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Why do we stereotype candidates in recruitment & how to stop it.

What you see isn’t always the full story. Assuming something about a person based on their appearance, gender or even what they wear to the interview – even when we don’t think we’re doing it, we are.

Bernadette Eichner
Bernadette Eichner
An orange coloured blue sliced into two halves

I think every hiring manager and recruiter has fallen foul of good old-fashioned stereotyping in their career. You know what I mean – assuming something about a person based on their appearance, tone of voice, race, gender or even what they wear to the interview. Even when we don’t think we’re doing it, we are.

Why do we do it? Why should we stop doing it? How do we make sure we don’t keep doing it?

Why do we stereotype people?

The truth is that it is human, and unconscious. That is, we don’t even realise we are doing it. Even when we would proudly say we never do it. So how does this happen? Social learning theory which proposes our behaviours are acquired by observing and imitating others is one explanation for it. The idea that from the minute that we are born we are exposed to the behaviours and belief systems of our parents (our first and most influential teachers), teachers, significant others (e.g., siblings, classmates, peers), and the media. In essence, the old adage, “monkey see, monkey do”.

But there is another (some would say more compelling) explanation for how we form stereotypes. Put simply, we like to categorise both the social and physical world into neat little groups. It makes life easier for us – we don’t have to think quite as hard, we can make predictions about things based on our [often limited] experience, and we can feel better about ourselves surrounding ourselves with people like us.

Why should we stop stereotyping people?

Put simply, in a global world where cross-cultural and socio-political norms have changed significantly in the last 50 years, applying stereotypes limits both our professional and personal life experience.

And when we are hiring, it means we are often missing out on the best person for the job. The truth is that for any company to succeed, we need to be looking for the talent and experience we don’t already have in the team. We can’t do that if we are just looking for ‘someone like me’.

How do we stop doing it?

First of all, accept that you are probably doing it! It’s human. Then, apply your selection criteria honestly – education, experience, specific skills you need - and weight those things equally across all the applicants. Do not assume gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, or residency status about anyone based on their name. This will give you your first short list – or what we in the biz call the ‘long list’.

Then screen those people with a short phone call. In that phone call, as well as validating their experience, you are evaluating English speaking proficiency, verbal communication skills and their motivation for applying. From that, you create your short list for face to face interviews.

In the face to face interview, you revisit all those things again, while evaluating their presentation skills and asking questions to assess organisational fit. Then, and only then, can you say you have honestly assessed every applicant based on their skills and experience. Then, and only then, can you honestly say you hired the very best person for the job.

Bernadette Eichner
Bernadette Eichner

Bernadette Eichner, Cofounder and CEO of Just Right People, is a recruitment industry entrepreneur and thought leader in Australia, totally committed to improving the recruiter experience for clients and candidates alike. Her secret to life is to “just do the next thing that needs to be done”.

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