What is Anchoring Bias – Definition & Examples in Recruitment

Anchoring Bias is the tendency to rely too heavily on pre-existing information or even the first piece of information you have on a topic when making a decision.


What is anchoring bias?

Anchoring bias is the tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered (the “anchor”) when making subsequent judgments or decisions, even if the anchor is irrelevant or inaccurate.

Is anchoring bias good or bad?

Anchoring bias can have both positive and negative effects, depending on the situation:

  • On the one hand, anchoring bias can help individuals make decisions more efficiently by relying on initial information as a reference point. For example, in negotiation, starting with a high initial offer can set an anchor that makes subsequent offers seem more reasonable and lead to a better outcome for the person who made the initial offer.
  • However, anchoring bias can lead to poor decision-making when the initial anchor is irrelevant or misleading. For example, when shopping for a new phone, if the salesperson shows you an expensive model first, it can anchor you to a higher price point and make other phones seem more reasonably priced, even if they are still expensive.

Examples of anchoring bias in the hiring process

Anchoring bias in a job description

Anchoring bias can occur when the job description places too much emphasis on specific skills or qualifications, as hiring managers may use this information as a reference point for evaluating candidates. 

For example, if the job description requires a specific degree or certification, hiring managers become anchored on these requirements and overlook other qualities that could make a candidate a good fit for the role.

Anchoring bias during candidate screening

Anchoring bias can occur when hiring managers rely too heavily on specific keywords or experiences listed on a candidate’s resume or application. 

If a hiring manager is looking for specific experiences or skills and sees them listed on one candidate’s resume, they may anchor their decision-making on those qualities and overlook other relevant experiences or skills that other candidates possess but have not listed in the same way.

Interview questions can lead to anchoring bias

Anchoring bias can also occur when hiring managers focus their interview questions on a particular topic or skill and overlook other important areas of evaluation.

For example, if a hiring manager is particularly interested in a candidate’s experience with a specific software program, they may ask a series of questions about that topic and overlook other important skills or qualities the candidate possesses. This can lead to a skewed evaluation of the candidate’s suitability for the role.

The impact of anchoring bias on the hiring process

  • Lower job satisfaction: When hiring managers are anchored to a certain set of criteria, they may overlook other important qualities in a candidate, such as cultural fit or potential for growth. This can lead to a less satisfied workforce, as employees may not feel valued or supported.
  • Turnover rates: Similarly, hiring decisions made under the influence of anchoring bias can lead to higher turnover rates. If a candidate is hired based on their similarity to a previous employee, they may not have the necessary skills or qualifications to excel in the role. This can lead to frustration and eventually, turnover.
  • Lack of diversity: Another consequence of anchoring bias in the hiring process is a lack of diversity. If hiring managers are anchored to a certain set of criteria, such as experience or education level, they may overlook candidates who have different backgrounds or come from non-traditional paths. This can result in a less diverse workforce, which can limit innovation and creativity.

How to avoid anchoring bias?

Fortunately, there are steps that hiring managers can take to minimize the effects of anchoring bias in the hiring process. 

Hire based on competencies

One approach to mitigate this bias is to develop a list of competencies required for success in the role. By focusing on specific skills and attributes rather than an initial anchor, the hiring manager can evaluate candidates objectively based on their qualifications.

Blind recruitment

Another effective method is to implement blind recruitment or blind resume screening, which removes certain personal details or identifying information from the resume. This technique can help reduce unconscious bias and ensure that the candidate’s skills and experience are the primary factors considered in the hiring decision.

However, anonymising CVs as the only tool in reducing the influence of unconscious bias poses the problem of postponing these biases and discrimination to the interview stage and leaves the candidate to shoulder the burden of hiding their identity. 

P.S. The term ‘blind recruitment’ has underlying ableist connotations. The choice to include it in this blog is rooted in the widespread use of the term and in the intention to contribute to the ongoing conversation about inclusive language in professional contexts and to raise awareness.

Diverse interview panel

To avoid this, it is highly recommended to have a diverse interview panel to mitigate anchoring bias. By involving multiple interviewers, the hiring manager can obtain a more comprehensive and diverse perspective on the candidate’s suitability for the role. Using structured interviews and predetermined criteria, thus will ensure that all candidates are evaluated fairly based on their qualifications.

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