Even It Up!

Shifting the balance for jobseekers

Foolproof recruiting: Challenger learnings

with 10 comments

Even It Up!  watched with interest Foolproof Equations for a Perfect Life on SBS last night.  It was while we were watching that we made the connection between hiring  and

[the] extent…our decision-making process [is] manipulated by how choices are presented.

…from SBS program blurb

It is our contention that in the recruiting process, no one really questions what and how hiring decisions are made.  What can seem like an objective, transparent process, may very well not be, particularly when we consider human thought processes:

1. Priming

Research has consistently shown that people make decisions and choices depending on their environment (and circumstances).  People can be susceptible to manipulation and may not even know it.

In one study on priming,  individuals were given a hot drink to hold by the research leader prior to the study, and others a cold one.  Each person was then asked to have a one-on-one conversation with a member of the research team they were introduced to (it was the same man in each conversation).

After the conversation, each person was asked a number of questions about the person they had met, including whether they would give him a job or not.  And this is where it get interesting.  Every person who held the hot drink consistently said they would hire him.  Every person who had held a cold drink said they would not.  
Apparently, the warmth makes one feel more kindly disposed toward another person, and the cold lessens these feelings.

So, the question becomes: what goes on before your job interview that could be influencing the decision about whether you are hired or not?  

2. Rationalisation

In another study, participants were dealt two cards at a time, each with similar faces and they had to choose the one they liked.  The participants were then handed the cards they didn’t choose, and asked to justify their choice!

Interestingly, most people in the study did not challenge the fact that they had received the wrong card.  Instead, they justified their choice! It seems, as humans, it is easier to go along with an incorrect choice (or decision) and then rationalise it. 

Which leads us to the next point which, when taken with rationalisation, makes us question the objectivity of job interviews.

3. Groupthink

People are easily persuaded when they are in a group… they just tend to “go along” with one person, even if they know the decision or choice is incorrect.  This is because – psychologically speaking – the cohesiveness of the group becomes much more important than individual opinions, and consensus, particularly of the dominant view is maintained at all costs.

4. Job interviews are not objective

A job interview in front of a panel is, in some ways, no different to the flawed thinking (or not) behind the Challenger explosion.  What if the best and brightest candidate was interviewed after the panel chair had a cold drink?  What if the panel chair had the balance of power, or was the dominant personality?   What if the panel chair makes a bad decision and rationalises it?  How can one person who doesn’t agree with the panel’s decision ensure their opinion is heard and acted upon?

Don’t for one minute be fooled into believing that job interviews are an objective process.

Written by evenitup

December 29, 2008 at 3:24 pm

10 Responses

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  1. […] be controlled is the candidate!  And often those who make the hiring decision are not trained (see post [and comments] Foolproof Recruting).  In Winter 2006, The Journal for Quality & Participation released some very interesting […]

  2. […] candidate – or the interviews!  And often those who make the hiring decision are not trained (see post [and comments] Foolproof Recruting).  In Winter 2006, The Journal for Quality & Participation released some very interesting […]

  3. In fact as an HR professional with an MBA and strong expertise in employer branding, Bek, I’d go further and say leave employer branding to HR (everybody gasp again!). In my experience over some years most internal coms and marketing people have absolutely no experience in employer branding whatsoever and wouldn’t know candidate requirements if they stood up and bit them! All they know are traditional marketing and branding principles and techniques – and as for knowing what an EVP is, let alone understanding it or being able to talk appropriately to candidates (can they ever not ‘spin’?). Yet at the same time when you find someone in comms who does know their stuff in this area it can be a a god-send!


    January 2, 2009 at 10:29 pm

    • Thanks for your comments Catherine. Even It Up! is loving the debate this post is generating! By the way, we do know what an EVP is (employer value proposition)! EVPs should be communicated at every ‘touchpoint’ in the organisation – from attraction and engagement right through to retention and referral. Our beef is that most businesses say “Come and work for us – we are fabulous”, but their hiring processes let them down. And once the person is in the door, very rarely does the rhetoric actually match the reality.


      January 3, 2009 at 8:51 am

  4. here here!

    Melissa Kennedy

    December 30, 2008 at 4:56 pm

  5. Thanks Mel, you summed it up well. And Diane, you’re last comment is right on the money. The majority of recruiters and employers still do a pretty “crap” job of it and need to improve – and people aren’t usually upset at missing out on a job if the process is managed well…although getting HR to speak to marketing/comms will be the big challenge – it’s why I think that comms (at least internal comms, who can also take on the external employer branding side as part of the role) should report to HR….everybody gasp!


    December 30, 2008 at 1:17 pm

  6. Even it up, I can’t believe what I’m reading.

    Of course culture comes into a hiring decision, it would be stupid for it not to – as different employees suit different cultures. But great companies manage to look at this in an objective way rather than just hiring someone they like, or someone because they are drinking a hot cup of tea. Interviews generally follow the pattern of technical, job related questioning and then behavioural and cultural questioning.

    As someone who has been doing the recruiting for many companies throughout Australia for over 15 years I can assure you that “groupthink” can be controlled (although I agree that it can’t be completely removed – someone is always the senior manager on the interview panel after all.)

    I’m concerned that you feel having a controlled, level playing field isn’t the way to go in interviews and that many a good hire has been missed because of a supposed level playing field? I’d like to understand the story behind that one as I suspect it might be a case of “I didn’t get a job when it was a controlled environment so now I’m bitter” When a company does this controlled environment well (as I think what bek was referring to above) it proves why a controlled environment is critical in producing best practice recruitment…and the stats show that the staff recruited in this manner perform better, are a better cultural fit and remain with the company for longer.

    I’m not sure what recruitment background you have aside from attending interviews as a candidate, but I would recommend getting in contact with the Australian HR Institute who may be able to provide you with some information and statistics on best practice recruitment and the businesses who employ these techniques.

    Aside from this I love the site as it is important to start keeping employers and agencies at check with the manner they treat employees…but perhaps comments on recruitment techniques should be left to the HR and recruitment professionals.

    Melissa Kennedy

    December 30, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    • Thanks for your comments, Melissa. It’s always good to get a variety of perspectives on these things. Our aim at Even It Up! is to get recruiters and employers to think about and interrogate their practices – from the point of view of the jobseeker, and in the interests of improving the perception of the organisation’s brand. We admit that we have been in interviews that have left a lot to be desired, hence the site. However, what we find is that this is often because HR people often do not talk to the marketing/communication people (our area of expertise), and those doing the recruiting don’t talk to anyone! If employers make the experience as pleasant as possible for candidates, it won’t matter if the jobseeker is not successful. Maya Angelou says something along the lines of: it doesn’t matter what you say or do, it’s how you make people feel that is remembered. And that’s why recruiting is a brand issue.


      December 30, 2008 at 12:54 pm

  7. Don’t for one minute be fooled into thinking that all job interviews aren’t objective!!

    You’ll find that businesses that have a cultural focus on people and leading people in the best way possible, spend a significant amount of time and money on training their HR people and leaders on how to interview objectively – ensuring the environment is controlled – same room, same desk, same interviewers, same drinks, same questions for all candidates. Interviewers are asked to rank candidates independently of one another so the Groupthink thought process does not come into effect. Using these controls assists in removing as much subjective thought processes as possible and focuses the interview solely on the technical expertise and behavioural qualities of the candidate.

    Of course businesses without this core people focus have sloppy recruitment practices and although their HR teams may know the “right” way to manage the recruitment process, without support from the top (CEO) to ensure this quality, they don’t bother.


    December 30, 2008 at 9:04 am

    • We don’t think you can ever discount the extent of groupthink in panel situations. There is always some discussion of candidates in these situations, and even though (supposedly) objective ranking occurs, it does not take into account all the vagrancies of personal orientations. Culture itself plays a huge part in what is considered a “”good” hire, and research consistently shows that hiring is done on similarity of the candidate to the personalities doing the recruiting rather than what is best for the company. We are not really in favour of a “controlled” environment mainly because it benefits and advantages those candidates who are able to operate the best in those types of situations. Many a good hire is missed because of a supposed level playing field.


      December 30, 2008 at 9:34 am

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