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6 most common recruitment biases

Updated: Aug 29, 2022

The simple truth is that everybody is bias in some sort of way. This is not because we inherently want it to be that way, but the way we are brought up and the environment we are brought up in, gives us a certain perspective of the world. Our upbringing gives us certain values which we carry with us throughout our lives and we associate symbols with those values to identify whether or not somebody else cherishes the same kind of values. Biases in this sense are basically short-cuts to get to know somebody and what they represent. However, as with all things in life, taking short-cuts means involving risks. In this blog I will talk about the 6 most common recruitment biases and how they can affect your business negatively. In the conclusion you will find a link to how you can overcome these biases.

Confirmation bias

The confirmation bias is the idea that you have a certain idea about a candidate and you are trying to look for hints which ‘confirm’ that idea, while (actively) ignoring signals which might disprove that idea. Often it is linked to a first impression which is either positive or negative and after that you try to confirm that impression by looking for clues which indicate that the impression was correct. This can either be a positive idea about the candidate or a negative idea about the candidate. Both instances can actually be hurtful to the recruitment. For instance, if you have a certain negative idea about the candidate, the confirmation bias makes it that the candidate can hardly prove him- or herself otherwise. This way you can overlook qualities and miss out on good candidates, just because you are looking for the wrong clues. But a positive confirmation bias is also not good. Unfortunately, this implies that you know something positive about the candidate and are looking for ways to confirm your suspicion, ignoring all clues which might prove you wrong. This way you might send the wrong candidate through to technical interviews, or even worse; you might up hiring the wrong candidate. Do you want to learn more about the confirmation bias? Watch this short video on confirmation bias.

Heuristic bias

The heuristic bias is a fancy way of saying: ‘judging a book by its cover’. It has strong similarities with the confirmation bias as it is based upon first impressions. In contrary to the confirmation bias, it does not look for extra clues and remains just one set image, which often involves physical appearance. This has the advantage that it does not get reinforced the way the confirmation bias does (by looking for clues), but it has the disadvantage that it is quite difficult to overcome the set image you have of a candidate. German scientists have looked into it and questioned 127 HR professionals who often make decisions about recruitment and promotion. They basically gave them pictures of individuals and the outcome was that the test candidates continuously underestimated the prestige of obese individuals and overestimated the prestige of the normal-weight individuals. The test candidates in this sense quite literally judged the content of an individual by his or her appearance. Read more about their research here.

Halo and Horn effect

The halo and horn effect is the idea that you attribute certain traits to a person based upon some traits that you already know. Quite simply put you see a person either in an entire positive light (as a saint with an halo) or in an entire negative light (as a sinner with horns) based upon a couple of known traits. In this sense you might see an attractive candidate and assume that they are also successful and competent as well. That is the halo effect. On the other hand, you might find out that a candidate has had a criminal record in the past, which might make you assume that they are unsuccessful and incompetent. That is the horns effect.

Similarity attraction bias

The similarity attraction bias has no fancy name, but it is a very important bias to be aware of as I believe that a lot of recruiters make this mistake. Simply put, the similarity attraction bias makes you more bias towards persons who are similar to you and your colleagues. This leads to more candidates further down the pipeline which are similar to the people that already work at the company. Now you might be thinking: well, what is the big deal? I need people who are similar because they work better together. Well, that myth has been debunked and it turns out, if you are looking to build quality teams, then you need to be aiming for diversity. That is why the similarity attraction bias is quite dangerous. Do you want to find out more common myths about the perfect workplace?

Conformity bias

Conformity bias is quite an interesting one and often happens when recruitment processes are hiring in teams. Firstly, I want to point out that every company should hire in teams. Why? Secondly, there are some dangers with hiring in teams as well, and the conformity bias is one of them. Basically, it revolves around the idea of peer pressure and that people suppress their true opinion about a candidate to conform to the general opinion of the panel. This often happens in groups which are too large for effective hiring (another lesson that Google teaches us: the magical number for hiring teams is four persons). It is important to address and apprehend this bias as each and every team member might prove to have crucial information as to why or why not you should hire a candidate. You need to be aware of these insights and not have them be suppressed just because everybody likes to adhere to the opinion of the team.

Expectation anchor

Expectation anchor is the idea that you have first impression of a candidate or a first piece of information a candidate, and that you basically make decisions based upon those first impression or first piece of information. The idea is that we have a very difficult time to shake our idea of somebody once a first impression or idea is established and that we will make decisions based upon those impressions and ideas accordingly. It is very hard to sway somebody and their future actions from that first impression or piece of information, and can often lead to hasty and wrong decisions.

In conclusion

Firstly, I would say that a lot of these biases overlap in terms of definitions and effects. The expectation anchor for example, is more or less intertwined with the halo effect. Secondly, I would argue that a lot of recruiters are unaware of their own biases and how to overcome them. I myself even find it hard to critically reflect on how I base my decisions and if they are bias-free, but there are solutions to solve these biases. Want to find out more? Get in touch with us and see how we can get your recruitment process bias-free, starting tomorrow.

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