The inessential credentials: psychological reasons the wrong people get hired

One of the hardest part of a manager’s job is evaluating potential candidates to add to our teams. Here’s why we often get it wrong.

You’d think as professionals who have led teams and risen through the ranks at work, most managers would have developed a fine judge of character and the ability to pick great hires. The trouble is, we all have our own biases and blind spots towards certain personality types, and this all too frequently causes hiring blunders.

First impressions are unreliable

We like to trust our gut. One-third of hiring managers know within 90 seconds whether or not they are going to hire a candidate. That’s less than two minutes in and before any of the hard questions or in-depth discussions of the job have taken place.

So, they’ve made that decision that could be crucial to the success of their business based on a first impression: largely the candidate’s look, body language, and handshake. Only if you were hiring a model to specialize in non-verbal communications and shake people’s hands for a living would those be the essential credentials.

They don’t help you pick the best writer, web developer, or accountant.

Candidate fatigue syndrome

First identified by researchers at Harvard, Candidate Fatigue Syndrome is the unconscious bias that recruiters have for candidates that they meet first, earlier in the day, and earlier in the week. Interviewers start off full of energy, wanting to like the people they consider for the job. They have a role to fill, and so they are hoping when they meet someone that this person will be a great fit.

The first person they interview has a clean slate. Interviewers evaluate them on their credentials. Subsequent candidates are compared negatively to earlier ones. Also, if a hiring manager ranked a candidate highly in the morning, they may feel overly generous awarding the same score to a later one, and so judge them more harshly.

The same bias goes for reading resumes. Candidates who apply on Mondays statistically have a 10 per cent increased chance of being selected for an interview than those who apply later in the week.

So, if the best candidate for your job applies on a Wednesday, and you’ve already read two days worth of applications, you may never choose to interview them. And if you do meet with them – in the afternoon – they’ll be facing more negative scrutiny than your morning interviews, and be less likely to be hired.

The time of day- or day of the week – that you meet a candidate is not an essential credential for their ability to do the job.

We admire confidence over competence

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that confidence is actually more important than talent when it comes to achieving higher professional and social status.

Of course, you want to hire candidates who are confident in their ability to do the job. The troubling part for hiring is that this is the bias exists even when this confidence is unfounded. People who aren’t particularly talented, but believe that they are, have an advantage over candidates who are actually more accomplished but less confident in social settings.

This also leads to extroverts having an easier time getting hired over introverts, even in cases where they are not the best suited for the role. They’re just better at selling their achievements in job interviews.

“Our studies found overconfidence helped people attain social status,” said Cameron Anderson head researcher for this report. “Those who believed they were better than others, even when they weren’t, were given a higher place in the social ladder.”

Confidence counts. But actual competence should be a more essential credential.

Bottom line

Personality and compatibility matter when choosing people for your teams. Whoever you hire becomes a part of your community. However, technical ability, the capacity to adapt and learn quickly, career motivation and potential are equally, if not more, important for a new hire to succeed in the role.

The trouble is that those core qualities are often overlooked in favour of the inessential credentials of first impressions, gut feelings, and fatigue.

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