How Unintentional Biases can Lead to Hiring the Wrong Person

How Unintentional Biases can Lead to Hiring the Wrong Person

Hiring is both an art and a science. The art belongs to the humans. The science belongs to the processes and systems that humans should follow… but all too often don’t.

When your company needs to fill a role, the hiring manager, or unlucky SOB who gets the open req dropped on their desk, will bemoan that they need someone in place “like, yesterday”. When you’re a small team, already spread thin, or a startup experiencing a growth spurt, it feels imperative to have someone in that role asap.

Usually, this leads to loosey-goosey outbound, pinging friends, investors and social networks for any referrals, followed by an interview process that is way too heavy on intuition and too light on process.

The problem is that, as humans, when we look to hire someone to fill a role, we are, though often unintentionally, highly biased. Without a proper system set in place, here are three types of biases that plague us:

Three biases that stop you from hiring the best person for the right role

Confirmation bias. Without meaning to, we often create an image of what our ideal candidate looks like, then seek out confirmation of our preconceived notion. This could be anything from what a candidate physically looks like to what school they attended, and even how their name is spelled. Often for Executive Assistant roles people often visualize a woman in the role, which leads them to passing over on good candidates that are men. In reality, what matters most is that the candidate has the ability and skill to do their job excellently and is aligned with the company’s goals and culture. Usually, this isn’t reliably deduced from a resume, Linkedin profile or quick interaction.

Anchoring Harvard MBA. One of the first 10 people at [insert hot startup]. Managed a team during explosive growth of X Co. These are the snippets interviewers see when they look at a candidate’s resume or Linkedin, and can create an expectation anchor that will often lead to them bypassing a proper investigation of the candidate’s background, references, and skills.

Anchoring occurs when the interviewer uses an initial piece of information to make subsequent judgments. Sometimes this can be the way a candidate looks, either in person or in a photo, other times it’s where they went to school. Regardless of the cause, anchoring leads us to believe that a person, or candidate, is more suitable for a certain role than others—based on insubstantial evidence.

Intuition – Did you have a really good feeling about that candidate? One of the most deadly of hiring biases is an interviewer leaning on their own “gut”. In reality, intuition in hiring often comes from someone looking, smelling, or sounding a certain way that makes us positively associate them with our mental framework of what success looks like. More often than not, this leads to bias in hiring the right and diverse talent, because our intuition is shaped by our own life experience—which is inherently biased.


How to fix unintentional bias in hiring

These three biases, and many more listed here, can ruin your ability to hire the person who will do the best job. They also can put your company in hot water with Equal Employment Opportunity compliance requirements and ethics policies, and they will negatively impact a diverse workplace—which, like all ecosystems, proves to be the most robust over time.

The fix is simple, but time consuming.

Create a process for hiring, regardless of the role, and stick to it—religiously. This becomes hard when you are interviewing someone who seems like an “all star” and you don’t want to lose them, or when you convince yourself that if you don’t get someone in place tomorrow, everything will go to crap. But these are emotional reactions, not logical ones, and if you really want to build the best team and only hire the right people—stick to your process, every time.


Important aspects of a good hiring process

At AVRA, we call this process a Recruiting Funnel, and we follow it to the letter for each one of our hires—whether we’re hiring for a client or internally.

Some components of a good Recruiting funnel are:

  • Filling the Funnel
  • The Interview Process
    • Application (with written screen questions)
    • Test Task
    • Initial Phone Screen
    • Email follow up
    • Secondary Phone Screen, or In-person Interview
    • Paid Test Task (optional)
  • Reference Check
  • Decision

If you want to do this yourself and are looking for some great resources, check out the book Who and find the chapters on hiring in From Impossible to Inevitable. However, if you’re already stretched too thin, we’d be happy to chat with you to see if our processes at AVRA can help take the weight off of your non-technical hiring.

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