Saturday, January 28, 2017

Is Bias Undermining Your Hiring?

I have to say, I've interviewed a lot of people in the course of my career.  As a former recruiter for a growing Chicago INC 500 recruiting firm, I found myself interviewing people in my sleep! 

I did it so much, it got to the point that within a few minutes I could "read" someone and quickly determine if the candidate was the best fit for the role and client. At that time, one could say I was very skilled at interviewing.

I've also learned, over the course of my professional development, a great deal about how the mind works in the areas of perception and interpretation, both consciously and subconsciously, which is foundational information included in almost all my learning seminars.  

There is absolutely no doubt that we all have a developed lens or filter by which we view and interpret every experience in life. That lens or filter creates a bias.  As interviewers, that lens/filter does not automatically and expertly turn off the moment we sit in front of a candidate.  

So what might be involved in interview bias?  Well, the HR Department of  the University of North Carolina posted a list which we all could learn from.  Some of the elements are as follows:

First impression error
The interviewer makes snap judgments and lets his or her first impression (either positive or negative) cloud the entire interview. Example: Giving more credence to the fact that the candidate graduated from the interviewer's alma mater than to the applicant's knowledge, skills, or abilities is an example of the first-impression error.
Negative emphasis
Rejecting a candidate on the basis of a small amount of negative information. Research indicates that interviewers give unfavorable information roughly twice the weight of favorable information. Negative emphasis often happens when subjective factors like dress or nonverbal communication taint the interviewer's judgment.
Halo/horn effect
The interviewer allows one strong point that he or she values highly to overshadow all other information. When this works in the candidate's favor, it is called the halo effect. When it works in the opposition direction, with the interviewer judging the potential employee unfavorably in all areas on the basis of one trait, it is called the horn effect.

There are 10 in all and here is the link to the list -- it's worth the time to review and share with fellow hiring managers

So here are a few questions that come to mind in sharing this:
1. Do you have a sense of your own bias?

2. Within your company, is there any training with hiring managers in this regard, meaning is there procedure or protocol to address this.

3. Do you use other interviewing tools and practices to offset this?  (Assessments really can help here.  The assessments I use in my practice are validated against bias and EEOC compliant. We call it "scientific hiring".  Please know there are popular ones that are not.)

So, in answer to the title question - Is Bias Undermining Your Hiring? -- the answer is yes! Bias in a natural part of how we see and operate in the world.

Even though I became very skilled at interviewing and finding really great candidates for my clients was bias involved?  I would have to admit -- yes. Skill in interviewing does not mean bias is not in play.

What's key from this post then is to build awareness of it and to consciously, and to have a protocol to offset it!  Where can we as an HR community start? Well, let's start with just being honest about it.

Obviously effective hiring and selection practices are essential to successful talent management.  Perhaps it's time to review this area for you and your company.

Learn more about "scientific hiring" and validated assessments: Scientific Hiring or Gut Feel - Are You Willing To Bet Your Career On It? 

Need some advice regarding your hiring and selection protocol? - feel free to connect with me;

Still not convinced about embedded bias? - Read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell 

To learn more about holistic talent management - click here 

Learn about the assessment we use

Update: I ran across this HBR article on diversity and bias and a great example of best practice: click here

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  1. JoAnn, fabulous post on a subject we need to give attention to. Most managers pride themselves on their interviewing skills. Evidence tells us we're not as superb as we'd like to think--and Peter Drucker said that experienced executives only get hiring decisions right a little over 33 percent of the time. But hey, what did Drucker know?

    1. I really see from my own experience - that no matter how skilled you are - bias is present "Skill in interviewing does not mean bias is not in play." It should be a given -- standard --that it is given and measures should be put in place to address it. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Very good piece on a most important topic. We know from our studies of behaviors that some managers "fall in love" quickly with candidates and never actually ask the tough questions. Others are so focused on finding a perfect skills match that they miss the trainable gem. Research shows that they top 25% of employees in a give role often out perform the bottom 25% by 5X yet managers say they never choose anyone who they believe will be in the bottom group. In my experience, only the application of a scientific, objective assessment (like the Predictive Index you mentioned) can help managers avoid their own bias and pick winners more consistently.

    1. Very good points Steve! We hear so much the phrase, "I just really like this person." Which really says little about what their ultimate job performance will be.

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