5 cognitive biases that influence your recruitment (and how to overcome them)
Recruitment is an ideal breeding ground for cognitive bias. Because humans are at the heart of the discipline, it's easy to let ourselves be influenced by our beliefs, preferences and intuition. But if we take too many shortcuts, we can end up making the wrong recruitment choice and eliminating the right candidate.
What are the most common cognitive biases in recruitment that affect our judgment? And how can we overcome them? Let's get to the heart of the matter.
1- The Halo effect: the bias that says first impressions are always right
"Drawing conclusions from a single piece of information can happen to anyone. This is known as the halo effect, confirmation bias or anchoring bias.
In concrete terms, the halo effect is a cognitive bias (also known as information distortion) that kicks in when the brain constructs a positive or negative interpretation from a selective perception of information linked to first impressions. In other words, on the basis of a single criterion, the recruiter will tend to judge the candidate's other characteristics positively or negatively, and thus view him or her in a favorable or unfavorable light.
However, when one skill or weak point takes precedence over the rest, the assessment is biased. Without realizing it, we direct our questions in such a way that the answers confirm our first impression. Our attention is focused on the information that supports our initial choice, and we eliminate that which may contradict it.
So how can you prevent yourself from falling into this trap?
First, build a detailed, objective evaluation grid of the hard and soft skills required to succeed and thrive in the job. Then, use this grid to evaluate each skill one by one. This way, you avoid being influenced by the first criterion evaluated.
Next, draw up an interview outline with a series of questions to ask all candidates, without exception. Finally, it's ideal to involve several people in the recruitment interviews. But be careful: to counter the halo effect, each person should interview the candidate in isolation.
2- Stereotype bias, or putting candidates in boxes
Stereotype bias is certainly one of the most dangerous biases, because it constitutes discrimination in hiring. Here, the recruitment decision is based on the recruiter's personal beliefs about physical appearance, gender, origin, religion or sexual orientation.
For example, a candidate for a sales position may be rejected because she is overweight, even though she would have been a competent candidate. Or recruiting someone from a difficult neighborhood as a guidance counselor in a high school with a disadvantaged population on the sole belief that his or her social background will be an asset.
If you think you're immune to this bias, beware! A researcher at the University of Toronto has conducted an experiment which shows that many more of us are influenced by this bias than we think. In the experiment, two separate groups of jurors were given an account of the facts of the case, along with a photograph of the accused. The only difference was that the first group received a photo of an attractive person, while the second group received a photo of a less attractive person.
Conclusion? The most unattractive person was more often found guilty than the one with the most attractive physique, even though the facts of the case were identical.
To avoid falling into this trap as much as possible, why not rethink your candidate process? For example, you could ask applicants to provide their full name and address at the very first stage, and not require a photo. During the interview, stay focused on your framework of questions to assess skills and cultural fit.
3- Similarity bias: are we recruiting clones?
"This candidate reminds me of me at her age", "I see you're a rugby fan. Me too"! It's a fact: finding something in common with the candidate creates sympathy. We think that because he or she looks like us, he or she will have the same assets and qualities as we do. This cognitive bias leads us to favor candidates who resemble us.
But just because we have similarities doesn't mean the candidate is the right person for the job! To overcome this bias, there's no secret: you need to clearly define your ideal profile. To do this, draw up a precise job description. What are the main and secondary missions? What are the 3-month, 6-month and 1-year objectives? What technical and soft skills are required? What kind of personality does the candidate need to adapt to the company culture?
The answers to these questions will serve as guidelines for drawing up your candidate persona. This tool will then enable you to make an objective assessment of the match between candidates and the characteristics of the profile you're looking for.
4- The recency effect: the last memory always wins
Under the recency effect, the last impression dominates the overall evaluation. In recruitment, two situations are conducive to recency bias.
Firstly, when the interview ends on a high note for the recruiter. They tend to remember this last positive impression even though the rest of the exchange revealed question marks or incompatibilities. Of course, this also works the other way round, when the impression is negative.
Secondly, when the last interviewee made a strong impression. Here, the recruiter unconsciously eliminates other applicants.
So how do you counter the recency effect? The best way is to involve different people in the recruitment process, so as to collect their opinions independently. The organization of interviews is also important. Remember to space them out to avoid saturating your brain with information and making a decision on the spot.
5- Blind spot bias: even the best recruiters fall victim to cognitive bias!
Blind spot bias is when we believe we're not biased in our decisions. And on this subject, it would seem that many HR professionals are affected. Indeed, a recent study conducted by WeSuggest reveals that 61% of participants claim to be familiar with cognitive biases, and almost half of those questioned believe that there are only a dozen or so biases in recruitment. In fact, over 250 cognitive biases have been identified to date!
Another example: in the 2022 edition of the WeSuggest barometer on soft skills assessment, 78% of HR professionals claimed to be familiar with behavioral skills. Nevertheless, 84% assessed them intuitively during the exchange with the candidate, and 65% by analyzing their posture and body language.
Being aware of this is already a first step, but it's not enough. To free yourself from this bias, you need to prepare your recruitment with a clear process, a precise portrait of the desired candidate, a complete job offer, and equip yourself with assessment tools such as soft skills assessments.
In conclusion, attracting the right talent is hard enough. Wouldn't it be a shame to recruit the wrong people because of cognitive biases?
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