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Staff Recruitment - 20 December 2012

Check out the couple on the left. If you’re like a lot of us, you’ll draw conclusions from what you see. Their warm smiles might make you think they’re kind and gentle. Their good looks could lead you to assume they’re fit and healthy. And maybe their fine clothes and fancy car make you presume they’re well off, the man perhaps a doctor and the lady his true love. Overall, most people would develop a positive perception of them both.

The truth is that those two individuals are Bonnie and Clyde. They were famous in the 1930s for robbing banks, petrol stations and restaurants, shooting any policeman who got in the way, and kidnapping some of them, too. They even organised a prison escape, from which several hardcore criminals benefited.

The difference between the perception of the photo and the reality of the crime spree can be attributed to the halo effect. This occurs whenever we form a favourable opinion about someone, usually prematurely, based upon limited data. Its opposite number, the horns effect, is when we think negatively about a person based upon the same superficiality.

These two effects are present during the hiring process. When interviewing a candidate – and when reading résumés or drafting a recruitment ad – many leaders are influenced by the halo effect or the horns effect, which means they ignore messages that contradict the early assumptions they’ve made about the candidate. Generally, these fall into four categories.

Likeability: If a candidate is similar in personality to us, shares our demographics, makes us laugh, agrees with what we say, or is especially charismatic, the halo effect starts to infiltrate the decision-making process.

Contrariness: Conversely, if a candidate begins an interview by saying something negative, disagrees with us, appears characteristically different, or looks dissimilar when compared to the rest of the team, the horns effect takes hold.

Features: This is when we take a feature and let it determine our view of an individual. This potentially happens with attractiveness, attire, voice, body language, handshakes, gender, religion, and race. For example, studies have shown that short or overweight candidates are unfairly pre-judged during the recruitment process. That’s the horns effect in action.

Criteria: This represents the demand that a candidate must possess a certain number of years of experience. In reality, the number of years is not a reliable indicator of the amount of experience. The same principle applies with qualifications. They are not always a dependable predictor of on-the-job success.

Your task as a leader or as a recruiter is to be conscious of those four traps and to be aware of when you’re influenced by them. It’s important to ask objective questions, recruit on merit, keep interviews consistent, take thorough notes, examine your thought processes, seek a second opinion, delay decisions until all interviews are complete, and use credible tests. Because then you can be sure that you’re not the one with the horns.


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