Die top-jobs-europe Consulting GmbH ist eine international tätige Personalberatung. Wir sind seit über drei Jahrzehnten am Markt tätig und gehören zu den festen Größen im Recruiting von Fach- und Führungskräften.

Cognitive Bias

Experience says that most of those good intentions we started the year with have dissolved in the everyday grind of reality by now. Even more reason to stop now and readjust ones habits, especially for those involved in HR: Make it a goal to truly only use objective criteria when deciding on a hire. While most would agree that this is a goal to strife for, it is much harder to truly life by, since humans are in our very nature biased.

The issue is so pervasive that science has come up with a long list of the different forms of bias. We will in no way look at all of them, just those which seem to play the biggest role in recruiting.

The correspondence bias means we tend to assume that a certain (bad) behavior is the result of a person’s character rather than taking into account that everyone has good days and bad days. Of course, especially in recruiting it is hard to curb this impulse, since often enough the first impression is decisive. However, it might be good practice to, if everything else fits, take a second look, even if someone wasn’t quite convincing the first time around.

The confirmation bias causes you to only pay attention to information which seems to confirm your own opinion, and disregard all the rest. Meaning that someone who subconsciously thinks that women can’t do math and men had better not attempt to cook, will pretty much search for examples so prove his point, and not even notice all the long list of wonderful male chefs.

The halo effect describes the tendency to „complement“ available information with expectations, stereotypes, or simply assumptions. Or the assessment of one radiates over into a different area. The forceful manner of a manger who doesn’t tolerate contradiction might be seen as b leadership while the company is thriving, but be called arrogant, antiquated and inflexible as soon as times aren’t so great anymore.  At the same time it would be deceptively easy to assume that such a person is also an aggressive driver, even if we’ve never seen them behind the wheel of a car.

The contrast bias stems from the human habit of always looking for comparisons to categorize anything new. It is also the reason why many hiring manager find it difficult to hire a person without having seen at least one other candidates, no matter how well the original candidate fits the job requirements. It is simply much easier to decide which candidate would be better suited for the job than gauging whether candidate has what it takes.

If that second candidate is very good, the perfectly suited first candidate might suddenly seem less desirable. Inversely, if the second candidate doesn’t fit at all, candidate no 1 might seem like an overachiever.

Anyone who is vaguely interested in science will regularly run across the mantra “correlation isn’t causation”, because humans have a b tendency towards illusory correlation, seeing connections where none exist. The clustering illusion is somewhat similar, as it describes our habit to see patterns everywhere. Resumes are by nature very condensed, only catching a small part of a person, personality and life. People will be sorely tempted to read more into it than is actually written down – even if a quick question could provide that information much more reliably.

The hindsight bias is not so much an expression for all of us who are one hundred percent sure that the car keys must be on the cupboard in the hall, only to later find it in the kitchen drawer. It rather describes the human habit of adjusting ones memories after the fact, especially memories about one’s predictions. Half a day later you might then be convinced that you never even looked for the key in the hall at all but knew it was in the kitchen all along. The problem with this is that the faulty memory leads to inflated imagined success rates, increasing undue confidence in one’s own prediction skills. Add to that the always present general overestimation of one’s own skills, and it’s possible to rashly dismiss candidates or summarily accept others when otherwise a closer look would have been useful.

Another thing to be aware of is that all these subconscious biases are even ber when you are dealing with an individual who is not part of your own group. “Group” here can be defined by all kinds of things: gender, age, color of skin, ancestry, dialect, profession, taste in music.

Those are just a handful of example of the many bias’ that we subconsciously fall prey to every day. No matter what you may think, everyone is subject to them. Evolution hardwired them into our psychological makeup. Are we then helpless to overcome those oftentimes detrimental mechanisms? Not quite. Know your enemy! If you are aware what pitfalls are waiting, your stand a much better chance of counter at least some of them.

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Herr Daniel Stock d.stock(@)top-jobs-europe.de