In my last blog post I wrote about recruiting being a human function and the role that gut feel plays in decision making.  A reader kindly pointed out to me the importance of considering the “halo effect” and the temptation to choose people we like at interview.

The Halo Effect

The halo effect has been recognised for some time, with the phrase first coined by Psychologist, Edward Thorndike in 1920 during a study of the military and how commanding officers rated their soldiers.  The halo effect is used “… to describe the global impact of likeable personality, or some specific desirable trait, in creating biased judgments of the target person on any dimension.  Thus, feelings generally overcome cognitions when we appraise others” (The SAGE Encyclopaedia of Social Science Research Methods). download (2)

Recruiting traps beware of your own bias

To counter the gut feel that impacts our decision making when recruiting, it is certainly worth considering the trap we could be stepping into.  In a Harvard Business Review article, Melvin Scorcher and James Brant wrote, “in our experience, CEO’s, presidents, executive VP’s and other top-level people often fall into the trap of making decisions about candidates based on lopsided or distorted information… Frequently they fall prey to the halo effect: overvaluing certain attributes while undervaluing others”.

Everyone has both strengths and weaknesses, but the halo effect can direct our attention to either one or the other, lacking a balanced view.  As such, we can make decisions without considering all the available information.

As a Recruiter, I understand the temptation to want to hire a candidate that I like and ‘gel’ with or who has great skills in a particular area.  But I constantly need to draw myself back to what is important to the business.  I try to focus on what it is that we really need and make a decision beyond just my feelings and personal connection with them.  I ask myself, will they help our company achieve what we want to achieve?  If the answer is yes, I then try to consider the other factors that I may have initially overlooked, such as what negatives will they also bring, so that there aren’t too many surprises when the new person joins the team.

Building a robust recruitment process

A well planned recruitment process can help mitigate the risks of making a bad (and costly) hiring decision.  Gut feel will still play a key role when it comes to making the final decision, however a thought out recruitment process can be run in a manner that takes into account both ‘feeling’ and ‘cognitive’ considerations.

A robust process will allow you to uncover the technical and behavioural competencies of each potential candidate and then be assessed against the critical job criteria (including the purpose of the role, technical skills required, personality traits desirable and considerations of cultural fit).

Involving others in the recruitment process may help mitigate against the halo effect (but be aware of ‘group think’). Listening to the viewpoints of others who may focus their attentions on completely different things can help you to stop and think of things you may have overlooked.

First Impressions Count

Yet, regardless of how well a recruitment process is planned and executed, I have no doubt that first impressions definitely count and hiring managers will often make up their mind within the first few minutes of an interview.  So as a candidate, you need to be aware of this and make those first few minutes count.  And as an interviewer, be aware of your personal bias and think beyond just your feelings.

Ben Walsh – General Manager; Recruitment

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