Glasses to Focus The ViewThere are many conscious and unconscious biases that recruiters and hiring managers are susceptible too. Many of the more well known ones such as race, gender, age, and sexual orientation have been identified and prohibited by legislation. But, there are other more inconspicuous biases that are not widely known about, which reduce the quality of the hiring decision.

One particular recruiter bias or more accurately blind spot that has come to my attention recently is known as correspondence bias or fundamental attribution error and this was highlighted in a recent Harvard Business School study by Francesca Gino. They found that recruiters were assessing candidate performance without considering the relative context within which each was operating. For example, a high-performing employee operating in an easy environment might in real terms be a worse performer than the low-performing employee operating in a tougher environment. This was a very big recruiter blind spot, which the majority of recruiters were susceptible too. So, what can recruiters do to overcome this bias and see through the blind spot? I think there are several areas to focus on:

1.Bringing a focus on context-based assessment

The researchers did suggest that this blind spot was engrained and that this bias was hard to break. Even so, I think it can be broken; just consider sports teams that clearly understand that 50 goals/touchdowns in a lower league is not the same as 50 goals/touchdowns in a higher league. I believe that if the relative difficulty of each context is made clear enough, recruiters can and will make context dependent assessment decisions and overcome the recruiter blind spot.

To do this, I would then recommend introducing an investigative process that considers the context that the candidates were operating in. Context could include information like: number of direct reports, how much budget was available, how long they’d been in the role, market recognition of brand, employer brand recognition, reputation of company, whether the company profitable or loss making, saturated versus new market, etc. Anything that describes the ease or difficulty of the context that the candidates were operating in. This information would be need to be discovered by a combination of questioning, networking, secondary research, reference checking, etc., enabling you to develop a dossier and analysis on the context of your key applicants. I believe this will lead to a more effective, context-based hiring decision.

2. Minimizing stress, distraction and being over busy

Of course, for many of you, being stressed, distracted and overloaded may be considered the norm. But, just because it’s the norm, it doesn’t mean it’s right. In fact, the study showed that an overloaded recruiter is more susceptible to this contextual recruiter blind spot. So, to minimize susceptibility to this bias and improve hiring decision quality, develop hiring processes which focus more on quality than speed. This may not be as hard as it sounds as there has recently been an increasing emphasis on the quality of hire and reduced emphasis on time-to-hire in hiring.

3. Consider the recruiter’s temperament

The research shows that candidates with a greater capacity for reflective thought (as measured by a need for cognition), are less susceptible to this hiring bias. Clearly, giving recruiters more time, as in step two, will aid reflective thought processes as you need time to reflect. Maybe you need to introduce some more ‘thinkers’ into the selective process to reduce the emphasis on task orientation. This is difficult, I know, because when facing pressure to recruit fast, it can be tempting to bring on task orientated recruiters rather than more reflective and possibly more “quality focused” ones. It’s always about getting the right balance between the two.

4. Make recruiters accountable

The research also showed that making recruiters more accountable can reduce this bias. In operational terms, this actually might translate to assessing and rewarding your recruiters not just on speed, but actually on the quality and future performance level of the hire. Make them accountable for the quality of the hire, and this will minimize the recruiter blind spot.

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