Cognitive Bias & How It Affects Our (Not Only Hiring) Decisions
Cognitive bias very often creeps into our daily communication and hiring process subconsciously and unexpectedly. It may occur when we “trust our gut” or just “follow our intuition” ignoring significant insights and not using critical thinking. What might be scary is that unconscious bias is really hard to identify and it does much harm to our daily life. If it comes to the recruitment area, the consequence might be hiring someone who is not as engaged as we expected, choosing a candidate with not appropriate skillset for the role or not giving a chance to a real talent.
In all areas of our work cognitive bias leads to many misunderstandings, conflicts or professional failures. It makes us overlook some crucial information in favour of the beliefs we hold. As it was said this is an unconscious process and in most cases we are not aware we exhibit a particular kind of thinking tendency. However, noticing certain examples of bias can help you identify factors that may have an impact on your decisions. Understanding what type of bias you are dealing with can be important to both your professional and personal development. Below you can find the most common 13 types of cognitive bias occurring not only in hiring process, but also in daily communication.
The tendency to search for and focus on the information that will confirm our prior belief, opinion or expectation. Due to the conformation bias we tend to listen only to the information that confirm our viewpoint which makes us think everyone who disagrees with us must be wrong, misinformed or irrational. The more we are affected by confirmation bias, the less likely we want to listen to people with opposing views.
The tendency to explain a person's behaviour by referring to their personality rather than any situational factors like social and environmental forces. We often assume that someone’s actions depend on what "kind" of person they are. What is interesting, if it comes to our own action we often view them as affected by the environment. For example if you fail to meet a deadline in a project, you may assume that it was because of the client’s changing requirements, not enough support from the team etc. But if it was your colleague who did not finish the task on time, the assumptions might be completely different i.e due to their incompetence, poor time management or laziness.
A type of bias that is formed when we take one trait of a person and make it either “the halo” or “the horn” and then it becomes the root of our all further judgments. If we notice one good thing about an individual, we often assume them to be “good” also regarding other things. And when we notice one bad thing about a person, we assume her/him to be bad when it comes to other things. The example might the first impression of a candidate who takes part in an interview. If we are not aware of the halo/horn effect, the first impression may overshadow the candidate’s positive or negative attributes. For instance a recruiter may see a photo on the resume presenting a sad grimace which may cause inaccurate negative assumptions about the candidate’s negative attitude to life.
The intriguing aspect is that there exists also bias like a reverse halo effect which happens when a positive perception of a person causes some negative consequences. The example might be when we see an attractive well-built man and based on his appearance we assume that the only thing ha cares about in his life is going to the gym, building muscles and his good-looking. We may also assume that he is of poor intellect.
It is human’s tendency to focus on the most easily recognisable features and casting aside those that lack prominence. If an element or some informations seems to stand out, it is salient. Salient means most noticeable, prominent or important. The salient elements make it easy for people to process the information (cognitive ease).In a recruitment process elements like education, some personal traits or just hobbies may make our experience salient. In consequence, recruiters are likely to omit some really crucial informations of the candidates and end up making decisions that may not be the best.
An inclination to rely too heavily on the first piece of information we are given about some topic. The anchor is a very strong starting point that may affect your final decision. In hiring process the anchoring bias may occur for instance during resumes screening. The recruiter while reviewing candidate’s CVs may notice a postgraduate diploma from a recognisable university and even if it is not a job requirement it may become an anchoring point for reviewing the rest of candidates. In everyday life we experience anchoring bias very often while shopping and making buying decisions.
As human being we gravitate toward people like us — toward people who have something in common with us, who share the same worldview and can empathise with our experience. This tendency is known as an affinity bias. It is our propensity to connect with people who share similar interests, backgrounds or beliefs. If you meet someone in real life and this person likes mountain hiking as much as you do, it is likely you have a positive feeling about him/her. Nevertheless, the affinity bias is against difference and in consequence it may really narrow our possibilities and options. In the hiring process it may manifest itself by treating particular candidates more favourably because they are like us or we just see the part of us in them.
An inclination to make a decision based on stereotypes and assumptions about a certain group. Stereotyping is probably the most common one. Recruiters are very often exposed on a perception bias and they even do not realise when it affects their hiring decisions. Someone’s ethnic background, gender, education, social status, disability etc. may lead the recruiter to attribute certain characteristics to a candidate or make some assumptions about them. Due to that some candidates (and people in general) may be perceived as more or less capable and suitable for some positions. They either might be favoured too much or disadvantaged because of our unfair assumptions.
Concervative bias is the tendency to favour prior evidence or information over the newest one. To avoid conservative bias in a hiring process you should consider the candidates in batches for comparison purposes. In contrast the recency bias occurs when we pay more attention to the newest (recent) information and events rather than the prior experience. Why does it happen? Firstly, it is much easier to recall recent information and it is seen by our brain as more significant. As a result our decisions suffer from short-sightedness and blind spots.
A tendency to ignore dangerous, negative or potentially unpleasant information i.e. burying one’s head in the sand. The ostrich effect may takes form of purposeful interpreting information in a negative way, inattention, forgetting or physical avoidance of something that may include unpleasant news. It happens not only before making up one’s mind but also after making a decision. It is a possible indication that we only want to consider the positive aspects of something or someone. Ostrich bias is visible in many behaviours. Probably the most common one is connected with health conditions when a person in fear for receiving some bad information considering their health avoids visiting a doctor or doing regular check-ups.
Very often the ostrich effect bias occurs also in a conflict situations in the team when people are afraid of facing the conversations. One of examples in a recruitment area is when recruiters know about some social problems of a candidate in a previous workplace but ignore them because of his/her perfect skillset.
The majority of people assume that they are better than average drivers, more accurate witnesses or that they are just more ethical than average people. How is it connected with a hiring process or any organisational process whatsoever? The overconfidence bias can lead recruiters and managers to make decisions without ethical reflection. In their minds their decisions may be completely right. The recruiter can be so confident about their hiring decision that he/she even may not focus on a full assessment of a candidate’s talent or skills and ignore their own deficiencies in knowledge. The overconfidence might be a result of confirmation bias.
In psychology contras bias is described as an intensified difference between two stimuli when they are brought together or follows each other. As a result of contrast bias our judgments may differ significantly depending on the comparison standard. In a job interview the contrast bias takes places when recruiters are evaluating the candidates in comparison to one another. In this way the candidate is not individually assessed based on their qualifications but rather based on the prior candidates.
A cognitive bias in which we make a decision about information based on how it is presented rather than the information itself. We can make a different decision about the same thing depending on whether it is put in either a positive frame or a negative frame.
The same regards people we meet in our life, and candidates in the hiring process. Equally skilled candidates can be more or less attractive to a recruiter depending on what features are highlighted e.g. in the candidate’s experience history it is seen that he/she was changing their job every few months. And now - if the candidate uses some positive words and context to describe the reason for this change, the recruiter will be more likely to react positively compared to the candidates who would start complaining about their previous managers, co-workers and workplace (even though it might be true). To understand better how it works I advise you to read some details about the psychological theory of choice developed by by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1979.
A tendency to make a decision or make future predictions based on the recent and the most available context or experience. In this way the pieces of information that come to our mind quickly are considered incorrectly as the most significant. The more frequent events are more easily recalled by us than less frequent events which may lead to inaccurate judgements - very often to either the overestimation or underestimation of someone/something.
It may be also an hiring issue while choosing the best talents for recruiters who experience a high cognitive load. We may be interviewing a candidate from the company X and readily recall the fact that the last person from the same company was missing many values that our organisation shares. As a result, we may also get concerned that the current candidate will be the same. There might be also the opposite case when recruiters may be favouring of some candidates who are reviewed in the last round of interviews as their responses are easier to remember.
The above mentioned cognitive biases are just some of the examples of mental shortcuts used by all of us (including me) in judgment-making scenarios. How can we avoid them?
The very first step is to recognise them. The goal should be identifying our own patterns of thinking and at the same time our role in causing them. There are also some approaches you can use to minimalise the bias impact on your decisions.
- Ask for hints or opinions of others in your team, especially the ones who frequently have a different perspective than yours.
- Try to look for ideas that will disapprove your own point of view. Think about all the ways you might be wrong about instead of focusing on the things you are sure about.
- Look at the alternative point of view and try to understand the belief of the other side. It might be a good beginning to recognise your own confirmation bias.
- Use different types of data and collect more information. Focus on facts. Recognise whether your thoughts about someone are based on information or assumptions..
- Sometimes it might be also good to delay your decision, step back and try to evaluate the situation one more time.
- Give enough consideration to all of the available information and all of the possible options. Make sure your decision is not influenced by the anchoring point.
- Consider all relevant data when making judgments under uncertainty, not just that which comes readily to mind.
- Make sure you focus on the real job requirements not on candidate’s personal attributes. Give a great importance to candidate’s experience and skillset.
- Involve in your recruitment process a task/work sample that will show how the candidate may think or perform in a real life professional situation. Test candidates’ skills to avoid perception bias.
- Create a structured interview by asking all the candidate the same questions in the same order.
- Introduce scoring criteria.
- Take into account all the information available about a candidate rather than focus on what has recently happened.
- To check if you do not miss any important points consult other professionals who take a broad approach to create some conclusions.
- Think what kind of information you are trying to avoid or is hard to be accepted by you. Make sure if you do not ignore some pieces of information. Try to include negative information in your critical thinking process.
- Fix comparison standards based upon accessibility and applicability of information.
- To avoid framing bias compare your perspective on a candidate with other recruiters. A different perspective allows for the possibility to arrive at the conclusion without being swayed by how the information was originally presented.
And how about you? Do you have any strategies for dealing with bias in your professional or private life? And if you are a recruiter, how do you avoid cognitive bias in the hiring processes in your organisation? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!