Are you making bad hiring decisions?

If you hire people because you like them, you make bad hiring decisions.

What if I told you the #1 mistake hiring managers make in an interview is hiring someone they like? I bet you'd say I was crazy.

Yes, that's likely true. But maybe I'm crazy like a fox!

You see, too often in interviews, we allow extraneous factors to influence our decisions. More often than not, those things are connected to our personal biases and preferences -- and are not inherent in the candidates we are interviewing.

OUR DECISIONS SAY MORE ABOUT US THAN THEM

Often the decisions we make about candidates and the opinions we form about them -- where they grew up, the school they went to, the clothes they choose to wear, the words they use, the way they formated their resume -- say more about us than it does about them.

Furthermore, the assumptions we make about candidates are not fixed, nor are they objective. They vary from interviewer to interviewer. Two people can look at the same resume, participate in the same interview, receive the same thank you note. Still, one person's assessment of confidence can be interpreted by another as arrogance.

A FIRST IMPRESSION IS A LOUSY MARKER OF SKILLS

Many of us grew up with the old axiom about the importance of first impressions. Not just that first impressions are lasting, but first impressions are high stakes: "You only have one chance to make a good first impression." Yikes!

Indeed, according to a 2006 Princeton University study, it takes just a tenth of a second to decide if a person's face is trustworthy. “We decide very quickly whether a person possesses many of the traits we feel are important, such as likeability and competence, even though we have not exchanged a single word with them. It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.”

Huh. We draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.

There are many other ways our brains are hard-wired to fool us into thinking we make thoughtful and well-reasoned judgments about people (and job candidates). These include the halo effect and in-group/out-group bias, which can lead us down the perilous path towards confirmation bias in the interview. This is when it doesn't matter what the candidate says, we use whatever they say as evidence to confirm what we already want to believe about the candidate.

Huh. We use what they say to confirm what we already want to believe.

LIKE EVERYONE ELSE, SMART CANDIDATES LOOK IT UP ON THE GOOGLE

Lest we think a person's ability to make a good first impression is an inherent reflection on the person's character, it's easy to search on Google, "how to make a good first impression," to find, literally, thousands of articles with advice, tips, and techniques on how to do just that. Perhaps what we thought was a killer first impression is really just something they found on the Internet.

Likewise, Amazon offers thousands of books on how to interview. Titles like, "How to Answer Interview Questions - 101 Tough Questions," "Knock 'Em Dead Job Interview: How to Turn Job Interviews into Paychecks," and "Crushing the Interview: How to Prepare for Your Best Interview and Land Your Dream Job." Not to mention the career counselors and job search coaches who stake their profession on their ability to help people ace interviews and win jobs.

When we come across a candidate who dazzles us in the interview, should we congratulate them or give credit to the article, the book, or the coach who helped them through the process? Is a really well-written resume indicative of someone's stellar work history or simply their ability (and good sense) to pay someone to prepare their resume for them?

DON'T SUCCUMB TO THE TYRANNY OF THE BIAS

We all have preferences and biases. We can't help it. It is how our brains have worked since way back on the savanna. It is foolish to pretend that all our judgments are well-reasoned and objective. When we do that, our biases have won.

The only way we can be certain about our decision-making is to know our own biases. When we feel strongly about liking (or not liking) someone, we must ask ourselves, "What is driving this feeling?" If they've said or done something that annoys us (or that we absolutely love), consider which of our triggers they may have set off. We must not take our decisions at face value as objectively true. We must interrogate them or go to a trusted someone who understands our biases who can help us talk it through.

INTERROGATING OUR BIASES LEADS TO BETTER HIRING DECISIONS

How does this lead to better hiring decisions, you ask? When we are assured we are not making hiring decisions based on extraneous and irrelevant data points (like, they run marathons, they grew up on a farm, they served in the Marines), we can be assured our decisions are based on the person's actual ability to do the job. More importantly, this ensures we are not discounting or dismissing people who are otherwise excellent candidates simply because they're not like us.

It's ok to hire that person in the end--the one who runs marathons, grew up on a farm, or served in the Marines. Just be certain you can defend your position that the person can objectively do the job. And maybe, if making the decision between two equally qualified candidates, purposely pick the one who is least like you.

I know, crazy like a fox!


Andrea J. Applegate is the founder and president of Applegate Talent Strategies, a boutique workforce & talent consulting practice dedicated to helping employers get the best from their employees while ensuring their people have the best experience at work.

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