4 common biases that could stop you hiring the best person for the job


4 common biases that could stop you hiring the best person for the jobMaking the right decision when hiring is essential for many reasons: from knowing the candidate possesses the skills required to perform well in a given role, to ensuring they are a good fit for the organisation’s culture and feeling confident they will complement your team.

Unfortunately, your brain can actually be your worst enemy when making crucial hiring decisions. Here’s why. The brain is wired to think in two different systems:

System 1: Automatic, instinctive and emotional thinking that relies on mental shortcuts that generate intuitive answers to problems.  

System 2: Slow, logical and deliberate thinking.

Unfortunately when we are busy, stressed or multitasking (and what manager isn’t?) we are more likely to leave decision making to system 1 in favour of the more time-consuming and mentally taxing, analytical approach of system 2. The problem? System 1 is easily hijacked by subconscious biases that trip us up and result in poor hiring decisions that can be expensive and difficult to fix later down the track when it becomes clear we got it wrong.

As experienced professional recruiters we can help you overcome subconscious bias through our proven recruitment methodology and by supporting you with best practice advice on the interview and selection process. Here are some common biases that stop organisations selecting the best candidate, along with effective strategies to overcome them. For ease of explanation, each example is based on a panel interview scenario, a typical method of selection for mid-senior level roles.

1.      Confirmation bias

This is when a hiring panel looks for information that supports a pre-conceived belief about a candidate. Most commonly, the bias occurs when a candidate has been recommended to the organisation by a friend or former colleague whose judgement the hiring manager trusts. Without fully evaluating the candidate’s skills or how they will fit into the organisation, the panel commences the selection process with a bias based on one (or more) of the members’ relationship with the candidate’s referrer.

Overcoming this bias: People fall prey to conformation bias when under pressure to fill a role quickly. But it’s important to get it right, so ensure the panel has time to reflect on the candidate and avoid making your decision based solely on one interview. If the associated familiarity with the candidate makes it difficult to move straight to a formal interview, invite them for a coffee first, then bring them back on a different occasion for a standardised formal interview. This will prevent them spending the formal interview talking about how long they’ve played golf with the person who referred them which may cause the panel to deviate from the planned interview questions.

 2.      Anchoring and insufficient adjustment

When an interviewer has a particular expectation of a candidate it can influence their evaluation of them. A candidate who had a high anchor of expectation can be evaluated more favourably than a candidate with lower expectations. An example is where an IT consulting business is looking to fill a position for a sales consultant and evaluates a candidate based solely on their fantastic sales results and fails to evaluate whether the candidate is a good fit for the business culture. This is a common scenario where one strong skill-set may blind the panel to a lack of more nuanced skills or behaviours needed to succeed in the role. This hiring mistake can cause a number of problems including creating a toxic team environment that forces other high performers to leave the business. 

Overcoming the bias: Appoint one member of the panel to play devil’s advocate – asking tough questions that will reveal if the candidate has the right skills and personality to be a good fit for the role and business. Agree on broad and structured selection criteria prior to the interview to ensure the required skills, experience and behaviours are covered in equal measure.

 3.       Groupthink

This happens when a panel makes a decision about a candidate based on the ideas of a particular panel member/s because they feel conscious or subconscious pressure to form a consensus. This can discourage creativity and diverse perspectives which may raise valid concerns about whether a prospective candidate is right for a particular role.

Overcoming the bias: Creating an evaluation sheet with pre-determined selection criteria that each panel member can use during the interview is helpful for eliminating groupthink. Evaluation sheets can then be swapped between panel members post interview to ensure evaluation doesn’t change during the discussion stage.  Ensure your panel is diverse, and resist appointing someone to the interview panel whose view is likely to be disregarded due to a lack of seniority.  

4.      Sunk-cost fallacy

This relates to making a decision based on a previous bad hiring decision or costs that are not recoverable. An example is where an organisation has previously invested in a high salary for an employee who didn’t perform well or let them down. A hiring manager may then be wary of someone with a similar background seeking a similar salary and will therefore take a more conservative approach to recruiting their replacement. A tendency to tar similar types with same brush is a common subconscious bias that can result in unwittingly ruling out the perfect candidate.

Overcoming the bias:  This is where panels can help by offering a range of perspectives. Be honest and admit to the other panel members that you are wary of ending up in the same situation as before. Then leave the past in the past and move on. Ensuring members of the hiring panel are properly equipped to conduct interviews and have access to resources on how to conduct effective interviews is one way to mitigate sunk-cost fallacy. Asking the right questions will give everyone confidence that the right choice has been made at the end of the selection process. 

If you need help with best practice hiring contact us to ensure your next hire is the right fit for your organisation. 

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