by UB Ciminieri, interviewIA CMO

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” when looking for a job. We’ve all heard this advice and know how disturbingly accurate it can be.

Allow me to propose a theory. I think that the current state of job hunting has forced job seekers into a socially acceptable way of manipulating hiring managers’ biases to win gainful employment. Instead of having the chance to present their authentic selves, job seekers are often forced to “play the game” to put themselves in a more favorable position for a role.

You are already familiar with bias manipulation. We call it propaganda, spin, or hype. It happens all the time in politics, marketing, and advertising. So, how does bias manipulation happen in hiring?

 

The 4 main manipulations that job seekers have been forced to master

Job hunting advice teaches candidates to manipulate their potential employers into noticing them and hiring them. This advice toward manipulation persists because employers reward those who are adept at manipulating hiring biases.

Advice #1: Find common ground with an influential person (Manipulating In-group Bias)

The job seeker has to reach out and connect with people who they believe have influence over hiring them. The goal is to find something in common with someone who can influence the hiring outcome. Then, the job seeker is encouraged to emphasize that common connection. For example, same school, same place we grew up, same causes to support. Finding common ground manipulates the influential person’s In-group Bias. In-group bias is what happens when we expect good things from someone who is like us in some way. The influential person, once manipulated, is willing to go out of their way to encourage the company to hire this candidate.

Advice #2: Make yourself memorable (Manipulating Recall Bias)

Next, the job seeker is supposed to make themselves memorable so that they can stand out from the crowd. Making one’s self memorable impacts the recall bias (Read our previous article about Recall Bias) that exists in a recruiter or hiring manager’s mind. Making yourself memorable allows the hiring manager to remember you even if they have a chaotic hiring process where notes are lost, candidates are accidentally disregarded, or nothing is written down.

Advice #3: Match your life’s work to a job description (Manipulating System Justification Bias)

The candidate is encouraged to sculpt their resumé so that it matches exactly what the job description has described as the “ideal candidate.” Employers reward candidates who can show that their entire career has led them to match this job description. Time spent raising a family, traveling, volunteering, or working in unrelated fields is considered detrimental and must be hidden. Also, candidates are advised to add superfluous keywords throughout the resumé to either get recognized by an AI-driven technology or to get highlighted by a recruiter doing the same review. Matching the job description manipulates the employer’s system justification bias. Candidates who uphold the norms in the employer’s potentially flawed hiring system tend to make hiring managers feel good.

Advice #4: Provide a perfect interview performance (Manipulating Halo Effect)

The final manipulation happens in the interview process. A candidate who can dress well, appear confident under stress, and answer questions without stammering will appear more capable overall than a candidate who struggles with making good first impressions. The halo effect causes us to think highly of someone who has impressed us in one way – even though their positive traits may be unrelated to the traits we are seeking. Candidates who can wow hiring managers with charisma are manipulating the halo effect to leave a good impression.

 

The current interview and hiring process in most organizations encourages job seekers to use these bias manipulations. Until employers address the biases that exist in their hiring process, the pressure will remain on the job seeker to manipulate their way into a job.

 

How Employers can take Responsibility for Bias in Hiring

Employers can start by acknowledging that bias exists in their hiring process. Humans are all subject to the biases highlighted in this article. So, all hiring processes will have to address these biases to prevent job seekers from using manipulation to get noticed.

Here are a few things your company can do right now to prevent manipulation from driving your hiring process:

  1. Implement a thoughtful and well-documented hiring process. You can minimize the effect of most of these biases with process alone. When all candidates are evaluated through the same process, in-group bias can’t be manipulated by candidates, recruiters, or hiring managers. Everyone must be evaluated on the same criteria by the same evaluators.
  2. By insisting that hiring managers and interviewers immediately and reliably document their interactions with candidates instead of taking notes after the fact, recall bias becomes a non-issue.
  3. Redefine the evaluation criteria used to select a candidate. It may seem obvious, but you can prevent candidates from manipulating your hiring team if your hiring team is deeply informed about what is and is not important about the role. A flimsy hiring process is easily manipulated because the hiring team has nothing to go on but a series of job description bullet points and their own personal feelings about the candidate. Prevent system justification bias manipulation by justifying your system’s hiring process ahead of meeting the first candidate.
  4. Start justifying your evaluation process by redefining the key characteristics of what is necessary for someone to be successful in the role. What will this new hire have to do in their job? Your new criteria should be defined by evidence of ability to do the job, alignment with organizational values and mindset, and the candidate’s growth potential. By focusing your definition of success on these three intentions and providing specific guidelines about what you are looking for, you can make sure that all interviewers are clear about how you will evaluate candidates.

 

I envision a future of work where anyone can find meaningful work without having to play manipulation games to be considered for a role and where organizations transform their hiring processes to focus on what’s true about success in a role and to be able to evaluate all candidates equally for their authentic true selves.