Latest insights into behavioural science have shown that recruitment processes are often heavily skewed by a number of unconscious biases on the part of those hiring, according to a new report from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. As thousands of young jobseekers enter the market for the first time in the coming weeks, the CIPD is urging people with hiring responsibilities to consider using insights from behavioural science to overlook their first instincts about a person and instead gain a more rounded and accurate picture of a candidate’s suitability for the job.

The report A Head for Hiring: The Behavioural Science of Recruitment, shows that employers’ initial perceptions of whether a person will be a good fit can be determined by factors which have no real impact on performance, including visual, cultural, demographic and situational factors. For example:

  • Both male and female managers tend to favour men over women in hiring decisions
  • Evidence suggests that we hire ‘Mini-Me’s’; people like ourselves in terms of hobbies, experiences and how we dress/present ourselves at interview
  • The time taken to make a recruitment decision often increases for the first few candidates, but can drop as soon as the fourth, at which point confirmation bias or ‘selective hearing’ can come into play
  • Identical CVs seem to get more call-backs when the applicant is typically deemed to have a ‘white’ name as opposed to one that can obviously be associated with an ethnic minority group
  • Potential biases can stem from a need to justify one’s choice once it has been made (known as ‘self-serving bias’), or from wanting to avoid the perceived risk of hiring someone that’s different to the norm (known as ‘status quo bias’)
  • Open-ended interviews can lead to different participants being asked different questions to unconsciously re-affirm initial impressions
  • Even physical factors – such as the weight of clipboard that a CV is presented on, or how warm an interviewer feels – can affect how a candidate is rated in their overall assessment

Jonny Gifford, Research Adviser at the CIPD, commented: “So many recruitment decisions are based on a ‘gut instinct’ or what feels intuitively right, and this is a real problem. We like to think we can spot talent, but insights from behavioural science show that our decision-making is actually highly prone to ‘sloppy thinking’ and bias. Even highly trained assessors make systematically different decisions depending on the time of day and their ‘cognitive load’ or ‘brain-strain’ at that point in time. Regardless of the level of resources and techniques one has to work with, there are steps that employers and recruiters can take to ensure that candidates get a fair recruitment experience and that employers find the person that best fits the role and can drive business performance.”

The CIPD’s report makes a number of recommendations to ensure that employers have consistent and effective hiring practices and can make better hiring decisions. These include:

Before job interviews:

  • Test the wording of job adverts to see how it affects who applies
  • Group and anonymise CVs when reviewing them

During job interviews:

  • Spread assessments and decisions across days but keep other conditions like the room, the questions and even the refreshments similar. For instance, experiments have shown that interviewers experiencing physical warmth by holding a warm drink prior to assessing someone were more likely to judge them to be generous and caring
  • Focus interviews on collecting information, not on making the decision
  • Pre-commit to a set of interview questions that are directly related to performance on the job. Questions should be structured in a way that focuses on the specifics of the job in hand to find the person with the best organisational and cultural fit

After interviews:

  • Stick to what the scores tell you for your final decision
  • Include people in hiring decisions that haven’t been involved in assessing candidates to make a more objective, considered final decision

Download the full report


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