Here's the Science Behind Your Hiring Mistakes

We all carry biases of some kind with us – and even if unintended, they can have a real, detrimental effect on our decisions.

We all carry biases of some kind with us – and even if unintended, they can have a real, detrimental effect on our decisions.

This might sound a bit counterintuitive at first, but hear me out: it feels good to hire bad employees. After all, hiring managers would never make an offer to a candidate that they didn’t “feel good” about – at least initially. And yet, many seemingly stellar candidates turn out to be less-than-ideal hires, resulting in higher rates of attrition and a significant drop in overall productivity. In other words, you can’t always trust your gut – and for good reason.

Science is bearing out the fact that human beings simply aren’t very good at judging the abilities of their peers, especially within the context of a standard job interview; but unfortunately, this is the way that the vast majority of hires are vetted.

While it feels good to get to know a person face-to-face, gaining a sense of how they might behave in a business setting and their organisational fit, this inherently personal assessment is not always a good predictor of their actual, measured performance. That’s because our judgments are structured by a powerful force – our implicit preconceptions and personal preferences – whose impact is undeniable: scientists ascertain that this predisposition is behind all of our hiring mistakes.

Who’s Judging?

Of course, few hiring managers make important decisions based on feelings alone, but the truth is that our feelings have a much greater impact than we believe. Consider the fact that while standard, conversational interviews are ubiquitous in hiring, science hasn’t found much evidence that they’re all that effective – much to the contrary, in fact. As behavioral economist Iris Bohnet observes writing for the Harvard Business Review, “Dozens of studies have found them to be among the worst predictors of actual on-the-job performance – far less reliable than general mental ability tests, aptitude tests, or personality tests.”

Bohnet points to a shocking study from the University of Texas at Houston; after a government mandate forced their medical school to enroll 50 students who were initially rejected from the programme, researchers decided to track their performance against accepted applicants. Both during and after medical school, the performance of the two groups was identical. As researchers later discovered, the low ranking of initially rejected students was almost entirely attributable to their in-person interviews – interviewers perceived them as weak candidates, when in fact their performance was strong.

It’s Human Nature, Stupid

This doesn’t mean that hiring managers are bad at their jobs – it means that humans are hardwired to make questionable, and often unsubstantiated, decisions. As Fast Company notes, researchers have shown that it’s often the person who’s best at showcasing their skills who gets hired, not necessarily the one best-suited for the job. We’re naturally drawn to many qualities – overt attractiveness, cultural similarity, warmness, etc. – but desired skillsets aren’t always easy to parse in conversation. Worse, we’re bad at second-guessing those (potentially false) assumptions: researchers at Cornell University demonstrated that people are almost always overconfident about their performance, especially when they’re wrong, reports Live Science.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should ditch live interviews altogether; rather, we must strive to implement a consistent and highly structured hiring process in order to make better, data-led decisions and bolster organisational success. There is clear evidence that adding structure improves recruitment decisions, for example one academic review concludes that structured interviews are more predictive due to helping interviewers to be more consistent. A more recent review highlights that increasing structure increases the validity of video interviews and face-to-face interviews. Luckily, recruiters can utilise cutting-edge technology, such as LaunchPad’s video assessment solutions, to standardise interview questions and calibrate scoring criteria to ensure that applicants are vetted objectively and with the best interests of the business in mind. By thoroughly auditing your strategies, you can pinpoint where your assessments veer from objective fact to personal inclination.

It’s a murky, subjective world for hiring professionals, and oftentimes the most desired qualities in applicants are, in fact, the most intangible. Here, the best asset is knowledge and insight – traditional hiring has its flaws, but it’s much easier to round out rough edges when you know where to look.