Previously, I’ve written about the heuristics that lead to flawed hiring decisions. Today, I want to focus on one bias in particular, it’s called The Halo Effect. The term was first coined in the 20s to describe the phenomenon whereby we assume that if people are good at A they will be good at B, C and D, (or the reverse – because they are bad at A they will be bad at B, C and D). This distortion begins with our first impressions and influences everything we believe about a person – with little evidence to justify our perception.
How real is the Halo Effect? Studies abound on the correlation between attractiveness and income, career success and other facets of life. Our brains are wired to assign all kinds of positivity to attractive faces. This may be perfect if you’re recruiting for a modelling agency, but in other realms, talent selection will be better served if you can learn to see with your eyes closed.
I bought my first sound system many years ago, when I was 19. The stereo shop had a wall of 25+ pairs of speakers. My friend and I must have auditioned all of them, twice. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the ones I liked. After an hour, I realized that I was being influenced by the brand name on the grille – and not necessarily what I was hearing. We left the store and returned a week later. This time, we did what they do on The Voice. I listened with my back to the speakers so the only thing that mattered was the sound. The result? I walked out with a pair of affordable speakers from a company I’d never read about (Fisher) and enjoyed them for over a decade.
How can we overcome our biases to improve hiring decisions? We need to open our minds to possibilities. Richard Branson’s dyslexia made him a poor student and most people expected him to fail in business. Dyslexia may have hindered his math skills, but it certainly didn’t detract from his ability to succeed. If we replace dyslexia with variables such as height, facial features, weight, accents, or names, we have a long list of reasons why we miss great talent. So don’t jump the gun on a candidate because you see one flaw, it doesn’t mean you’ll find more. This is crucial if you’re recruiting from a shallow talent pool.
The next time you interview, keep the Halo Effect in mind. Or, get yourself a chair from The Voice and do your interview blind!