Why you hire who you do – and how to do it better

by Steve Randall27 Aug 2015
It’s human nature to often make connections with people who share similar qualities to ourselves but are you guilty of hiring a team of mini-me’s?

A new report from human resources organisation CIPD says that despite advances in technology, testing and personality profiling, the recruitment process will usually boil down to human decisions. But those decisions are littered with biases and judgements that are often there without us even realising.

The institute’s research has led to valuable findings about how to attract talent to the business and how to get more effective results from the recruitment process.

The study found that many decisions made have little or no impact on a potential employee’s performance such as:
  • Gender – men are favoured in hiring decisions by both male and female managers
  • Justification – a self-serving bias towards candidates that fit the ‘norm’ of the business rather than having to justify a ‘different’ choice
  • Similar to ourselves – in terms of hobbies and interests, style etc.
  • Name – a ‘white’ sounding name prompted more call-backs than ethnic ones despite identical CVs.
Where multiple candidates were being seen on the same day, those at the start of the process were often given more time for the decision process than those later on.

Unusual biases such as the weight of the clipboard that a CV was attached to and even how warm the interviewer is feeling can affect the decision making according to the study. 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.

The report goes on to make some key recommendations for the recruitment process:
Before the interview During the interview After the interview
Test wording of job adverts to see how it affects who applies. Spread assessments and decisions across days but keep other conditions like the room, the questions and even the refreshments similar.  Stick to what the scores tell you for your final decision.
Group and anonymise CVs when reviewing them. 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 the job in hand to find the person with the best organisational and cultural fit. Include people in hiring decisions that haven’t been involved in assessing candidates to make a more objective, considered final decision.
You can read the full report here.


  • by Ian Hamilton 27/08/2015 3:00:03 PM

    Comments and research that can lead to improving interview skills are always a good thing. This article does raise an interesting point around cognitive bias that even professional interviewers need to be reminded of at times. The key is to ensure you do actually recruit against a set of skills and specific behaviours that will determine success in the role and the company. Always ask the candidate to explain where they have displayed these skills and behaviours in the past - the greatest predictor of future behaviour is still past behaviour. If you are going to involve others in the interview process, ensure they are looking for the same skills and behaviours you have determined as necessary for success in the role. You do not want your invited interviewers beginning to assess on different skills and behaviours.

  • by Kevin Howard 28/08/2015 10:54:16 AM

    There's no surprises in this, although unconscious bias towards easy/familiar sounding names isn't talked about very much, so it's definitely worth highlighting this. It is likely to occur in the shortlisting process when you have a bunch of candidates who all look good on paper, but there's too many to interview and you need to reduce the number further.

    In reality there are so many variables in recruitment it is almost impossible to get it right every time, although there's no doubt some people are much better at interviewing than others. I've worked with companies who have developed extremely sophisticated and thorough recruitment processes, but they still make mistakes.

    One of the most important factors is to guard against allowing the heart to rule the head. Lou Ader wrote a great article on this, 15 years ago, titled The Dufus Factor http://www.eremedia.com/ere/the-dufus-factor/

    Personally I try to ignore positive "gut feel", but when it's negative I always take notice and proceed with caution.

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