BiasEraser #1: The Halo Effect

Not too long ago, I was hiring for a key position in my organization. After a number of so-so candidates, I became enamored with a certain candidate before ever meeting her. The reason, quite honestly, was that she was a Harvard grad. Even as a so-called expert in psychology, bias, and employee selection, I was blind to the fact that my enthusiasm to interview this candidate was based solely on one word in a resume. Luckily, my team (who were all rockstars) were quick to call me out on my irrational exuberance. It was embarrassing but enlightening. I was being biased in the hiring process. As I moved on from my Harvard crush, I quickly met and eventually hired someone with a less impressive pedigree, but a more impressive skillset. Lesson learned? Maybe...

We are all guilty of bias in one way or another. Our brains are amazing, but they are imperfect.

There are many great resources all over the internet that explain cognitive biases and how they develop. For a more in-depth understanding check out verywell mind’s detailed explanation. Most biases are simply systematic errors in our thinking that occur when we process and interpret information in a way that affects our decisions and judgments. There are a lot of them (at least 100) and they can have a detrimental impact especially when hiring. Not only do these biases lead us to make bad decisions that bring in subpar talent. They also hurt people at both an individual level and a societal level where well-qualified people become economically disadvantaged simply because these biases create obstacles to their career success.

In my case, my “educational institution bias” was a striking example of the Halo effect at work. More formally, the Halo effect is the tendency to form really strong positive impressions of an entire person based upon one single characteristic or observed attribute. In most hiring context, it is about letting an interviewee’s one good quality cloud our perception about all of their bad qualities. Take for example someone who is funny, shows-up on time, gives us compliments or tells a powerful story of how they closed a sales deal. When the Halo effect is operating, we tend to tune out the negative information and become blind to the risk. They may have quit their last three jobs in record time, discussed how they disliked all their managers, or how they spent company money to buy a trip to a foreign land. But we just don’t really, genuinely, hear any of that.

On top of that, the positive things we hear and focus on are often those qualities that we value, which means that when someone is different from us, we might not hear anything that stands out to us at all. In other words, people who are different from us may not even get the benefit of a Halo effect and that could lead to poor diversity and unfair hiring.

Luckily there are ways to erase the bias.

  1. De-emphasize the Resume - Resumes are a notorious source of bias. A person’s name gives away their gender or ethnicity. Education dates expose age and likely socioeconomic status. Company names, previous job titles, and fluffed up experience might trigger the Halo effect. There is still a place for a resume, but it should come later in the process to minimize bias.
  2. Enfuse Objective Assessments Early - Start your screening process the right way by employing an objective assessment process, just like PerceptionPredict, that is designed to give you bias-free insight into candidates’ likelihood of success. When we design a Custom Fingerprint, the candidate ranking is a highly precise prediction of future job performance based on the statistical relationship between people’s characteristics and success in the role.
  3. Use Structured Interviews - Reduce opportunities for bias by eliminating those unstructured, informal interviews. A solid structured interview process provides all candidates with the same questions and a clear rating scheme on which to judge the quality of responses. The approach removes opportunities for non-job-related information to confound talent decision-making and it gives a much less biased way for interviewers to rate the quality of candidates.

It takes work to hire in a fair and biased 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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