Anecdotes, Assumptions, and Poor Hiring Decisions

September 26, 2023

Titus Talent

Titus Talent

When it comes to making a quality hire, sticking to the facts helps us avoid becoming overly invested in a candidate who surface-level-impresses and overlooking a phenomenal candidate based on an unfounded opinion.

A business women looking to her right.

Every week, I (Bethany Whitted) sit on at least 20 calls with recruiting teams from a spectrum of industries.

We discuss the pros and cons of candidates. Often, decisions are made on those calls about how the candidates rank amongst each other and which candidates should be discarded.

I want to shed some light on decision-making errors that can cause real consequences to the quality of hire. Specifically, the confusion between facts and suggestions. An anecdote from a hiring manager can plant a seed in the discussion that ends up needlessly swaying the perception of a candidate. A faulty assumption can be accepted as fact as the conversation around that assumption builds.

This is a major problem because the quality of hire depends on the quality of a series of decisions made about candidates. The quality of those decisions depends on the decision-makers access to and reliance on the facts. 

Let’s take this from abstract to concrete. Consider the following three examples: 

First Scenario: Assuming what a candidate thinks, followed by a supporting anecdote. 

Hiring manager: “I love this candidate, her experience is spot on. I just wonder if her 1-hour commute to our location will get old.” 

HR team member: “Yeah, we just had an employee switch jobs because they wanted something closer to home.”  

Hiring manager: “We certainly can’t afford for that to happen with this high-level position. We need someone who will be here long term. I’d feel more comfortable if they were closer to our location.”  

Reality: The candidate is excited about the 1 hour commute. She lives in a remote location and currently has a 1 hour and 15 minute commute, so this job is actually an improvement. In the absence of this key information, the hiring team ranks her slightly lower on their list.  

Second Scenario: First impression leads to concerns. 

Hiring manager: “This candidate seems like a pretty good fit, but I wonder if he’s a little too shy for the role. I didn’t get the impression that he was a people person.” 

Direct supervisor for the role: “Usually shy people have a hard time adjusting to our upbeat culture.” 

Hiring manager: “That’s something we really care about, so I’m not sure how much further we want to take this candidate.” 

Reality: The candidate is highly qualified for the role. He takes a little while to come out of his shell, but would make a great culture fit at this company after settling in. The hiring team moves on to discuss the next candidate, agreeing that this candidate isn’t quite ideal. 

Third Scenario: Hearsay 

Hiring Manager: “Right off the bat, I’m not sure about this candidate. They come from Company X, which is a company in our industry that just does not produce high quality products. I’d be concerned that he doesn’t have the level of expertise that we can’t negotiate on.” 

Person on the hiring team: “I just want to echo that. They aren’t on the same level as our company whatsoever. Our team is really committed to excellence, so it would bring our team down if we add someone who doesn’t share that preference for the highest quality work.” 

Hiring manager: “Keep him warm in case other candidates don’t work out, but he’s not our number one choice.” 

Reality: The candidate is interested in the opportunity because he shares this exact frustration. He has a solid educational background and is discontent with the lack of excellence at his current company. Were he to be hired, he would excel at this company and stay for the long haul, loving the fact that he works for a company committed to high standards. 

You get the point.

Discussing candidates without a keen radar for facts and suggestions is a recipe for biased and poor decision making. Some of these assumptions might be correct from time to time, the key is further investigation rather than making decisions on suggestions. 

What can we do to make these discussions help rather than hurt the hiring process? 

Reign in subjective rabbit trails.

When you hear someone make a suggestion, assumption, or anecdote, acknowledge the fact that it could be true, but it also might not be true. Operate with an “innocent-until-proven-guilty” mindset. If we are prone to be agreeable people, our natural instinct is to agree and pile onto the opinions that are offered. We might naturally say something like, “That’s a really good point,” when someone brings up a potential caution without good evidence. This brings further credibility to the assumption. Instead, say something to the effect of, “How could we verify that?” 

Use objective measures.

Speaking of verifying, if possible, use objective measures. Objective measures are things like tests or work samples that the candidate must complete to demonstrate their competence. I recently worked with a company hiring a wealth advisor that needed a depth of knowledge around tax laws. They came up with a list of questions about tax laws and asked candidates those questions. For roles that require strong business writing ability, you could require a written sample. This is an unbiased way to assess whether someone has the skills needed for the job, rather than discussing hunches and opinions about competence. 

Don’t be afraid to follow up and get the information that you need.

Take the first scenario, where the hiring manager expressed concern about the 1-hour commute. It would have been fairly easy to get in touch with the candidate and ask them how they felt about the long commute. In another example, I had one CEO express concern that a candidate wouldn’t be a long term fit because the candidate was rather ambitious, and the CEO thought he would quickly outgrow their small company. Again, it would be fairly easy to ask the candidate if that was a true concern.

In these instances, I often picture the candidate being in the room and hearing the discussion. What would they say if they could speak for themselves? Hiring teams should allow themselves to slow down enough to get the facts straight before making a decision, even if that means extra touch points with candidates. 

After reading this blog, hopefully your eyes will be open to how often we let assumptions and anecdotes rule in the decision-making process. Sharpening your assumption versus fact radar, adding objective measures, and following up with questions when needed will strengthen the quality of your hiring decisions. This all adds up to better hires that make bottom line impacts at your company.  

Part of the challenge in reigning in subjective rabbit trails is having the candor and tact to challenge your colleague’s opinions. Stay tuned for a follow up to this blog from Matt Gainsford on pairing “courageous candor” with “reality at all costs.”  

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