This short article aims to showcase behavioural biases in the hiring process and shed light on how to effectively prepare for a job interview considering three key biases which may affect the interviewer, the candidate, or both.
1. The Anchoring Effect
‘The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that describes the common human tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information offered (the “anchor”) when making decisions. The anchoring effect is considered a “bias” because it distorts our judgment, especially when the bargaining zone is unclear’.
The classic example for the anchoring bias in the context of a job interview is the question in relation to the interviewee’s current salary. Whatever information you, as an interviewee, give first, will consequently form the basis for the salary offer. Therefore, if you intend to obtain a significant salary increase you may wish to explain your salary expectations, based on solid research you have conducted, instead of allowing the employer to anchor its salary offer directly to your current salary (which might be too low in your view). On the contrary, it may be wise to let the interviewer be the first to anchor the price to prevent the deal from collapsing due to the interviewee anchoring too high.
Another example is the question about the interviewee’s concrete specific experience in a given job field. If you do not have any specific experience, it may be advantageous to explain how you will tackle the job and give concrete examples as to how you mastered similar situations to build the necessary experience.
Typically, an interviewer may focus on that one piece of information and base their hiring decision on that. According to an article published by the volume-hiring platform Harver, 60% of interviewers will have decided whether to hire the worker or not within the first 15 minutes of meeting them, some even before the interview started.
As an interviewee, the key is to prepare for potential questions where you could be anchored (e.g., money, experience, knowledge) and try to reset the anchors based on solid preparation such as demonstrating:
a. Your value for a given monetary expectation you have, or
b. Your ability to quickly gain experience or acquire necessary knowledge based on concrete examples.
Furthermore, an interviewer may anchor their hiring decision based on a detail such as what school or university the interviewee attended or the hometown, they grew up in. Such details, if favourable, can blindsight the interviewer who may then ignore all other relevant attributes of the candidate. This may again lead to unfavourable hiring decisions. However, it can be resolved by the interviewer conducting previous background checks on the candidate and taking all attributions into consideration.
From a different point of view, the interviewee may use this bias to their advantage, by highlighting certain attributes early on. For example, the interviewee could highlight the fact that they went to the same university or partook in the same student associations as the interviewer.
2. The Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error (also known as the attribution effect or correspondence bias) is a cognitive bias that exclusively links others’ behaviour to their personal character.
An example could be that a comment you make during the interview may come across as ‘snappy’ or ‘arrogant’ and the interviewer may quickly conclude that you are an arrogant or unlikeable person.
Alternatively, you may speak very fast, and the interviewer may not be able understand or follow you well, giving the general impression that you may be chaotic or disorganised even though the opposite might be true.
In fact, for the interview to be successful, you may wish to come across as a likeable and balanced person. For your responses to be balanced and for you to present yourself as friendly, likeable, and knowledgeable, you need to prepare well and picture yourself in the interview context to identify those situations where the fundamental attribution error may present in advance.
3. The Representativeness Heuristic Bias
The representativeness heuristic involves estimating the likelihood of an event by comparing it to an existing prototype that already exists in our minds. This prototype is what we think is the most relevant or typical example of a particular event or object.
In essence, the interviewer will likely assess the interviewee based on how similar they are to workers who currently occupy the position in question.
The interviewer may consequently refuse to hire any other worker that is not exactly like the predecessor. This may lead to wrong hiring choices, especially when considering that skills need to evolve and be updated over time and fresh minds could bring more innovation into a business.
This is an important bias because as an interviewee, you can directly use it to your advantage by demonstrating how much you fit in the workplace and how similar you are to the existing colleagues with whom you would work in the future. Again, if you want to play on this bias, make sure you prepare well and identify how your peers are defined and how particular traits they possess fit yours. If based on your research you notice little to no similarities, you may either conclude the job is not for you, or you could work on finding and linking certain attributes of yours with the existing workers’ attributes.
Overall, there are many more biases which may play a role in a job interview, yet the above biases seem to play a key role in the hiring process. It is important for interviewers and interviewees to be conscious of their biases since hiring the right worker is essential in business performance and a high worker turnover is costly. Concrete preparation to be able to recognize and counter these biases, as well as a predetermined, standardised interview structure where each candidate is asked the same questions may render the interview process more impartial It may also be important to keep the hiring process transparent and get second opinion from other interviewers, since the effect of individual biases are likely to be cancelled out in group settings.
Shonk, K., Staff, P., 2021. anchoring effect. [online] PON – Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Available at: <https://www.pon.harvard.edu/tag/anchoring-effect/>
Tarr, T., 2021. How This Type Of Bias Can Cost You In A Salary Negotiation. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyatarr/2017/12/29/how-this-type-of-bias-can-cost-you-in-a-salary-negotiation/?sh=51f2f0b630f3>
Johnson, A., 2021. 13 Common Hiring Biases To Watch Out For – Harver. [online] Available at: <https://harver.com/blog/hiring-biases/#ConfirmationBias>