estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Every second hire is a fail - Overcoming biased recruiting with AI


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If you’re like most of us, you viewed Alan more favorably than Ben. You probably relied on gut feeling rather than on rationality, because there is actually no evident reason to favor Alan over Ben. The psychological effect you just experienced is a cognitive bias, one of many that manipulate the rational mind and disturb our ability to judge effectively.

Cognitive biases play a huge, and often underestimated role in every-day decision making, especially in the recruiting process. Success margins of conventional talent acquisition are shockingly low, whereas costs are astronomical. In 2015, Larry Miller wrote on Forbes.com: “hiring includes a lot of guessing”. What he means is, that judging the merit of a candidate is often rather a gamble than deliberate decision-making. Cognitive biases and irrelevant information fog our ability to reasonably evaluate the business value of a candidate.

Many times, it is the demographics, outer appearance, ethnicity, religious affiliation, which strongly affect our judgement. In most cases however, these characteristics don’t matter at all and can’t predict a candidates success in a specific job. General intelligence, previous experiences, behavioural characteristics such as thoroughness, industriousness, and teamwork are the characteristics that really matter. Good hiring should be rational, evidence-based and focused solely on these job-relevant characteristics of a candidate. That’s why recruiters must pay attention to the following eight unconscious biases and perceptions:


1. Conformity bias

Surrounded by others, people have the tendency to behave conform rather than using their own independent judgment. Famous experiments by Asch show, that people exposed to controlled misjudgement of a group, adapted the wrong judgement themselves. Even obvious facts were not seen clearly after others had expressed their (obviously wrong) doubt. This plays out strongly in recruiting: panel discussions about several candidates after their interviews can lead to groupthink and if an individual feels the majority of the group are leaning towards/away from a certain candidate, they will tend to go along with the group thinks rather than voice their own opinions.

2. Beauty Bias


Outer appearance strongly affects the judgments of a person's success and performance. Studies show that the most handsome individuals are also the ones taken most serious, their expected merit is highest and they are hired preferably. But obviously, there are no studies that proof the correlation of attractive physical attributes to outstanding job performance. Recruiters however, tend to fill a job position with someone who shares similar physical attributes to the person who held that role before, or who they believe looks like the kind of person who should have the position based on their preconceived bias.


3. Affinity Bias

One little thing you share with a candidate might be enough to alter your hiring decision. Just think about the choice between two candidates: one of them went to the same college as you did, the other one didn’t. Most likely you will prefer the candidate you share something with, i.e. have affinity with. Your micro-affirmations will just play out a little more with a person, that reminds you of someone you know and like. As a result, this unconscious affirmation can be what eventually tips the scale for or against a certain candidate.


4. Halo Effect

Everyone knows the feeling of a halo glow surrounding a certain person. These individuals are universally appreciated, no matter what they actually do or what they contribute to the business. When we see on great thing about a person, this “halo” surrounding the person affects our opinions of everything else about that individual - we are in awe of them due to one characteristic. This plays out strongly for recruiters who are going through someone’s resume and notice one outstanding accomplishment or a certain high grade. Upon seeing that, we tend to see everything else about that person surrounded by the glow of that achievement and tend to feel they’d “fit in” over other candidates.


5. Horns Effect

While the Halo Effect is about the positive perception of a person’s characteristics, the Horns Effect is the direct opposite. One outstanding negative thing about a candidate lets us see the devil horns on this person and will affect all further judgement in a negative way. Recruiters can often be affected by the one bad thing about a person, that is overshadowing all other good characteristics. Again, this strongly plays out when going through resumes, which contain something unpleasant. One disliked characteristic can affect all further judgement of an individual in a negative way.


6. Similarity Bias

Humans tend to surround themselves with people that seem to be similar to themselves. This plays a role when we choose friends or a partner, but it is the same in work life and in recruiting. We prefer individuals we see parts of ourselves in to individuals that are profoundly different. In many cases however, exactly this difference could be very valuable for business. Also, most people would strongly agree that hiring their colleague should focus on actual skills rather than the sympathy of a recruiter.

7. Contrast Effect

Every recruiter who is flicking through resume after resume and LinkedIn profile after LinkedIn knows this effect: we always compare an applicant to the one before and the one after. If a recruiter conducts several interviews after each other, the contrast effects plays out strongly and candidates are not solely judged by their skills and attributes, but in many ways compared to the other applicants. The only thing however, a recruiter should judge is the skills and attributes each individual has, not those of the person that came directly before or after a candidate.


8. Confirmation Bias

This bias is especially tricky, because it confirms the assessment of a person that you build up during the interview with evidence that is actually not related. Subconsciously you look for evidence that confirms your own opinions of a candidate and makes you believe you’re right about the assessment of a person. If your first judgement of a candidate is very negative, you will for sure find more evidence that confirms this judgment. If your first judgement is positive, all following assessments will most likely confirm this impression. When you want a certain judgement to be true, you will end up believing it to be true.

Can you find out what bias influenced you when you decided whether to hire Alan or Ben? Also, check yourself for unconscious biases and attitudes with this Harvard bias test. Give it a try!

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Since psychologists know of cognitive biases and digital technology has advanced, the performance related characteristics of a candidate are much better judged by artificial intelligence. With its sophisticated algorithms and nourished with huge data sets, AI is a better recruiter than all biased human recruiters combined.

That is why WorkGenius uses it’s AI to match talents to the jobs they can do best. The algorithm is based on 5000+ data points, which is more than any recruiter could efficiently ever consider. WorkGenius finds the talent and gets your work done within minutes.