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Hiring Based on 'Gut Feeling' is Inherently Biased

Hire fairly, promote equitably, and unlock every employee’s potential

by Natalie Grogan, CEO of The Outstanding Company

Unfortunately, there is not a human soul in this world who exists without bias. 

I am biased in favor of Chianti, Peloton, and people who communicate directly. 

No one really cares what I like to drink or how I like to work out and those things have minimal impact on others. 

I like people who communicate directly because I communicate directly. This is an example of affinity bias and could pose some big problems in my business.

Hiring people who are just like me is not going drive success. 

95% of leaders think they are self aware

Bias is not always about how a person looks, where they’re from, or how they live their life. We have biases about communication style, assertiveness, big personalities, quiet personalities, and a whole lot more that show up throughout our work life.

We spend our entire lives gathering information from our surroundings – our families, teachers, communities, workplaces, and the media that we consume. Our brains are processing massive amounts of information every second of the day. Our brains need to organize information in a way that is quickly accessible so it builds shortcuts to make decisions easier. 

This creates unconscious biases that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained thoughts that influence how we behave. 

Unfortunately, our thoughts are not always true.

Self-Awareness is the Missing Piece

Learning and understanding your own biases requires a high level of self-awareness. In her book Insight, Tasha Eurich’s research shows that 95% of leaders think they are self-aware but in reality, only 10-15% actually are

Naturally, this means that a high percentage of people are out there not knowing they are not self-aware and therefore, not trying to become more self-aware. Does that make sense? 

Ironically, the #1 predictor of success in managerial and leadership roles is…self-awareness.

(If you’re ready to do some introspection, you can start with this 5 minute assessment)

If you are not taking the time to develop self-awareness, spending time to notice what your biases are, where they come up, and actively trying to undo them, you’re not going to make progress. 

In addition to your own learning, The Outstanding Company’s talent optimization solutions can help make decisions more objective and reduce biased in hiring and management.

Can We Eliminate Bias Altogether?

We have to be honest – there is no way to completely eliminate hiring bias. Our brains are wired for it. The only way to reduce biases and discrimination is to develop that high level of self-awareness and awareness of others.

Self-awareness turns on a switch that helps you notice when biases are coming up so you can correct before acting on them. Self-awareness, especially in management and leadership, is critical to reducing discrimination in the workplace and creating a culture where all people are welcome, included, valued, and given opportunities to learn and grow.

Biases show up in the workplace in the recruitment process, employee development and coaching, promotion pipeline and succession planning, and performance management. If not addressed, this can lead to a competitive, anxious, and hostile working environment.

Types of Biases

Biases can be related to many factors, such as age, gender, sex, race, sexual orientation, pregnancy, ability, national origin, and religion. They can also be related to anything we have opinions about, such as weight, attire and appearance, communication style, the car someone drives, or where they went to school.

Common unconscious biases are:

  • Affinity bias: we favor individuals who have similarities to ourselves.
  • Attribution bias: we credit our successes to our merit and hard work, and our failures to external factors, but credit other people’s successes to luck and their failures to their personality or own shortcomings.
  • Conformity bias: when the people around us unconsciously sway our opinion.
  • Confirmation bias: we unconsciously seek out, focus on, and remember information that confirms your existing beliefs and opinions.
  • The Halo effect: we focus on one great thing about someone, such as their education or one professional success story, and let it positively influence everything else that they say or do. 
  • The Horns effect: we focus on one negative fact about someone and it negatively impacts everything else about them.

Applying This Knowledge

Going back to my earlier example about my bias against people who do not communicate directly – that is affinity bias: I like to tell it like it is so I prefer that others do the same.

If I was a hiring manager unaware of this bias, I would dismiss exceptional candidates based on their behavior in a job interview. Fortunately, using the Predictive Index talent optimization framework, I can avoid this. When I hire, I have access to each candidate’s profile.

A person who doesn’t communicate directly could have a collaborative nature, where they seek buy-in from others. They could be more introspective and need time to think before speaking. They could be extremely patient or extremely formal, not wanting to say anything before they are absolutely sure it is true. None of those attributes is grounds for disqualification and, because I have this information, I am aware of why candidates behave the way they do.

Tools for Hiring, Promotion, and Management

The PI Behavioral Assessment (BA) collects data from an individual to create a unique behavioral report that explains this person’s drives, needs, and general temperament. 

The PI Cognitive Assessment (CA) measures how quickly a person can process and learn new information. Paired together, these assessments are strong indicators of job success when used correctly. 

The PI Job Assessment allows stakeholders to select skills, cognitive abilities, and temperaments required to do a specific job at your company. The software then creates a Job Target that you use in the hiring process for a new role or when promoting an internal candidate.

The platform provides job descriptions that speak to the profile you selected as well as structured interview questions. The interview questions focus on fit-to-role and are another tool to prevent bias. 

By aligning your candidates BAs and CAs with the Job Target, you can identify the best candidates for that role using science, and reduce hiring bias in the interview process.

"Gut Feeling" Hiring is Not Reducing Bias

Recruiters, managers, and other interviewers often make a decision about a candidate based on their “gut feel,” which is typically rooted in their unconscious biases. 

By leveraging the PI Behavioral and Cognitive Assessments, Job Assessment, Job Target, and interview guides, your interview team can make more objective hiring decisions.

While the PI platform doesn’t solve social injustice, it can – and does – remove bias to help create more diverse companies. It enables you to hire fairly, promote equitably, and unlock every employees’ true potential. 

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