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4 Interview Errors that Hiring Managers Must Avoid

September 29, 2015

hiring-manager-interviewAs human beings, we are constantly reminded to ‘never judge a book by its cover’ when it comes to meeting new people, and this rule is certainly a positive sentiment to abide by. However, even when actively working to avoid judgments about an individual, humans can’t stop themselves from making subconscious judgments that they aren’t even aware of.

Our brains have evolved to process certain information in the background to avoid over-inundating our conscious brain which is busy making active decisions. Because of this, you may not even notice that you find yourself more comfortable around someone you perceive as similar to yourself, or perhaps not thinking as highly of somebody who failed to make a positive first impression. These are thoughts and judgments that often don’t even come to the forefront of our brain, we don’t always consciously understand why we feel about an individual the way we do.

This tendency can be helpful in everyday life and social situations, but when you’re a hiring manager trying to make an objective decision about a group of candidates it’s important to be aware of these subconscious biases so that you can be proactive about avoiding them. Let’s look at 4 of the more common rater errors and ways to avoid them:

  1. Primacy Effect: When you’re tasked with going over a list, whether it be a shopping list or a group of candidates to be interviewed, the primacy effect refers to the tendency for items or individuals at the beginning of the list to stand out more, as they are more easily recallable. In an interviewing setting, if you had a handful of candidates to work through in a day, the first one or two might stick out in your mind more clearly because of the primacy effect. It is important to not mistake the fact that you can more easily recall these individuals as them being more qualified or a better choice. Just because they had the luck of the draw of going first in no way impacts how they would perform on the job.

  2. Recency Effect: The recency effect is the opposite of the primacy effect; it refers to the tendency of the brain to be able to recall items or individuals at the end of a list or group more easily, just as it does with those at the beginning. The strategy to avoid this error is the same as avoiding the primacy effect, making sure to not assign more value or credibility to these individuals just because they may be easier to remember.

  3. Halo Error: The halo error has to do with illogical generalizations. For example, let’s say one of the candidates you’re interviewing has some of the most impressive sales numbers you’ve ever seen. That aspect of the candidate’s resume will certainly stand out, but the halo error occurs when you allow the ratings for other aspects of the candidate to be influenced by the ratings on one factor. Continuing with our example, the halo error would occur here if you rated the candidate high on unrelated areas, such as Adaptability or Creativity, because you were so impressed with their sales history that your high rating in that area influences your other ratings. To avoid the halo error, remain actively aware of the fact that there is little or no connection between separate, objective competencies. Just because an individual scores highly in one area has no relation to how they will fare in other areas.

  4. First Impression Error: The first impression error is just what it sounds like, the tendency of the brain to continue seeing an individual in the same light as it did when they made their first impression. This error can occur in either direction, if an individual makes a very good first impression, you may continue to think highly of them and ignore future evidence to the contrary. Conversely, if an individual made a particularly bad first impression, your brain may subconsciously ignore future examples of good behavior from this individual because it already has its mind made up. Simply being aware of this error is one of the best ways to combat it; knowing that just because an individual didn’t make a strong impression within the first few minutes of meeting them does not mean that they don’t possess the skills needed to be effective on the job. Another key way to combat this error is to follow a consistent, structured, behavioral based interview program. Asking the same questions of all candidates in a structured manner, and following consistent rating guidelines ensures that you’re following through and gathering the same information from all candidates.

These are some of the frequently seen psychological pitfalls that can occur in an interview setting. Our brain’s reliance on ‘behind the scenes’ processing of subconscious judgments can cause problems when trying to be objective, so simply being aware of the existence of these errors and working to avoid them can go a long way towards lessening their influence on your opinion.

Click here to read: 5 More Interview Errors to Avoid.

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Greg Kedenburg Greg Kedenburg was an I/O Psychologist with PSI living and working in Chicago, IL.