How cognitive biases make interviews unreliable

Posted by Huy Tran on

Cognitive biases are unintentional flaws in our ways of processing information and reaching judgements. We are all subject to some types of cognitive biases to a certain extent when making decisions.

We will further examine what types of cognitive biases can affect HR professionals doing job interviews and how they make unstructured interviews such an unreliable selection method.

Confirmation bias

Cognitive bias is the tendency to look for new information and interpret it in a way that confirms existing beliefs or conceptions.

If the interviewers hold negative opinions towards a candidate from the very beginning of the interview, they tend to spend the rest of the time finding reasons to reject that candidate and omitting positive aspects. Conversely, interviewers can easily miss red flags about a candidate if they are impressed by certain aspects, e.g., spectacular past achievements or being good-looking. 

What are your strengths and weaknesses? What do you do in your pastime? Such common questions are practically useless because they are mainly used to confirm the pre-existing judgements that the interviewer has towards the interviewee.

How cognitive biases make interviews unreliable

Anchoring bias

People tend to overly rely on the first piece of information they receive (called “the anchor”). This anchor subsequently dominates and skews decision making.

For instance, your friend told you about an outstanding candidate who would definitely be the best fit for your vacancy. Later you found out that the candidate did not hold a candle to all the hype, but you decided to hire the candidate anyway because the initial impression of your friend’s reference was too dominant.

Recency bias

This is the tendency to make decisions based predominantly on the most recent data. A typical example is when the stock market is doing very well and investors think it will always stay that way. Recency bias also helps explain why the first candidate of the day is less likely to be recruited than the other candidates.

Contrast bias

This effect involves making inaccurate judgements based on the benchmark of a preceding observation. It makes assessing several consecutive interviewees particularly challenging. After a series of disappointing interviews, the next candidate who is just an average performer can be falsely viewed as an excellent candidate. Conversely, a qualified candidate can be rated much less favourably only because he or she is interviewed after several other outstanding candidates.

Download whitepaper "The interview addiction" here

Availability bias

People tend to be over-reliant on the information that is most readily available for them to recall. This effect is particularly troublesome in unstructured interviews because the candidates’ responses are normally not recorded carefully.

Consequently, the hiring managers will need to rely on their memory to make decisions. The candidates’ special or unusual aspects are easier to remember and therefore will unfairly influence the conclusion. For example, one memorable limitation could create a highly unfavourable perception towards an applicant even though in reality that limitation is not significant.

Stereotyping bias

This bias is the tendency to expect an individual of a group to have certain characteristics you associate with that group. Some typical examples of this bias are:

1) Male candidates are better than female counterparts for technical jobs.

2) Women are more suitable for administrative positions, and

3) A creative graphic designer will dress like a hipster.  

Halo-effect bias

This bias happens when one strong point of a candidate dominates the interviewer’s entire perception about that candidate. For example, the candidate is highly articulated and answers the first few questions well, which leads the interviewer to believe the candidate is qualified. The opposite of this effect is called the pitchfork effect, when one weak point of the candidate influences the whole interview.

This blog is a part of the whitepaper "The Interview addiction". Please click the link below to download the full whitepaper.  New Call-to-action

Topics: Talent Management

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 Rick Yvanovich
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