How can you know that you’ve made the right decision after the job interview: cognitive biases

Living and working in our time and age means that we are constantly exposed to various streams of information and expected to quickly adjust and respond to it. Being faced with such a challenging task, our cognitive system is often pressured to make shortcuts, without even consulting us. For example, you’ve probably had a colleague that just seemed a bit off at the first glance and you could never grow to like them, although you never knew exactly why. Or maybe, you’ve interviewed a candidate and pretty early on realized no further conversation is necessary – the candidate is so much like you and your colleagues and would fit in the team perfectly. Or perhaps, you were being interviewed and the interviewer seemed incompetent right away, although when you now stop and think about it, they actually did their job fairly.

Surely, there are many examples, both in our personal and professional lives, when we made quick decisions and were certain in our judgment although we couldn’t properly explain where this certainty comes from. These situations occur due to a well-studied phenomenon – cognitive biases.

A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking, which occurs while we’re interpreting information and can lead us to faulty judgment. It is normal, and sometimes quite economic, to experience cognitive biases since they speed up our decision-making process and save our energy. However, there is one area where biased thinking can have severe consequences: the selection process.

In this blog, we’ll try to summarize the most common biases that can occur in the selection process, both from the interviewer’s and from the candidate’s perspective, and try to give you some tips on how to avoid them.  Even if you are not a hiring professional or considering entering a selection process soon, this list can still help you identify some of the biases you may hold since they may appear in any aspect o your life.

Let’s review the interviewer’s biases first:

1.Halo effect

Perhaps the most famous cognitive bias, often mentioned in various contexts, the Halo effect occurs when the first impression influences the rest of the communication. For example, if the candidate answers some of the first questions particularly well, in a way that the interviewer finds fitting, the interviewer is likely to overlook some ’’red flags’’ later on, or to interpret them in the light of the first, positive impression.

Similarly, if the first impression is negative, the interviewer may become nit-picky and interpret the rest of the conversation in this light. The interviewer may even go as far as to interpret genuine aspects of a candidate, which he would typically appreciate, as a dishonest attempt to appear as a desirable employee. First impressions are often very difficult to disprove!

2. Affinity bias

Everyone (including Hiring professionals, no matter how experienced they are) tends to gravitate toward people with similar backgrounds, interests, values, and outlooks on life. For example, Hiring Manager may have a ‘’gut feeling’’ about a candidate that went to the same University and had a similar career start as they did. To some extent, Affinity bias may be useful in hiring – we are likely to function well with people who are similar to us. However, apart from the obvious moral and discriminatory issue, this bias may lead to several practical consequences. Just because the candidate is similar to the interviewer in some aspects, who may perform very well in the said company, doesn’t mean they’ll as successfully get on with the work. Similarly, the interviewer may overlook candidates that would be more fitting or qualified, ie. pass over the more deserving ones. In addition, creating a uniform team of like-minded individuals can ‘’block’’ the team long term, preventing the influx of new and different ideas. It is in the clash of views that most innovations are made.

3.Anchoring bias

Anchoring occurs when an arbitrary benchmark is used as a reference point in future evaluations. For example, if you first see sneakers that cost $ 1,000, the next ones you encounter that cost $ 500 may seem cheap, even though you’d find the second pair too expensive if you didn’t see the more expensive ones first. Buying $ 500 sneakers may even feel like saving, after being struck by the initial price.

Anchoring bias is long studied in the field of behavioral finance since it plays an important role in sales and salary negotiations. If the candidate enters the negotiation with high demands, they may appear more valuable than the candidate with similar qualifications and skill sets with lower demands. On top of that, once the negotiation starts and the demands are a bit adjusted, the negotiator from the company side may feel like they got ’’lucky’’ to obtain such a candidate at such salary range, overlooking the fact that the agreed range is still higher than it was initially planned. Of course, it is sometimes necessary to readjust the range to obtain truly valuable employees, but it is also important to keep the anchoring bias in mind and differentiate between deserving individuals and confident negotiators. Similarly, before the negotiation, there may have been another negotiation process with a candidate that demanded ’’ too much’’, making the current candidate’s expectations (even though they may as well exceed the range) seem more reasonable.

4.Attentional bias

Attentional bias overlaps with Halo effect in the sense that it entails a narrow attentional focus. However, while in Halo effect our attention is focused on the first piece of information we receive from the candidate, in attentional bias, any type of information can become our focus. Certain interviewers exhibit positive attentional bias, focusing only on the pieces of information that they find appealing about the candidate, overlooking all the potential cues on negative aspects. The reverse is also likely, some interviewers focus solely on aspects they find negative about the candidate, ignoring all the cues why such a candidate may be a good fit for the role.

As we’ve previously said, the interviewers are not the only ones falling into traps of these biases. Hence, we’ve also listed two of the most common biases that can influence a candidate’s behavior in selection:

5.Self-serving bias

A self-serving bias is a type of bias that enhances a positive perception of one’s personality and actions. When affected by this bias, individuals tend to describe their actions as products of their efforts and abilities, while they describe their failures as products of situational factors. For example, a candidate may describe his team’s success as a product of his efforts, while he describes failures in terms of faulty organizational structure or nonproductive colleagues. Of course, from the interviewer’s perspective, it is hard to evaluate whether the candidate truly was a star in a bad environment or just not properly adapted to work tasks. That’s why it is important to approach each candidate holistically and infer from various sets of information on their behavior.

6. Availability bias

This bias refers to our tendency to base our decisions on the information that most easily comes to mind (often the most recent, or most memorable). For example, people often overestimate the number of terrorist attacks or plane crashes that happen yearly – because of the intensity of such events, they are easily recalled from memory and people feel like there must be many more examples. The likelihoods of a car crash or drowning in your tub are much higher than the likelihood of a plane crash or terrorist attack, yet, people are afraid of planes and terrorists and not of bubble baths and cars. Shocking events are more memorable and therefore easier to recall, but that doesn’t make them more likely to occur in the future again.

The selection process is not free of this bias – a candidate may have a bad previous experience with interviewers  ( eg an interviewer that didn’t understand the position fully, was too assertive, rude… ) and may enter the new process with a ’’prophecy’’ that the interviewer will be uninformed or interrogative – because they all must be. Previous negative and memorable experiences with interviewers can truly start a cycle of miscommunication between the current interviewer and the candidate. Just because it is easy to recall an uninformed or interrogative interviewer, doesn’t mean that they all are.

After listing these selection biases, objectivity and effective communication during the interviewing process may seem almost impossible to achieve. However, in reality, there are always things you can do as an HR professional to prevent yourself from falling victim to these biases.

1.Include multiple people in the selection process – but truly

Although most selection processes include several professionals, there are still processes that heavily depend on one professional – others are present solely formally. Make your hiring team members feel comfortable to share their genuine opinions – it shouldn’t be a collective effort just on paper. Although the experience reduces the effect of biases, everyone can still ’slip’ from time to time and form biased opinions. Therefore, it is important to compare the opinions of different team members and to form alternative interpretations of candidates’ behavior.

2.Structure your interview

During the preparation stage, agree with your team on relevant questions that you should ask each candidate. Certain professionals hold fully structured interviews to avoid all biases, while others believe this approach to be too mechanical and prefer having the flexibility to elaborate on topics that emerge spontaneously during the conversation and to chit-chat a bit so they can relax the atmosphere. Whatever your preference is, it is good for interviews to be at least semi-structured. Don’t skip any of the key questions with any of the candidates so the comparison can be as fair and as objective as possible.

3.Acknowledge the biases

To avoid and confront just about anything, you must first acknowledge its existence. It is useful to carefully reflect on your decision-making process or maybe discuss your experience with other hiring professionals. This is particularly important when it seems that you have reached the conclusion quite quickly or when the conclusions seem too extreme – hasty, extreme decisions are often products of biased thinking. In time, you’ll realize which biases you are more prone to, and soon you’ll be able to identify them with much less effort.

Staying objective and making ’’the right’’ decisions when it comes to hiring is an extremely complex task. The interviewer often has to juggle the expectations of numerous stakeholders, sometimes overlooking that the ’’trickiest’’ stakeholder can be our own cognition. We hope that this short list can help you in future processes and that it will pop into your mind the next time you get ’’the gut feeling’’ about the candidate.

The key to successful cooperation between the client and the HR agency

From the perspective of a recruiter working in an HR agency, I am aware that it is not always easy to meet all the client’s expectations. Especially when in the selection process several people decide which candidate will be employed. On the other hand, from our recruiting side, it is important to get as much information as possible from the client about expectations from a new team member, in order to get a clearer picture of what kind of person they would like to hire. What are the competencies, skills, and personality characteristics and what kind of experience does the client want to see in the candidate? What is the company culture like? What values ​​are appreciated? Are the working hours flexible? What benefits does the client offer? These are questions to which the recruiter must have an answer. Otherwise, he will not get a good response from the candidates – if he does not know the basic information about the company for which he is recruiting people, then he will not succeed in establishing a relationship of trust with his clients – candidates. Also, it is important for recruiters to agree with the client what the dynamics of the selection process will be – at the moment when we present a candidate whom we consider to be relevant, who will interview the candidate on the employer’s side, whether they may be planning to perform some additional testing, how many rounds of selection there is, etc.

However, even when everything is well planned, the selection process is dynamic, and unexpected situations may arise along the way. I believe that the recruiter and the client can together solve all challenges and successfully fill the position if they establish a solid relationship. Therefore, below we talk about the key features for successful cooperation between the recruiter and the client.

Transparent communication

Trust is a mutual process. So, to build trust, we must show trust. And it is built on the foundations of transparent and honest communication.

Do you also work best when you have all the relevant information in front of you? It often happens that some information in the initial briefing is ignored, skipped, or not shared because it is not considered relevant. All information is relevant! It is important for a recruiter to understand the bigger picture in order to navigate within that framework and create the best strategy for finding candidates. Also, we need to talk about problems and challenges. Maybe we can overcome them more easily together. In addition, it is very bad if the candidate is the first to get information that does not benefit the company, and the recruiter does not know anything about it. On the one hand, the mutual trust between the HR agency and the client is broken. On the other hand, in the eyes of the candidate, the reputation of the client, as well as the HR agency, is damaged.

Open and honest communication and trust are the umbrella terms without which successful cooperation cannot be achieved.

Effective communication

In addition to transparency, effective communication is also important. The most common wish of the client at the beginning of the process is that the employment process is completed successfully and quickly. In this regard, it is important that both parties share information quickly and accurately, especially when communication occurs exclusively via email.

Usually, when contacting the candidate begins, unexpected questions arise that were not mentioned in the initial brief. Furthermore, various challenges may appear during the selection process (candidate withdrawal, client-candidate interview schedule mismatch, selection criteria change), and in these situations, it is important that both parties react quickly and find solutions.

Also, the largest number of candidates participate in several job vacancies at the same time, and feedback on the status of the selection process is important to them. If the client or recruiter does not respond with relevant information, it is very likely that we will lose that candidate.


Feedback is generally intended to improve a particular behaviour. That’s why feedback is important to us after a client interview a featured candidate. Based on the feedback we receive from the client, we can verify whether we have fully understood the client’s need, as well as where there is room for improvement.

Recruitment and selection is an unpredictable process, and during that process, it may happen that changes occur in the company that wants to hire a candidate, due to which the recruitment could be suspended or suspended until further notice. Changes can be organizational, changes in priorities, consideration of an internal candidate, and the like. It happens that in those situations, the feedback fails, and the recruiter stands in the dark for a while without an explanation. It is also important to share these changes so that the recruiter can be transparently positioned in relation to the candidates.

Plus, by sharing feedback, we learn about the client and understand how the client thinks and what values ​​cherishes, which improves future cooperation.

Advisory role of the recruiter

The key role of the HR agency is to advise the client during the decisive points of the selection process. The framework in which the process will take place is determined by the client following the planned goals and possibilities. An HR consultant, as an expert in the field of recruitment and selection and a market expert, should have the freedom to advise the client on how to change the criteria, adjust the budget and benefits, perform on the market, reach an agreement with the candidate, and the like. The client and the HR consultant are partners, and the consultant’s goal is to help the client understand the state of the market and the framework it offers, as well as to present the client in that market in a relevant way. In this case, the client’s trust and willingness to adapt to the market situation, i.e. his flexibility, comes to the forefront.

We mentioned that the process of selection and recruitment is a dynamic and changing process, especially in the circumstances of constant changes in the market. It is extremely important to be aware of this and to adapt accordingly. Clients appear with their starting points – required competencies from candidates, experience, budget, benefits they offer, etc. However, if the situation on the market is different, the recruiter will advise that some requirements be adapted to that situation. For example, it happens that candidates who own all the desired characteristics are rare or that the financial expectations of candidates who possess all or almost all the desired characteristics are far greater than the client’s budget. In such situations, it is extremely important for the client to be flexible and to be ready to meet the candidates.

Therefore, the HR agency should be the client’s external team, since we are working towards a common goal. Although we together come up with a plan at the beginning, what matters is the kind of relationship we build with each other. It is equally important that both parties put similar effort into the partnership.

And in the end, the essence comes down to the characteristics of every good relationship – communication and listening, feedback, trust, and flexibility.

Boost your reputation on the market : storytelling and employer branding

If you’ve ever had anything to do with recruitment, you’ve probably experienced something like this: after another long day of sourcing and reaching out to candidates, you only have few candidates that are interested to start the process, and, honestly speaking, they are not the best fit for your company. Tired, you open the jobs section on LinkedIn to check which companies are also searching for the candidates you need. There it is – a job ad from just a few hours ago, looking for the same type of candidates as you, with loads of applications. Besides the fact that the grass is always greener elsewhere, certain companies really are a magnet for candidates:  they have regular applications from top talent, they fill in their positions quickly and it seems like they don’t spend much energy during the recruitment process.

What is their secret recipe for candidate attraction? Apart from good compensation and benefits, interesting projects and other things that come to your mind when you think of top companies on the market, these companies are usually taking their employer branding to the next level. No matter how good the benefits are, if not adequately communicated to candidates and the market, they don’t mean much on their own.

Before we go any further, a quick reminder: employer branding is reputation that company has as an employer on the market. This term encompasses both the perception of prospective candidates and the message the company chose to project about itself. Creating a strong employer branding strategy is obviously a very complex task and it requires much more than one blog post to be explained properly, so we’ll be focusing on one of the employer branding techniques that is often praised as the most effective: storytelling.

Since long back, storytelling has been praised as one of the most effective forms of marketing. New York Times journalist Rob Walker even gained popularity by experimenting with storytelling in sales: he bought around 200 cheap items from eBay, contacted authors to write brief stories about these items, and then went on to resell them ( with a help of a great story) for significantly higher prices. For example, he resold a horse figurine that was originally worth a bit less than a dollar for 62 dollars. Roughly speaking, a great story increased the appeal of the item by 6 395%

Applying these storytelling principles to recruitment, we may ask ourselves: ‘’What are the stories that candidates would like to hear?’’ What stories do you maybe already have ‘’written’’ in your company without even knowing it and just need to communicate it to the market in order to become up to 6 395% more attractive as an employer?

1.Speak to candidates in their own language

Candidates that are actively looking for a new position are faced with numerous, often plain and much alike, job ads and descriptions. When it comes to highly qualified candidates, the situation is even worse: most of the companies are offering similar, usually pretty good, terms and budgets. You can cut through the noise by bringing life and personal elements to positions that you are looking for. Create content for your social media or career page in which employees can talk about their experiences, challenges and things that they enjoy about the company. In this way, the position seizes to be a plain list of terms, tasks and benefits and it becomes a real life person, that candidates can resonate with and create more ‘’personal’’ connection to.

2.Put your leaders and experts forward

Faulty relationships with management and the lack of learning and growth opportunities are often one of the reasons why candidates are looking for another position. Put the spotlight on your leaders and experts – create content that shows their development stories, hardships they had on their path before becoming successful in their fields, and their vision for the company’s future… Candidates that prioritize learning will surely be glad to see that your company has seniors that can support their growth and that are, on top of that, open about their path and experience, meaning they are capable of understanding struggles that more junior candidates may have.

3.Empower the parents : work-life balance

A recent study by McKinsey & Company found that the largest portion of resignations during the past period came from parents. It is not necessary to explain further the hardships that working parents have on a daily basis, trying to balance their work and family lives. If your company is flexible when it comes to parents and their schedules, or if you maybe have special support programs for them – let the market know. Parents from your company can tell their stories, and explain their issues and ways in which the company helped them.  Parenthood stories from your company will surely be one of the key things that candidates with families will find important.

4.Show what the hybrid work model truly looks like in your team

Since the pandemics has redefined the way of working and organization, and after we’ve seen that it is possible to function as productively, sometimes even more productive, with flexible work models (remote and hybrid), a large portion of candidates is considering flexible work models as one of the key factors when choosing a position. According to a recent US study, 42% of employees reported that they’d change their workplace if they lost remote options. Apart from these figures, recent legislation of remote work as employee’s right in Netherlands and the discussion it opened on our local LinkedIn, clearly paints the image of current employees’ expectations. If your company has remote or hybrid work options, let your candidates know. Your colleague worked from the seaside last week? Another colleague spent Monday and Tuesday in nature and Wednesday and Thursday socializing and working with her team in the office? Tell their stories!

5.Don’t forget about your important team members : recognize their contributions

According to Achievers Workforce institute, up to 69% of employees note that they’d stay in their previous positions longer if their contributions were recognized. Apart from building an image of an attractive employer in the eyes of the prospective candidates, it is equally, if not more, important to take good care of your loyal team members. Provide them with a platform for their stories and recognize their contribution on your social media sites and other channels (this is, of course, not an adequate substitute for awarding loyalty and performance in financial and other ways). Content employees are surely the best recommendation for prospective candidates.

Whether you have a flexible working model, experts in certain fields, loyal and devoted employees, or parent assistance programs –  illustrate this to the market with stories directly from your employees. Of course, these are only some of the topics that can get you started with storytelling and employer branding. Every company has its authentic, valuable stories that can set it apart from the competition, attract active candidates or plant the seed in the minds of passive ones. As a professional in HR, you should always know your team well, have an ear for their stories and struggles and provide them with a channel where their stories can be heard. By listening and channeling stories from your company’s and employees’ life, not only that you’ll communicate your culture more clearly to the market and attract like-minded candidates, but you will also show your employees that their contributions and stories are valuable and recognized.