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5 More Interview Errors that Hiring Managers Must Avoid

October 1, 2015

In my last blog, I discussed some rater errors that can result from our brains' tendency to subconsciously process judgments about other people. Despite the stigma revolving around the term ‘judgment’ in reference to other people, the ability of our brain to make these snap judgments without involving conscious mental resources is a trait that allows us to function in everyday life without our brains becoming overloaded. However, in a business setting in which objectivity is critical, allowing your brain to let these snap judgments influence a hiring decision is not the best idea. Let’s examine 5 more rater errors that can take place in your brain during and after an interview.

  1. Leniency Error: The leniency error is the tendency of an individual to give artificially inflated ratings to a candidate. Because no two raters are the same, the way in which they make their ratings often vary from person to person. In some cases, individuals have a tendency to give the majority of candidates outstanding ratings across the board, ratings that are higher than they might be in reality. This can stem from various sources, such as if the rater simply likes the individual, if they don’t like giving low scores because they don’t feel justified doing so, or if they do not have a solid understanding of the areas they are making the ratings for. To avoid this error, use a consistent scoring process by which all candidates will be fairly and objectively scored that provides behaviorally anchored rating scales as guides to raters.

  2. Strictness Error: The opposite of the leniency effect, the strictness error comes into play when a rater gives consistently low scores across the majority of candidates. In this case, the rater may have higher personal standards they’re comparing the candidates to, resulting in lower average ratings. Other reasons this error may occur is that that the rater dislikes the candidate for a reason outside of the interview, or else also lacks a clear understanding of the areas in which the ratings are being made. This error is resolved in the same manner as the leniency error, by sticking to an objective and consistent metric against which all candidates are evaluated. Knowing exactly what rating equates to which set of behaviors or qualifications will lessen the extent to which this error occurs.

  3. Error of Central Tendency: Where the leniency effect and strictness effect are on either side of the rating spectrum, the error of central tendency occurs when a rater scores the majority of candidates as average across the board. A strong preference for sticking to ‘middle of the road’ ratings qualifies the error of central tendency, avoiding giving out ratings that are too far to either end of the spectrum. This can occur for reasons similar to its sister errors, lack of understanding the areas they’re rating, not being able to justify what they would consider a more extreme rating, etc. Each of these three ratings, leniency, strictness, and central tendency, all cause some form of bias and mask the true objective nature of the candidate. Having a shared standard rating system in place for all raters to use consistently will help decrease the frequency with which these errors occur.

  4. Similar-To-Me Effect: This effect is exactly what its name implies, a tendency to rate those that we perceive as similar to ourselves more highly. The psychology behind this error is explained by the process through which humans evolved, a preference for those in our ‘in-groups’ and fear and/or dislike for those in our ‘out-groups’. While that line of thinking may have been helpful before the development of society, it is less than welcome when needing to make a decision regarding who to hire. Nevertheless, this psychological remnant has persevered through the ages and many individuals struggle to remain objective because of it. It is important to proactively ward this error off, understand that personal or professional similarities between yourself as the interviewer and a candidate lend no credence to the thought they would be a better or more qualified candidate than the others.

  5. Contrast Effect: The contrast effect refers to the tendency of humans to compare themselves and each other to other individuals. In an interview setting, this might manifest as comparing the candidate you’re currently interviewing to the person directly before them. This effect can be particularly dangerous, as it can heavily influence our opinion of someone. If the candidate you’re interviewing was preceded by an absolutely awful applicant, someone who was as unqualified as could be, your impression of the current candidate might be artificially increased simply by subconscious comparison to the previous individual.

    On the other hand, maybe the candidate who came before the person you’re currently talking to was an incredible applicant, had great experience, was charming and charismatic, and had perfect references. The current candidate you’re meeting with might not seem as good in comparison. However, in both cases, neither candidate had any connection to the other, and allowing your ratings to be unduly increased or decreased due to an entirely separate candidate is unfair and should be avoided. Remedy this error by being as in the moment as you can when meeting with each new individual, and only comparing the candidates to the objective metric or rubric being used, not to each other. Remember, you want to evaluate candidates against your standards and requirements for the position, not against each other.

As helpful as our brains think they’re being by processing these snap judgments subconsciously, allowing these psychological pitfalls to skew a rating of a candidate is never a good thing. Make sure to develop a consistent, objective scoring system if you don’t already have one, and to stick to it as closely as possible. Following the recommendations here will help lower the chances of making a subjective decision instead of an objective one.

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Greg Kedenburg Greg Kedenburg is an I/O Psychologist who previously worked for PSI. He is living and working in Chicago, IL.