Internal and external influences are ever so prevalent even when we are not aware of them.
We’re all human and are subject to influences even when making a hiring decision. Following a structured interviewing process ensures consistency and reduces or eliminates biases caused by internal and external influences when making a hiring decision.
According to research in social psychology, similarity-attraction can bias the selection of the best-fit candidate. In other words, if the candidate’s personality, age, gender, or attitudes are similar to your own, you may evaluate the candidate too positively relative to ability, motivation, and job fit. This is an example of internal influence. You have to be conscious of it and remain objective to be sure you’re selecting a candidate for the right reason.
External influences can be brought on by people or things in your environment. In many cases, your friends or coworkers (boss, peers, or even direct reports) can influence your hiring decision.
I have felt the influence to hire a particular candidate, even when the influence was unspoken. I was once asked to serve as a member of an interview panel to select an HR Manager. My task was to help interview the two candidates who were finalists for the job. One of the candidates, whom I will refer to as Christina, was also endorsed by one of our senior managers (Christina had worked with that senior manager at another company).
I must admit that my colleague’s endorsement of her impressed me and influenced my perception of her before we met. Accordingly, I expected her to be well-qualified and prepared for the interview. While reviewing Christina’s résumé, I noticed that she completed the same master’s degree program as I did . . . and from the same university! I felt really good about Christina.
At the beginning of the interview with her, I mentioned this coincidence to help build rapport. She excitedly exclaimed that she loved that program and had enjoyed all the courses. I asked her what her favorite course had been. Her response was, “I don’t remember the name of the course, but it was one of Professor Davis’s classes.”
Her response gave me pause; my initial impression of her comment was that something about her qualifications had been misleading. I sought to confirm evidence for another item on her résumé and discovered yet another misleading claim. Christina had indicated that she was a member of a prominent industry-specific organization. When I asked if she found the monthly meetings helpful for her job, she said, “I’m not an active member. I just joined as a student because the professor asked me to do so.” She had not written “inactive member” on her résumé, however.
Although she otherwise appeared qualified for the job and was endorsed by one of our senior managers, the inconsistencies I found led me to believe that she might have a tendency to embellish the truth. I concluded that she was not a fit for the job or our culture. The funny thing is that the other two interviewers independently came to the same conclusion.
Then it came time for the interview with the second candidate. The second candidate—let’s call her Jamie—showed up 10 minutes late. She was sweating and appeared somewhat disheveled from rushing.
As soon as I introduced myself to her, she apologized and began explaining why she was late for the interview. She explained that she had started out on time but inadvertently locked herself out of her house, with her car key still inside the house. After circling the house several times looking for a way in, she found a window unlocked and crawled through it to retrieve the key for her car.
Jamie responded to the interview questions with lots of details, so we were able to confirm the information on her résumé. Not only did she possess the skills, knowledge, and experience necessary for the job, but she also exhibited the “it factor” (work behaviors) necessary to be successful in the job.
The interview panel unanimously agreed to extend the job offer to Jamie. As of this writing, 16 years later, she is still with the same company.
Earlier, I discussed internal influences that may cloud our judgment, such as the similarity-attraction phenomenon. This story presents an example of an external influence—in this case, another person’s influence—that may also cloud our judgment about selecting the best-fit candidate.
The good news is that following a structured process will help you steer clear of those influences, both internal and external. In my case, it helped alleviate the influence I felt to hire a specific candidate. If I had not used a structured process, the influence that I initially felt as a result of the senior manager’s endorsement of Christina might have won out—but, fortunately, it did not.
Don’t make your hiring decisions based on internal and external influences. Use a structured interview process that guides you through examining the candidate’s skills, knowledge, and experience, as well as motivation to do the job and fit for the culture.
The above article is an excerpt from Alonzo’s book: Hiring Made Easy as PIE. Through many years of experience and research, he has synthesized complex hiring practices into an easy-to-follow process. He wrote this book as a hiring guide to share this process with others.