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Paying Attention to Inattentional Blindness in Recruitment

February 8, 2017

One morning this week, I stood at my front door ready to leave for work and realised I could not find my keys. I explored where I normally keep them (and some other logical places), but to no avail. After 30 minutes of searching and concern for being late for work, I eventually found my keys exactly where I had purposefully left them the night before. They were directly in front of the door.

I had come home from a football match the night before and had my hands full with equipment and my bicycle. I simply dropped my keys, along with my bicycle helmet and gloves, to more comfortably get into the house. The fact that I did not remember was a major factor in my frustration that morning. But how did I not realise that my keys were right in front of me?

For this, we turn to the concept of inattentional blindness (conceived by psychologists Arien Rock and Irvin Mack) for an explanation. If you have heard of the “gorilla experiment” by Simons & Chabris (1999, 2010), then you might have heard this term before. In this experiment, participants were asked to watch a video of basketball players. The task was to count the number of passes made by one team. When asked afterwards if they saw anything unusual, over half of the participants did not notice the person dressed as a gorilla walk right through the middle of the scene.

Click on the link above now (this one) and have a go at this task. You’ll notice that when your attention is drawn to something specific, you are likely to miss details that you were not expecting.

This might sound bad, but it is quite a natural ability that we have evolved. By paying attention to important details and allowing our existing schemas to automatically complete our perception of the world around us, we are making most efficient use of our brains.

This happens very easily in recruitment when we are using face-to-face methods (anything after online sifting stages). When interviewing a candidate for example, we have to multi-task between asking questions, listening to the responses, maintaining eye contact and writing the candidate’s experiences down. Many interviewers wish to find helpful shortcuts, and often look at their marking criteria in advance to know the most important data to capture from the candidate. This is not as helpful as it sounds.

In this situation, think of that preparation in the same way that I thought about where my keys should have been earlier this week. The interviewer then only writes down what they think is important information when they are listening to the candidate (in the same way that I only searched for my keys in places I thought was logical). What is the result? The interviewer misses key information about the candidate’s strengths or weaknesses (while I literally missed my keys).

How do we overcome this problem? We write notes verbatim, (exactly what the candidate says so there is no misinterpretation), and we capture everything that is said (so we do not miss anything due to inattentional blindness). Verbatim note-taking sounds incredibly difficult, I know. It is by far the biggest fear of all prospective assessors I have trained.

However, as with any skill, practice and it becomes relatively easy. You can also develop shorthand note-taking, such as reducing words like “organisation” to “org”; you retain the meaning of the sentence, while reducing the percentage of ink on the page significantly. Follow this advice and you will have far more confidence that your data is accurate, which will naturally enhance the strength of your selection decisions.

Jordon Jones is a Senior Consultant at PSI Talent Measurement.

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