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Fight or flight, friend or foe? A snap decision we make in new situations or when meeting new people. It’s completely natural, it takes us about 3-7 seconds and we do it to protect ourselves.

Our natural survival instinct will save us if we are being chased by bears but thankfully that doesn’t happen too often now. We still make a snap decision every time we meet someone or speak to them on the phone.  Have you ever met someone and thought “ooh they look nothing like what I thought, I thought they’d be taller, have a beard, glasses, red hair”?  We are naturally drawn to people who are similar to us because we think they will be safe rather than being different which we see as potential danger.

That’s unconscious bias. It’s natural and it’s ok as long as we understand that these snap judgements are assumptions and they can influence decisions so could be unfair. We need to always question our assumptions.

In recruitment, a negative assumption could result in an unfair decision but equally a positive assumption could result in favouritism.

When we read a CV we can make assumptions based on name, age, school or university attended and when we speak to someone on the phone we can make assumptions based on accent or voice.

Here are a couple of ways to avoid making unfair decisions:

  • If you have a comprehensive job description, advert and interview questions including clear information on skills and qualifications that are essential or desirable for the role, an interview can focus on these areas. Notes recorded during an interview will ensure that the interviewer can refer back and make an unbiased decision; ultimately hiring the best person for the role.
  • Making use of a discovery day, asking the candidate to complete mock tasks helps to focus on the ability and skills required, rather than personality or background.

From a personal point of view as recruitment and HR professionals, we need to focus on understanding ourselves, the company and the role as well as continuously questioning our attitudes and values to ensure we do not make unfair decisions and strive to recruit the best person for the job every time.


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