Halo Effect

The halo effect makes you create a very positive judgment about a candidate just because one specific characteristic stood out positively.


What is the halo effect?

Why do professionals add ex-McKinsey to their LinkedIn tagline and why do we think that people that went to a certain, well-known university are more competent than others? 

It all comes down to the Halo effect.

The halo effect makes you create a very positive judgment about a candidate just because one specific characteristic stood out positively. This one characteristic leads to you not being critical anymore about other characteristics.

Or as Leonie Grandpierre puts it – “one positive aspect that you perceive in an object or a person influences you to interpret the object or person as a whole as positive as well”.

It’s the exact opposite of the Horns effect.

Where in the recruitment process is the halo effect the most prominent?

The halo effect can be present at any stage of the recruitment process, but it tends to be most prominent in the initial stages of candidate evaluation.

This is because first impressions often carry a lot of weight and can heavily influence subsequent evaluations.

During resume screening

  • A candidate who graduated from a well-known & prestigious university is assumed to be highly intelligent and talented, even if the
  • A candidate who has worked for a well-known and respected company (e.g. McKinsey) is assumed to have valuable skills and experience, even if they only worked there for a few months.

During initial interviews

  • A candidate who is charismatic and confident is assumed to have good communication skills and leadership potential, even if they struggle with more technical aspects of the job.
  • A candidate who is well-dressed and articulate is assumed to be competent and professional, even if their resume suggests otherwise.

During skills assessments

  • A candidate who performed well on a previous test or assessment is assumed to be skilled and knowledgeable, even if the current test covers different material or skills.

What are the implications of the halo effect when it’s triggered?

When triggered in a hiring process, the halo effect can have several implications, including:

  • Overemphasis on certain qualities: The halo effect can cause hiring managers to place too much emphasis on a particular attribute or skill that a candidate possesses, rather than considering the full range of qualities that are necessary for the job.
  • Unrealistic expectations: When a candidate appears to have many positive attributes, the halo effect can lead to unrealistic expectations about their abilities and potential for success. This can result in disappointment and frustration if the candidate does not meet these expectations.
  • Biased hiring decisions: The halo effect can lead recruiters or hiring managers to favor candidates who possess certain positive attributes, such as an impressive educational background or work experience. This can result in biased hiring decisions that exclude other qualified candidates who may not have those same attributes.
  • Confirmation bias: Once a hiring manager has formed a positive impression of a candidate, they may unconsciously seek out information that confirms that impression and overlook any negative information that could be important in making a hiring decision.

How can you minimize the impact of the halo effect?

If you want to learn how to reduce the effects of the halo effect, make sure to listen to the full podcast episode with Leonie Grandpierre below!

Let’s get back to the same McKinsey example mentioned earlier. If your assumption is that everyone that has worked at McKinsey is smart, intelligent and hard-working, find a way to measure directly whether this person fits this assumption. 

Leonie Grandpierre suggests that this is best done by “using an objective assessment tool that can give an objective rather than a subjective view of someone’s abilities”.

Overall, we have summarized some of the best practices when it comes to minimizing the impact of the halo effect in hiring:

  1. Minimize human interference in the first step of the application process.
  2. Set clear & objective criteria that can be measured. Stick to these criteria as much as possible.
  3. Have a structured interview process. Meaning that every candidate is asked the same set of questions, there is a clear scoring structure in place and create a diverse hiring panel.

The halo effect cheat-sheet

The halo effect cheat-sheet ​

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