One of the biggest mistakes in recruitment


Recruitment requires evaluation of potential Candidates.  And, we all know that evaluation of any person is highly subjective – someone who is compelling and interesting to one person can be off-putting and unappealing to another.  We use our judgement to evaluate friends, partners and whether our children’s friends are good or bad influences.  Sometimes we call this intuition, but sometimes it is just plain bias based on our own experiences, cultural conditioning or upbringing.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make in recruitment is to stereotype based on our own bias.  This is often unconscious and you may not even realise that you do it.  One of the ways to do a reality check on your recruitment bias is to look at your current staff.  Do they fit a mould?  Are they similar in gender, age, physical attributes or lifestyle?

What contributes to recruitment bias?

  • When you have employed someone who has been successful in a role – it is very easy to fall into the trap of trying to replicate or clone them.
  • When you meet someone who you think is similiar to you, or, was like you at that age, there is a tendency to relate to them more. If you’re good – someone like you will be good too…right?
  • When you assume certain attributes and skills based on the Candidate’s track-record of where they have worked. If they were good enough for “Perfect Agency”- they must be good enough for you.
  • When you only focus on past employment and do not evaluate potential.
  • When you make presumptions about the perfect Candidate by way of age, gender, race or upbringing.
  • Your assumptions about how other people will react to the person you are recruiting based on physical or superficial factors like body weight, tattoos or attractiveness

Can you imagine using a model of interviewing like the talent show –  The Voice?  Where you are not able to see the Candidate, and have to evaluate them on how they respond to, and answer, your questions rather than taking into account all of the visual clues.  How would this impact on your judgement?  I am not suggesting that visual stimulus is not a bona fide criterion – you will need to appoint someone who has acceptable presentation to be in a customer focused role – but do we place more emphasis on this than we need to, or should?

Likewise – what if you were unable to ascertain someone’s nationality from their CV?  An interesting study was conducted by the Australian National University in 2012 which highlighted a very strong bias towards names. The study put in over 4000 applications for a variety of jobs using names synonymous with various ethnic groups.  The applications contained the same employment and educational credentials and only the names were changed.  Disturbingly, people with Chinese names had to submit 68% more applications before receiving a positive response than their Anglo-Celtic counterparts and people with Middle Eastern names around 64% more applications.  Candidates with Aboriginal names didn’t fare much better.  I recently interviewed a Candidate from an ethnic background who told me that after 3 months of applying unsuccessfully for jobs, that they only received an invitation to interview once they changed their name to an “Australian sounding” name.

Avoiding Bias

One of the ways that you can avoid recruitment bias is to focus on the requirements of the role rather than the person you want, or envisage, in the role.

To be sure of the requirements of the role you need to be very clear about:

  • your business objectives
  • your operational requirements to meet those objectives
  • the skills and capabilities of staff to match your operational needs
  • the skill sets and expertise of current staff and the gaps you need to fill

It is a good idea to:

  • have a clear job description that outlines and focuses on essential elements rather than desirable criteria
  • ensure that the application process is fair and objective
  • not make assumptions about a person based on gender, age, race, where they live or where they went to school

When you focus on skills, capacity, and capability you will avoid inadvertent bias based on factors that do not contribute to a successful appointment.

Removing bias can result in:

  • Increased productivity
  • Better creativity and problem solving
  • Improved attraction and retention of staff
  • More collaborative teamwork
  • Improved customer satisfaction and an ability to deal with a broader client group

By avoiding recruitment bias you are opening up your team to greater diversity that can have a marked and significantly positive impact on how you conduct your business and how your customers and clients relate to you.


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