Do you have an unconscious bias in your recruitment?

by Hudson

Do you have an unconscious bias in your recruitment

Your brain contains some 100 billion neurons and its blood vessels and transport systems stretch some 100,000 miles. Yet when it comes to the brain as a decision-making tool, one Nobel Prize winner argues there are only two sides of the brain that matter.

Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow, a culmination of two decades of research. His 2011 book defines two areas of the brain:

System 1, the unconscious brain: fast, intuitive, emotional, cannot be switched off.

System 2, the conscious brain: slow, analytical, deliberate and logical.

Kahneman’s theory is that System 1 makes suggestions to System 2. Too often, however, System 2 simply accepts these suggestions rather than challenging what they are based upon.

His argument is that we are all programmed this way, to have our brain do as little work as possible. Rather than looking at all the data and facts before us, our brain wants to jump to a faster conclusion without having to do any deep analysis.

Why does this matter in recruitment or hiring?

It matters because human beings believe we’re a lot more expert than we actually are. And because human judgement can be fallible.

The efficiency of the brain works when we’re really experienced at something and when the judgements we make occur because we’ve made a similar decision many times before.

Think about a basic maths sum. You know that four times four equals 16 and you know that because you practised it at school. You don’t need to get a calculator out to work it out, let alone an abacus, because your brain already knows the exact answer.

In an exact science like basic maths, where learned formulas hold true, that’s acceptable. But what happens when it comes to making decisions about people?

People aren’t basic maths sums

As with basic maths formulas, when we make decisions on people – in recruitment, for example – we have a natural tendency to rely on System 1, our intuitive brain.

We look at someone and observe: “You dress how I dress, you went to a similar school to me, you think like I think. Hey! You’re like me, or like someone I value.” And from here, crucially, we jump to this conclusion: “You’re a really great fit for this role.”

In a field like recruitment, this is a problem. In hiring, every new appointment is and should be a new experience to the brain; our mistake is when we don’t treat it that way.

How psychometric testing gets around the problem

What psychometric testing (or similar decision-making tools in recruitment) effectively does is take out of the picture things that don’t fundamentally matter in predicting job performance. These might be a person’s appearance, their socioeconomic background, their work experience.

Instead these tools present us with data on how a person thinks, how they behave and how they are likely to act in a given situation: all factors that do predict how a person will perform in their job.

Inevitably our intuitive brain will always exist in a recruitment experience: you’re not going to continue with a candidate if your intuitive brain screams to you that he or she is not the right fit. But what psychometric testing does is give your conscious brain some hard data to compare to reflex impressions; it forces your intuitive brain to work harder and to make logical decisions.

Ultimately it ensures decisions are made with both of Kahneman’s sides of the brain – and that we get a complete and informed decision as a result.

Find out more about the different types of psychometric tests.