Psychology and Unconscious Biases

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Psychology and Unconscious Biases

We have received positive comments stating that you enjoy learning about the “psychology of human behavior” and why people do what they do.  Psychology plays a much greater role in our decision making than we realize and is demonstrated in our interactions with others through various types of unconscious biases.  We refer to these unconscious biases as the “Dirty Dozen- The 12 Deadly Sins of Interviewing”.  What are some examples of these?  What can we do to guard against them?


  • Hiring decisions are made at the “gut” level

Hiring decisions are made based on our personal and subjective reactions to the candidate.  We tend to overlook the fact that others may view that same candidate differently, and more accurately, than we do.  That is why it is important to establish clear criteria up front as to the most critical requirements for success in the position.  Many of our client partners have found that using our “Head-Heart-Feet” model simplifies the challenge of knowing the right person when they interview them.,Three-Dimensional%20Screening


  • Hiring decisions are made on first (and lasting) impressions

Candidates who don’t make good initial impressions in the interview might as well excuse themselves and graciously thank interviewers for their time.  Unfortunately, research shows that our first impressions tend to be our final impressions.

Instead, employers should:

  • Wait at least 20 minutes into the interview before allowing themselves to start forming conclusions.
  • Remain open and seek out information that might contradict initial impressions. For example, probe for specific examples of what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.
  • Probe those candidates who impress initially for additional information to get more balanced information about both their strengths and weaknesses.

This deadly sin of adhering to the first impression brings us to the next deadly sin…


  • Hiring decisions are made in the first three minutes of the interview

Most hiring decisions are made in the first three minutes of the interview. Then, interviewers then spend the remaining 57 minutes trying to gather information to support the decision they already made. Initial impressions are formed, interviewers stop thinking and their egos prevent their brains from making good business decisions.

People experience what is called “cognitive dissonance” when they feel anxiety between what they want and what they find themselves experiencing. If people suspect they’ve made a bad decision, they’ll try to find evidence that will justify that decision. People don’t like to feel anxious and don’t like to be second-guessed in their decisions, so they will try to find ways to justify to themselves what they’ve already done.


  • Interviewers hire people they like

It’s important to like the people one’s coworkers.  However, by the time the initial honeymoon period ends, unpleasant problems usually begin to surface. Those who have experienced this common phenomenon probably found themselves between a rock and a hard place after hiring someone who seemed so nice and so ideal initially.

Instead, be careful not to hire a candidate because he/she appears to be a nice person and appears to have the makings of a great neighbor. Hiring a nice interviewee who really isn’t appropriate for the job backfires even further when that employee becomes miserable; then, we might experience a classic Jekyll/Hyde transformation. Another related problem with hiring people you like is feeling guilty about having hired them. When was the last time anyone said, “Geez, I should have held on to that poor performer longer than I did?”


  • Interviewers hire people like themselves

Favoring candidates with whom they share things in common (attended same college, grew up in same area, enjoys golfing, etc.) is a very strong – and dangerous – tendency for interviewers.  Also, what hiring managers say they want in a potential hire may not necessarily be what they need.

The key point is that people hired should complement the hiring manager’s personal style and shouldn’t be their exact clones.

Instead, check with others most familiar with the hiring manager and the job well to make sure that the right people for the job are being considered. Also, use behavioral interviews and psychological testing to become more objective and accurate in making these very important and very expensive hiring decisions.


  • Interviewers “hang hats” on candidates

Interviewers often attribute certain characteristics to prospective employees that are not based in reality.  For example, candidates may remind interviewers of someone they know based solely on physical appearance, speech patterns, etc. This causes critical and expensive problems for everyone involved.  It’s unfortunate for the innocent candidate – and probably for your organization as well.

Instead, guard against the common tendency to “judge a book by its cover.” One of the best ways is to ask the same questions previously asked of all other candidates, listen carefully, and cross-validate one’s hiring decisions with information from different and reliable sources.


Have you personally experienced any of these unconscious biases?

How did they affect hiring decisions and the organization?

How have these and other unconscious biases affected you and others you know?

I will appreciate your sharing your questions and reactions to these.