Far too often, the hiring process leaves everyone involved feeling short-changed. Companies complain about the mythical talent gap while simultaneously tossing out qualified candidates because they might not “fit in.” Applicants often undergo weeks of fruitless interviews only to be dismissed on trivial grounds without genuine opportunities to demonstrate their skills. Hasty unconscious judgements can quickly poison recruitment criteria, leading to a superficial and inefficient hiring process that drives the best candidates to competitors.
Evaluation Versus Discrimination
Hiring managers are not all-knowing, and they have limited means of screening an applicant for long-term behavioral patterns. Unfortunately, many recruiters fill in the blanks with assumptions by interpreting the possible motivations, characteristics or flaws that contribute to a candidate’s work history and personality. Unconscious bias affects every step of the hiring process as recruiters make snap judgements about a candidate’s ability to perform the job or blend into the crowd based on factors such as age, gender or social similarity.
One example is the long-standing trend of rejecting “overqualified” candidates because recruiters fear they may grow bored in a role that isn't challenging enough for them. An experienced job seeker who is unsatisfied with her current role may look for career opportunities that mimic an earlier period when she felt more fulfilled. A candidate who left the job market for several years may feel more comfortable stepping into a position he is certain he can handle. Regardless of their reasons for applying, all candidates begin the hiring process with an equal right to consideration, and workers who are undeniably qualified have the potential to jump into new positions with minimal training.
Reducing Candidates to Labels
Placing more focus on cultural fit than skills often increases the risk of misjudging candidates and eliminating them from the hiring process prematurely. Unconscious bias can make hiring managers think they are using logic, even when they have no solid facts to support their decisions. They quickly mine applications or interview answers for information, but those one-dimensional details become definitive labels that overshadow everything positive about the candidate. An applicant with multiple employment changes automatically becomes a “job hopper.” A person with little or no social media presence is viewed as dispassionate or “behind the times.” A candidate who previously worked for an unethical firm is mislabeled as untrustworthy.
When hiring managers are not alert to inherent biases, they may also gravitate toward the candidates they consider most likable while overlooking obvious skill incompatibilities or signs of dishonesty. They unconsciously exaggerate the good qualities of relatable candidates and use those inflated standards to judge other applicants. In short, they sabotage the hiring process in the early stages and are left scrambling to find an adequate hire after weeks or months of recruiting.
As a rule of thumb, hiring managers should avoid automatically putting candidates in the rejection pile unless they are painfully unqualified. Bad candidates can be amazing interviewees, and great candidates do not always have the most experience or the most outgoing personality. By asking candidates about their expectations of the job, managers can gain answers to tricky questions without making unfair judgements or creating a discriminatory hiring process.
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