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Heuristics: Hiring Methods to Avoid Biases

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Heuristics: Hiring Methods to Avoid Biases

If you’re responsible for hiring, you are probably already aware of the importance of hiring a diverse workforce. But you might not be sure how to put aside your own unconscious biases during the interview process. Understanding heuristics and how to overcome them is vital for hiring managers seeking a more diverse team. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Are Heuristics? 

Interviewing people is stressful. You must simultaneously listen to what the candidate is saying, evaluate, and process that information, take notes and keep the conversation moving with relevant follow-up questions. To help you through the process, your brain tends to fall back on heuristics. 

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that serve as blueprints for decision making. They are believed to be an adaptive survival mechanism that helped early humans make quick life or death decisions. But in the modern world, they can become coded with unconscious bias. Here are some common heuristics that can affect your hiring decisions: 

  • Anchoring: This is based on first impressions. The “anchor” is the first piece of information you get about a candidate, which creates your initial thoughts about that person. Throughout the interview, you may give more credit to data that confirms your first impression and discount conflicting evidence. 
  • Similarity: This heuristic can make you view people more favorably if they remind you of yourself or someone you like. From physical appearance to a shared alma mater, you are more likely to want to hire someone that seems familiar. 
  • Halo: Halo bias can lead you to believe that someone who is extremely good at one thing will be good at everything. Watch out for this bias when interviewing someone who was valedictorian or played championship sports or had some other high-level accomplishment that isn’t directly related to the job. 


Overcoming Heuristics 

It’s impossible to let go of your heuristics altogether since they are an ancient evolutionary survival mechanism. But you can take concrete steps to ensure that your hiring decisions are objective and fair. Here are a few ideas: 

  • Blind hiring software: This helps to remove bias by stripping out data from resumes, including candidate names, addresses, and schools attended. You will be able to focus on experience and skills when deciding whether to move a candidate forward, without forming first impressions based on personal information. 
  • Standardized interview questions: Standardizing the interview prevents you from wandering off onto bias-related tangents, such as comparing college stories or asking about how the candidate won the big game. 
  • Rating scales: Develop interview rating scales based on objective criteria. This allows you or any other interviewer to make decisions more consistently, fairly, and accurately. 

Heuristics are a mental survival skill, and it’s impossible to completely overcome them. Fortunately, you can implement a few easy practices to reduce the impact of heuristics on your hiring decisions. 


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