December 24, 2013

Beware of the Recruiter’s Blind Spot

Business man standing on a ladder taking a blind leapWe’ve all heard about the driver’s blind spot, which hides potential hazards on the road, but do you know that recruiter’s have a scientifically proven blind spot that occurs during the interview and assessment process. This blind spot can lead to an inferior or even poor hiring decision.

So, what is this blind spot? Well, according to Francesca Gino, researcher at Harvard Business School, this blind spot occurs when recruiters are choosing between candidates for a position. For example, you might be looking at two sales managers; one will have great sales figures and another may have average or even poor sales figures. Naturally, the recruiters would choose the candidate with the best sales figures, wouldn’t they?

But, according to Francesca’s research, this could be a mistake, because it is unlikely this decision was considering the context that these two candidates were operating in. In short, the candidate with the highest sales figures may have been operating in an easier environment and the candidate with lower figures may have been operating in a more challenging environment, meaning that the seemingly weaker candidate’s relative performance level could be higher than that of the seemingly stronger candidate.

But, just how prevalent is this phenomena? How often does the recruiter blind spot strike; do recruiter’s regularly fail to consider the context of a candidate’s performance?

Well, in Francesca’ research paper, Inflated Applicants: Attribution Errors in Performance Evaluation by Professionals, they looked at simulated corporate selection scenarios and found that recruiters tended to not take account of the relative situations/contexts of each applicant when assessing performance. This is the recruiter’s blind spot. And it is not just confined to external hiring decisions, it impacts internal promotion decisions too.

Don’t worry, this blind spot is not just confined to recruiters; It’s a human perceptual flaw known as correspondence bias or attribution error.

So, how can recruiters overcome this bias? One obvious way to do it is to ask questions and understand the actual context that each candidate is performing in. Although worryingly, Francesca found that this blind spot or bias is entrenched, as when the study participants were given the full contextual information, (e.g. how hard or easy each context was), the decision makers still focused completely on individual performance. (Admittedly, this was an isolated finding so all hope is not lost.) So, the recruiters’ blind spot is hard to overcome even with questioning into the surrounding context.

There were at least several proven ways to minimize the chance of bias occurring. For example, they found that stressed, distracted or overly busy recruiters were more susceptible to the blind spot; so, giving your recruiters enough time to interview effectively can help reduce this bias. They also found that recruiters with a greater capacity for reflective thought were less likely to show the bias. Also, if people feel accountable to others they are also less likely to show the bias.

So, there you have it: the recruiter’s blind spot. Now, if you are interested in some tips to combat this bias, please read my follow up article, “6 Ways To See Through The Recruiter’s Blind Spot.”

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Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.