Hiring? Mind Your Subconscious


October 9th, 2016 | Posted in , by

There was a study published last year that found recruiters spend an average of six seconds sizing up a resume. Since you can’t possibly read an entire resume in such a short window, your brain relies on a number of tactics to make such snap judgements; psychology calls these heuristics. Heuristics are tools that simplify our world, ways that we can make decisions based on experience and guesswork, rather than logic. When it comes to hiring, there are simply too many resumes, so we often streamline the process by scanning a few sections of the resume and then passing a quick judgement.

The first thing a recruiter sees is a candidate’s name. What’s in a name? A great deal. I can still recall my on-campus recruiting experience in my final year at McGill. I must have applied to nearly 40 job postings, just like my buddy Tom did. We had almost identical resumes and application forms. He was barely passing and I was a B student; yet he secured twice as many interviews as me. I will never know for certain, but I did wonder if my name was a disadvantage. How can a Tom, Dick or Harry be better than a Mario? Be aware of how easy it is to skip a resume because it seems foreign to you.

Next, the recruiter scans the employment section. Another misconception is the cachet of corporate brands. For example, global consulting companies do a great job of touting their talent so they can rent their people out at exorbitant rates. As a result of their branding and messaging, their logo is highly-respected and their employees are ranked among the elite. Landing a job with one of these companies can serve to inflate a person’s salary regardless of skill or accomplishment. In cases like these, relying on heuristics can lead to overpaying for a brand and getting mediocre talent in return.

Scrolling down the page further, the recruiter lands in the education section. No one disputes the value of education. You’re right to want smart people, but they can come from many different universities, not just your alma mater. The same is true of degrees and designations. Great hearts and minds can be found in all faculties and programs. Some people may leave their university with a piece of paper symbolic of persistence and intellect, others just leave. If we filter based on degrees, then we miss the next Branson, Jobs, Ellison, Gates, or Zuckerberg.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. So is talent. From the cover-letter and resumes, to the first impression and handshake, we are biased. So is your team, your boss, and your co-workers. We all are. Many of our filters are based on misconceptions and myths that can have a negative impact on our businesses and careers. Be wary of the mind-tricks your brain can play, and remember, you’re hiring a person, not a resume.