Bias Eraser #3: Confirmation Bias

At first, I couldn’t quite place it. But I knew something wasn’t going right. Here I was unexpectedly laid off in the middle of the COVID nightmare, pounding the virtual pavement on a daily basis, in a quest to find a job so I could get my family back to a place of safety and stability. Not to mention my own sanity.

Every day started off like an adventure. I’d put on my nicest Zoom friendly shirt, checked my schedule, and prepared for the interviews and networking calls that lay ahead. At first, it was exhilarating as my naive optimism led me to believe that every conversation had the potential to change my unemployed fate. But as the months rolled by, I noticed a concerning pattern start to emerge… way too many of the conversations sounded the same. And way too many of my answers too. About three months in I realized that I was getting stung by the bias bug. In particular the Confirmation Bias.

The Confirmation Bias is the “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.” In the hiring process, it occurs when a person forms an initial impression of a candidate and then spends the rest of the interview searching for information to confirm that first impression. In practice, this means that a very tiny piece of information, such as where someone graduates from school or the name of a previous employer, can lead an interviewer to form a hypothesis about the candidate that they spend the rest of the conversation trying to validate. And while they are trying to confirm or disconfirm this hypothesis, they unconsciously miss out on many other important details about someone’s potential talent.

So where do these first impressions come from? While one of the most traditional sources is the resume, social media posts and pictures provide ample opportunities to form that first opinion. Finally, even if someone doesn’t start an interview with a preconceived notion, those first few minutes on an interview can leave a lasting impression that creates bias throughout the whole conversation.

So you might be wondering how this all applies to me? The fact was after 20 years in the talent industry as a tech executive, revenue generator, product developer, and people leader, many of the people I interviewed with knew one thing about me…that I had a Ph.D. As each interview unfolded, it became apparent that I had already been boxed in. I was being evaluated as a “scientist.” I had a “Ph.D. curse”. And so many of my interviews took a predictable course with a laser focus on my science skills even though I had so much more to offer.

The main point is that Confirmation Bias led people to form an erroneous opinion of me before we even met. And that type of bias hurts. Whether in COVID times or not, many talented people end up negatively impacted by a few scant details in a resume, social media post, or first minute of an interview. It may lead to a missed career opportunity or the ability to put food on their family’s table. Simultaneously, organizations are also missing out big. By failing to objectively evaluate a candidate’s potential, they miss out on great talent that can have a meaningful impact on their business success.

It’s time to erase that bias from the hiring process. To get started, you should absolutely:

  1. Front-load your recruitment and hiring processes with objective, bias-free talent evaluation tools. At PerceptionPredict.ai, we offer a “blind” hiring system that uses predictive analytics to identify candidates’ success potential in terms of client’s performance metrics. Because it’s based on objective data, the only impression that a hiring manager or recruiter can form is based on performance potential not words on a resume or a few stray comments during an interview.
  2. Don’t let informalities in the interview process create room for bias. Instead, use a well-designed structured interview process. Any opportunity that introduces irrelevant facts can lead to bias in the hiring process. A structured interview process is designed to ask the same job-related questions to all candidates and clear scoring method that creates a level playing field for candidate responses.
  3. Push the resume review to the end. Resumes can still serve a purpose, but since they are such a notorious source of bias, they should be reviewed after candidates have first been evaluated using objective measures and structured interviews. By using resume information later in the process, opportunities for bias will affect far fewer candidates and the remaining ones should be of a high enough quality that decision-makers are confirming their potential, not irrelevant hypotheses.

It takes work to hire in a fair and unbiased manner. Doing it right, will not only bring in better talent, but it is also good for society as a whole. Let me know when you want to get started.

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