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What are biases and how do they affect your selection process?

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Chen we meet a person, what we know about him gives us an idea about him that does not necessarily have to coincide with reality. This is because a series of cognitive biases are operating in us that will lead us to create good or bad prejudices with respect to others.

If those biases operate within a selection process, the result is that the choice between candidates is not as objective or impartial as might be expected. Because the recruiter is letting himself be guided by his own prejudices and the idea he has regarding the candidates based on the information they have shared.

Although no one can ever be totally objective, the trend today is for selection processes to be as impartial as possible. To do this, we need to end biases. Let's see in more detail what we are talking about and how they affect the hiring of new company personnel.

What are cognitive biases?

From a psychological point of view, bias is defined as a thought mechanism that results in a deviation of judgment

It is a subconscious process in which our brain uses the information and experience accumulated over the years. This creates for us a perception about another individual that may be totally wrong.

For example, imagine that you have studied the piano for many years. One day, you have to conduct a job interview with a candidate who tells you that he studied piano at the conservatory. As a recruiter, you will automatically empathize more with that person. This is because he has been through the same thing as you, even though his ability to play an instrument has nothing to do with the position he is applying for.

Your brain will use all the information about what it meant for you to learn to play the piano, and it will make a judgment about the other person. You will think that she is someone with a great capacity for concentration, willing to make an effort at all times, a perfectionist... However, none of this may be real.

Why does our brain do this? 

Because to work faster it usually take shortcuts. It retains certain information and gets rid of other, which causes memory distortions that lead us to make an analysis of the environment and of the people that is based on the biased information that our brain has. This leads us to form an opinion that will also be biased.

The effect this has on the selection process you can already imagine. The more cognitive biases the recruiter has, the more likely it is that they will miss the right candidate for a job. This is because, in the end, it will be based more on their personal appreciations of him than on the objective capacities of that person to perform certain tasks.

Types of cognitive biases

We have previously seen How to avoid bias in job interviews. So, this time we are going to focus on learning more about the different types of biases that usually occur in a selection process. Because the more information we have, the easier it will be for us to avoid falling into them.

memory-related biases

  • recency effect: we all remember better the information we have just received. Therefore, it is easy for the recruiter to find better candidates those who have interviewed late in the day than those who have seen in the morning.
  • Simple exposure effect: coincides with the example we saw before of the candidate who knew how to play the piano. According to this bias, we tend to identify or value more positively those people who have gone through situations similar to ours.
  • primacy effect: is what is known as the importance of the first impression. Based on it, the information we receive from a person in our first meeting with him is "anchored" in our brain and influences the general impression about it.

Belief-Related Biases

Psychology shows that we are all more attracted to those details that confirm our beliefs. Actually, it is a trick that our brain uses to feel calmer about what it thinks. Therefore, there are biases directly linked to this issue.

  • projection bias: in the field of personnel selection, it implies that the recruiter tends to favor those people with whom he feels most identified. For example, if they have studied at the same school as him, if they share a hobby, if they have similar personality traits, etc. When this happens, we are targeting a candidate for the wrong reasons. In addition, it is a bias that directly affects the company's objective of try to get a more diverse workforce.
  • stereotype bias: is one of the most common, and comes into action when we consider that a little information is enough to get an idea about someone. understanding that all individuals belonging to a certain group share the same characteristics.
  • Halo effect: here the generalization starts from one of the appreciable features. For example, if we see someone well dressed, we will immediately think that he is a neat and careful person.
  • Extraordinary bias: when a person does something that seems extraordinary to us, we tend to value it much more. In this way, a candidate who runs marathons can come to seem better than the rest, even if his sports ability is not significant for the work to be done.

Biases that condition the recruiter's judgment

When the technician observes in the candidate's resume data that has caught his attention, he usually directs the interview to obtain more information that reinforces the hypothesis that has already been created. This can lead to other relevant information being overlooked to know whether or not we are in the presence of the most suitable candidate.

  • framing bias: The HR expert has already made up his mind about the candidate and is looking to strengthen his judgement. This will condition the interview, from the questions you are going to ask, to the interpretation you are going to give to the answers. The problem is that this bias is evident and allows the candidate to adjust their answers and tell the other party exactly what they want to hear.
  • contrast effect: Although comparing is something natural, when the contrast effect is activated we are not able to properly assess the information that we are going to receive later. For example, if we interview a candidate and they seem ideal, the attention we are going to pay to the rest of the people who will do the interview later will be much less. Making that candidate seem even more suitable by comparison.

Other Important Biases Affecting Hiring

  • Dunning–Kruger effect: It is generated by the candidate himself when he considers that he is more intelligent and better prepared than the others. The problem is that with this you can "seduce" the recruiter. This should be as objective as possible to determine which of the candidate's skills are real and, furthermore, useful for the vacant position.
  • emotion bias: It is closely related to the previous one. This is because it occurs when the recruiter is seduced by the words and attitude of the candidate in front of him. This causes that attention is not paid to the achievements and real abilities of the person.
  • blind spot bias: It is one of the most difficult to break. This is because it leads us to believe that we are more objective than others. That the rest are more vulnerable than us to cognitive biases.

Can cognitive biases be eliminated?

No. This subconscious behavior is so tied to the way our brains work, that impossible to get rid of him. However, being aware of the biases that condition us is a good starting point to try to avoid their incidence within the selection and hiring process.

Therefore, the first thing the coach has to do is an in-depth analysis of himself and detect which are the biases that most affect you. This is a personal work, because the tendency to generate prejudice is different in each person. For example, there are those who are very affected by the halo effect, and there are those who hardly incur it, but fall again and again into the framing bias.

The key for the selection to be as objective as possible is focus on the candidate and ask only questions that are related to the position and skills and abilities that are linked to it. In addition, it is good to let the interviewee express himself freely, without trying to direct the questions to obtain from him the answers that are expected.

After the interview, you have to spend some time reviewing its content and reflecting on the candidate.

Getting rid of cognitive biases in a personnel selection process is very complicated. But, when making adjustments, we ensure that the choice of the ideal candidate is based on more objective factors. This will make it easier to find the perfect profile for the position and will also make the selection fairer for all candidates.


With Hirint you can reduce biases when hiring by evaluating before hiring, which will allow you to know your candidates more comprehensively and thus make the right decisions. If you want to start using this methodology book a meeting with us here

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