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Cognitive bias in recruitment: how to avoid it and promote inclusiveness?

Cognitive bias in recruitment: how to avoid it and promote inclusiveness?

In recruitment, our decisions can be influenced by unconscious factors known as cognitive biases. Find out how you can improve your recruitment practices to ensure greater equity within your organisation.

09/07/2024 Back to all articles

Did you know that your recruitment decisions can be influenced by factors of which you are not even aware?

In Luxembourg, legislation on discrimination in recruitment is rigorous and protects candidates against any form of discrimination based on seven main criteria: race or ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion or belief, disability, age and nationality.

Although most recruiters consciously respect these criteria, we are all subject to unintentional biases called cognitive biases, which influence our decisions and hinder diversity in the workplace.

What is a cognitive bias?

Cognitive biases are systematic errors in the way we think and make decisions, resulting from mental shortcuts and pre-established patterns. These biases are often useful for saving time and energy in day-to-day decision-making, as our brains are constantly overloaded and looking for quick ways to process information.

In simpler terms, cognitive biases are like distorting glasses that we unknowingly wear, altering the way we perceive and evaluate the information around us.

There are several types of cognitive biases, here's a list of cognitive biases that are common in recruitment, because the first step is to become aware of them in order to be able to prevent them. We'll also share our advice on how to avoid them and promote inclusiveness in your recruitment processes.

Similarity bias

Similarity bias occurs when recruiters prefer candidates who are similar to them, personally or professionally, rather than those who have the required skills.

Example : I'm a recruiter with a passion for tennis, so I may prefer a candidate who shares my hobbies to a more qualified candidate with different interests. Similarly, if I'm an extrovert, I may prefer candidates with a similar personality, overlooking more creative or analytical candidates who could bring valuable diversity to my company. In this sense, similarity bias can hinder innovation.

Solution : Use objective assessment criteria and focus on relevant skills and experience, while valuing the diversity of personalities that fosters business innovation.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias occurs when recruiters look for information that confirms their initial impressions of a candidate and ignore contradictory signals.

Example: I think a candidate is too junior, so I might ignore or downplay relevant examples of previous experience.

Solution : Actively look for evidence that contradicts our initial assumptions about a candidate so that we can validate our assessment.

Halo effect

The halo effect occurs when the recruiter allows a positive characteristic of a candidate to influence their overall assessment.

Example : If a candidate has worked in prestigious companies, I might see all their other characteristics in a positive light, even without direct proof. A candidate who is vague in their answers could be perceived as thoughtful because of this bias, whereas another who answers in a similar way would be perceived as imprecise and hesitant.

Solution : Use criteria specific to the position and the research context to assess candidates on objective grounds rather than on a general impression.

Contrast bias

Contrast bias occurs when the recruiter evaluates a candidate based on the comparison with previous candidates rather than assessing the candidate's own merits.

Example : After interviewing an exceptional candidate, I might underestimate the qualities of another candidate who follows, even if he or she is qualified for the position.

Solution : Use a standardised assessment grid to ensure a consistent assessment based on the individual merits of candidates, rather than on comparisons between them.

Primacy/Recency effect

The primacy/recency effect occurs when the recruiter gives more weight to first impressions or the most recent information.

Example : If a candidate makes a mistake during the first question of the interview, it can be difficult to ignore this mistake, even if the rest of the interview goes well.

Solution : Divide the assessment into several parts to avoid focusing solely on first or last impressions.

Demonstration effect

The demonstration effect occurs when the recruiter is influenced by the behaviour or opinions of other members of the recruitment team, particularly those in a position of hierarchical superiority.

Example: If a team leader expresses a strong preference for a candidate, other members may be influenced to support this opinion, even if they have their own reservations.

Solution : Encourage members of the recruitment team to express their opinions independently and to provide concrete arguments to back up their assessments. Make recruitment decisions in confidence to avoid the influence of other team members' opinions.

In conclusion, the simplified examples above illustrate how cognitive biases can influence the recruitment process. In reality, differentiating between conscious decisions, such as assessing the suitability of a personality to our corporate culture, and the unintentional influences that colour our perception of candidates can be complex.

To ensure a more objective assessment, it is crucial to aim for standardisation while preserving the essential human element in recruitment decision-making. By being aware of these cognitive biases and implementing strategies to mitigate them, we can ensure fairer recruitment decisions and promote greater diversity within our teams.

At Morgan Philips, we are strongly committed to promoting inclusiveness in all our recruitment processes. We hope you'll find these best practices helpful in establishing fairer and more inclusive recruitment processes within your organisation!

Text written by Jennifer Sahki, consultant at Fyte Luxembourg.

Would you like to discuss this in more detail? I look forward to hearing from you!