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The Halo and Horn Effect

Posted on 07/05/17
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‘I just don’t like you’, and other reasons for rejection.

A topic I have always been greatly interested in is the psychological aspect of recruitment and selection, probably in large part thanks to my fascination and previous studies in psychology.

The biggest challenge in the recruitment process, and equally one often left relatively unaddressed by the hiring company, is that of ‘interviewer bias’.  

There are several forms of interviewer (and recruiter) bias, some widely known and some less so, all rearing their heads in a different manner:

  • General stereotyping.
  • The halo and horns effect (a cognitive bias that causes the interviewer to unfairly balance one trait, either good or bad, causing this to overshadow other traits.
  • The mirror (I like you because you are like me) or the opposite effect (I don’t like you because you are not like me).

Similarly, there are several variations of these effects and the terminology used to describe them, but in its most basic form, it really does boil down to – ‘I just don’t like you’. 

Interviewer bias is one of the biggest causes of poor hiring and despite being the most unreliable method of selection is still the most favoured.

In a study undertaken by Schmidt & Hunter, it was found that ‘job interviews can only predict c. 14% of variability in employee performance’ just 14%, and yet interviews are still used as the primary source of candidate evaluation.

Interviews are a personal exchange and being human, we are subject to social factors and the vulnerabilities these include such as interviewer bias. Unconscious mental processes that can influence the thoughts we have and subsequent decisions we make. 

The Mirror and Opposite effect is a perfect example of this, the psychological theory is largely based around an interviewer’s like or dislike of the interviewee, normally fostered through shared interests and/or experiences.

Given the very emotional aspect of our humanity, our decisions, even those within recruitment, are vulnerable to subjectivity. Webster led a study in 1964 where a series of 15 minute interviews were conducted and studied, he concluded the interviewer’s ‘decision’ time was just less than 4 minutes. So first impressions really do count! After the initial 4 minutes, the interviewer was shown to be pre-disposed to source information that ‘supported’ their initial opinion of the interviewee.

Unfortunately, many other bias effects exist such as:

  • Naivety bias - when an interviewer is drawn to likeable personality traits and fails to place enough emphasis on technical capability.
  • Entomologist - the opposite effect to naivety bias where personality is ignored completely.
  • Confirmation bias - an interpretation of Webster’s earlier study of pre-disposed interviewers.

And the last one I am going to address in this article (before I run the risk of sending you all to sleep and experiencing some real bias myself) is the afore-mentioned stereotyping, this is a term we are all familiar with, despite familiarity, it is interesting to note that stereotyping is no more prevalent in an interview situation than any other bias, yet referred to more due to increased awareness.

We stereotype without even realising it, and whilst often viewed as a type of discrimination, it is in fact an important part of society’s function, the ability to make snap decisions, for example about a potentially dangerous situation. Not in interviews though - here it is a weakness not a strength.

All in all this paints a pretty grim picture and suggests that many positions are offered based on how likeable you are or whether the interviewer is an avid golf player, like you, of course.

However, there are ways in which companies can minimise the risks of interviewer bias, for example:

  • Panel interviews made up of at least three different personality types.
  • Competency based and rigidly structured interviews that score on all areas of a candidate.
  • Interviewer training – perhaps the most important consideration, poor interview skills serve to deepen the damage of bias, where as a skilled and trained interviewer can operate with a greater amount of objectivity.

What can you do as candidates? Research your interviewer beforehand, find some common ground to combat bias and ensure you have strong answers for the technical and competency questions, ensure you are able to demonstrate you have the correct skill set and personality based on prior experiences.

And finally, don’t forget to showcase your most likeable self.

Autor: Marie-Clara Thaureux (Director of GLS)

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