things we must have? What are the things we’d like? And then work out how we can measure our options against these - not each other.
We tend to see what we want to see - and ignore what we don’t. This is actually a survival mechanism. We need to quickly respond to our surroundings to keep us safe.
But it extends to all parts of our life. From the way we interpret news and stories in a way that confirms our beliefs. To remembering details in a way that reinforces our attitudes. And to how we assess and judge people in recruitment.
Due to confirmation bias, when reading someone’s CV we can form a view of their capabilities based on our own experiences or beliefs. When we do the same in an interview, it can affect the questions we ask. Making it harder for some people. Easier for others.
Either way, it won’t be fair to them or the other candidates. And may lead to us hiring the wrong person.
So, we need to take a step back. Look at what information we’re gathering and what we’re focusing on. Is there anything we’re not looking at? Where do we need more information?
One of the main ways we misread situations is by confusing why other people act the way they do.
It makes sense - we don’t really know what motivates people. All we have to go on is what we observe. We have no way of knowing what they’re thinking.
The problem is that because we can never know what someone is thinking, we make judgements on who they are based on their actions. We often think their behaviour is always deliberate and intentional. Not a result of their situation.
So when someone else misses a deadline, it’s because they’re unorganised or unreliable. Not because they were ill or had more important work to complete.
But when it comes to our own actions, we intimately know why we do what we do. As a result we’re likely to see how events have impacted us and attribute our failure to them. We didn’t drop the plate because we’re clumsy - it was slippery.
Attribution bias affects all of us. It’s spontaneous and often self-serving. A way of explaining away our shortcomings by blaming our situation. And mistakenly linking other people’s personalities to their behaviours, while overlooking their situation.
Based on one observable trait, we often infer other qualities about a person. When these are good it’s known as the “halo effect”. When bad, the “horns effect”.
For example, the original study on the halo effect asked participants to rank soldiers based only on their appearance. It found that taller soldiers were thought to be more intelligent. Even though there was no evidence that this was true. Or that height and intelligence are linked.
Needless to say, this can be a real problem for job interviews. If we have a tendency to group positive characteristics, we may think someone is better suited to the job than they actually are. Or, if they make a negative impression, less capable than they are.
You’d been putting it off all day, but finally, you’ve finished. You’ve read (skimmed over) the last CV. It was a chore, it wasn’t enjoyable, but the few good candidates you found will hopefully make it worthwhile.
But what made those CVs stand out? Formatting aside, if you’re honest with yourself most of the relevant ones were pretty similar. Some of them could have been almost identical. So who made the final cut and why? Did John or Jennifer make it? How about Sunita?
A number of studies have shown that John is far more likely to get an interview than Jennifer or Sunita.
Is this because John went to a better school? Is more qualified? Or has better skills? None of these had any impact. In fact, his CV was identical to the other candidates. The only difference was his name.
Whether it is deliberate or not, name bias exists. Even with the same qualifications, people with traditionally european male names are more likely to be invited for an interview than women or ethnic minorities.
So, why not remove the names when reviewing CVs? It could be a simple way to both increase diversity and find good candidates other people are overlooking.
Unconscious biases are automatic. They’re innate responses to our environment. And as such, we can’t stop them.
But there are some ways to limit their impact on your hiring. Making your recruitment process fairer - and giving you the best opportunity to pick the right person for the job.
And just remember, it’s far better to take some extra time to make the right decision than trying to correct the wrong one.
That’s all for now. And if you’ve found a great piece of content (or written some) that you’d like to share, please get in touch.