Snap judgments are a fact of life - we judge people in the heat of the moment. In traffic, other drivers are jerks. At work, well-dressed individuals are successful. So the story goes.
But how do these snap judgments affect hiring?
According to Forbes, when we attribute a person’s behavior to innate characteristics rather than external circumstances, we make “fundamental attribution errors.” Lately, psychologists have been studying the phenomenon with sobering results: a new research paper demonstrates how the fundamental attribution error is so deeply rooted in our decision making that not even highly trained people-evaluators can defeat its effects.
“Across all our studies, the results suggest that experts take high performance as evidence of high ability and do not sufficiently discount it by the ease with which that performance was achieved,” the paper reports.
The researchers decided to investigate whether people whose jobs require unclouded judgment are as susceptible to the error as the rest of us. The results are enough to spook anyone: not only were the studies’ subjects unable to counteract the bias, but they remained susceptible to it even after being warned explicitly of its dangers.
In the study, researchers asked business executives to evaluate twelve fictional candidates for promotion. In the given scenario, certain candidates had performed well at an easier job (managing a relatively calm airport), while others had performed less well at a harder job (managing an unruly airport).
The study found that executives consistently favored employees whose performance had benefitted from the easier situation—which, while fortuitous for those lucky employees, can be disastrous on a companywide scale. Additionally, researches tried to eliminate hiring bias by providing people with more information. However, even when subjects were told explicitly which positions were easier than others, the hiring managers still consistently selected the top performers from easy settings.
Before you feel hopeless, remember: the researchers’ next steps will work toward formulating new methods of personal evaluation, which may help universities and businesses safeguard against misguided recruitment efforts. In the meantime, stay mindful of the fundamental attribution error, and work with your team or consider using a digital interviewing platform to help eliminate that bias.