10 March 2019

3 cognitive biases that mess with our hiring process (and how to solve this)

Cognitive processes are all processes that are responsible for information processing in our brain. A cognitive bias is therefore — logically — an irrational, erroneous processing of a piece of information. In other words: the way you thought was wrong.

So, a cognitive bias causes a wrong judgement. When taking into account that we have to make 10,000 (micro)decisions per day, it’s not so surprising to hear that sometimes we simply make a wrong decision. However, some people seem to forget that the consequences of these wrong decisions may cause a serious problem if this concerns decisions that we label as important. A hiring-related decision is without a doubt one of those important decisions.

3 cognitive biases that affect how we review candidates

One of the main reasons for companies to automate their candidate screening and matching process is the fact that automation means avoiding these cognitive biases. Blind hiring — meaning applying for a job without instantly sharing your personal and demographic information — takes this to an even higher level.

By combining screening automation and blind hiring, companies will simply eliminate the three cognitive biases that would normally get in the way:

1. Stereotyping

I still experience the consequences of stereotyping every single day. In the Netherlands (and probably also in the rest of the world), as a 21-year-old female entrepreneur you don’t fit in any possible social framework. The same applies to a female CEO. If a woman would even make it that far (which is unfortunately still quite an achievement nowadays), society will constantly judge her: how to raise a family as a full-time mother and CEO? Is this woman strong enough to stand up for herself between all masculinity in this boardroom? Although these questions sound almost too stupid to ask; people do it anyway.

Besides stereotyping based on age or gender, race and religion also often form the basis for discrimination on the labor market. Unfortunately, there are still countless people in this world who categorize you purely based on the colour of your skin without even knowing another singly piece of information about your background.

2. In-group bias

The in-group bias is the tendency that people have to favor their own group above that of others. In other words: once you feel like you fit in a certain group, you tend to favor the people in this group over the people outside this group. The basis for group formation can vary greatly; groups might be formed based on gender, age, living environment, job experience, etc.. The consequences of this bias can be expressed in the evaluation of in-group members vs. ‘outside people’, sharing similar opinions within the group and creating bias towards other groups.

When translating this into the situation on the labor market, you will experience that recruiters tend to review candidates who fit in more similar groups more positively than candidates with fewer common grounds. This results in the fact that your talent pool will become less diverse over time if there’s no rapid rotation within the HR-team.

3. Information bias

The third cognitive bias that significantly influences our hiring process is the information bias; the tendency of people to think that more information is always better for accurate decision making. Many people believe that more information leads to more quality of the decision-making process, even if the extra information is not that relevant to the decision.

During a hiring process, our curious brain encourages us to gather as much information about a candidate as possible. However, our brain is not capable of objectively assessing which information is relevant and which is not in every situation. Personal and demographic information (name, gender, age, etc.) is often seen as crucial information by our brain, while focusing on a person’s character and skills is way more valuable for an accurate review.

When reviewing a candidate, quality should be a standard over quantity. If you really know what you’re looking for, less information might even be better to make sure you can’t get biased by some pieces of ‘irrelevant’ information.

So, how to solve this problem?

To make sure these three biases won’t get in the way of finding that one person you’re looking for, here’s my suggestion: (i) automate your screening process and (ii) implement blind hiring. Automating your screening process allows you to let data help you finding the right person for the job. This solves the information bias, because data-driven and self-learning systems know which data is relevant and which isn’t. Blind hiring means that you mask all personal and demographic information that may cause any bias. This makes it impossible to let your screening stage get influenced by stereotyping and the in-group bias.

In short: the combination of these two methods gives you the handles you need to let cognitive biases no longer mess with your brain and hiring process.

Cheers, Charlotte