How Bias Can Hurt Your Hiring


Our preferences determine a lot in our lives. They determine what line of work we’re in, what sort of music we listen to, even the sort of people that we choose to surround ourselves with. In a way, it’s our preferences that determine who we are. When it comes to hiring, however, our preferences are a kind of double edged sword. If you have strong ideas about what qualities make for a good candidate, they can be very helpful in sorting through a large applicant pool without wasting time on indecision. The flip side of this decisiveness is a bit less helpful. When you rely more on what you “think” makes a great hire than the evidence that you can gather through a more objective interview, then you might end up making a worse hire.

In order to hire the best people possible, you need to strike a balance between focusing on the criteria for the job (a candidate’s skills, experience, attitude, personality) and being present enough to engage with candidates. When you go into an interview dead set on who the “right” person will be, it’s entirely possible that you miss that person simply because they don’t match up with the mental picture or profile that you’ve been focusing on. For example, let’s say that you’re hiring for a sales position. You’ve sorted through the typically mountainous pile of resumes and have come up with the 10 finalists that you’re going to be interviewing. You’ve booked the best of the bunch for an interview first thing tomorrow and can’t wait to meet this promising candidate who was the top sales person at one of your competitors.

Fast forward to the next morning and your hopes have been dashed like a ship on the shoreline. Though the candidate would be the most experienced salesman that you’ve got on staff and seems enthusiastic about working for your company, it just won’t work out. This guy is convincing, experienced and charming, but he’s got a squeaky, mouse-like voice and, as somebody who’s been hiring for sales for years, it’s obvious to you that he won’t be as good of a salesman as you first thought.

Despite the fact that they were the best sales person at one of your competitors and, therefore, capable of selling, your personal filters have just prevented you from making a great hire. While this is sort of a silly example, it just goes to show how blinding our own preferences and opinions can be. If you’re too focused on some ideal person for the job or the “warning signs” that you’ve come to believe in over the years, it can be tough to see those ideal qualities in candidates that don’t match up with your preconceptions. While hiring by your gut preferences can lead to good hires, chances are that you’re unnecessarily eliminating plenty of people that would do just as well if given the chance.

The best way to get around your filters is to be aware of them. When you find yourself deciding on a candidate’s merits, one way or the other, challenge that conclusion. What makes this person great or terrible for the job? Is it something to do with their experience? Their attitude? Was there just a special “something” about them? Once you identify the candidate qualities that you’re most affected by, you can start to work around those preferential triggers. When you’ve got a clear, objective mind state in the interview, you’re much more likely to see candidates in terms of what they’re bringing to the table, not in terms of your own personal lens.


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