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The latest UK report from the CIPD, which shows that managers tend to hire in their own image, may not have come as much of a shock to many people in the workplace. But if it’s so ‘obvious’, why is it so insidious? As ever when the human brain is involved, the answer is both simple and complex.
There are fundamentally two kinds of biases at play on the personal level. The first is a conscious bias, which is a deeply held belief that’s mistakenly regarded as objective fact (so the person who holds that belief is aware of this ‘objective bias’ but is unwilling to change). And then we have the unconscious bias – which is hard to identify and even harder to remedy.
These biases are called “unconscious” for good reason. And it’s pretty safe to assume that all hiring managers – as human beings – are subject to internal typecasting that affects their decisions. It’s a deep-seated stereotyping that’s often built up over a considerable period of time – and if left unaddressed can lead to discrimination on age, gender, race, sexual orientation, or even more overt physical characteristics such as height.
The CIPD Report – “A Head for Hiring: The Behavioural Science of Recruitment” – reveals that an employers’ initial judgement of whether a candidate will be a good fit can be determined by factors which have no impact on performance. The Report details examples such as:
- Both male and female managers tending to favour men over woman when making hiring decisions
- A preference to choose ‘Mini-Me’s’ who mirror us in terms of hobbies, experiences, dress, etc.
- Identical CVs get more call-backs when the candidate’s name is deemed to be ‘white’ as opposed to one that can be associated with a minority ethnic group.
On an even more prosaic level, the CIPD study showed that:
- The time taken to make a recruitment decision often increases for the first few candidates, but can drop as soon as the fourth, at which point confirmation bias or ‘selective hearing’ can come into play.
- Open-ended interviews can lead to different participants being asked different questions to unconsciously reaffirm initial impression
- Even physical factors – such as the weight of clipboard that a CV is presented on, or how warm an interviewer feels – can influence how a candidate is scored in an overall assessment.
Helpfully, the CIPD has scoped practical steps that can be taken to overcome subjectivity and bias.
These include …
Before Job Interviews:
- Test the wording of job adverts to see how it affects who applies
- Group and anonymise CVs when reviewing them
During Job Interviews:
- Spread assessments and decisions across days but keep other conditions like the room, the questions and even the refreshments similar. Experiments have shown that interviewers experiencing physical warmth by holding a warm drink prior to assessing someone were more likely to judge them to be generous and caring
- Focus interviews on collecting information, not on making the decision.
- Pre-commit to a set of interview questions that are directly related to performance on the job. Questions should be structured in a way that focuses on the specifics of finding the person with the best organisational and cultural fit for the job in hand.
- Stick to what the scores tell you for your final decision
- Include people who haven’t been involved in assessing candidates when it comes to taking the actual hiring decision – to make a more objective, considered final decision.
It’s clear that this ‘science’ needs to be practiced widely and deeply if companies are to hire the ‘right talent’ rather than leave themselves open to ‘wrong’ decisions caused by personal bias or skewed processes.
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