Employers tend to hire potential drinking mates, instead of top candidates

HRM 07 Dec 2012

Have you ever hired anyone that you felt the most connection with, instead of someone with the best qualifications?

You are not alone. An academic study by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found that hiring managers do not always pick the most qualified applicants – they pick people they like and want to spend time with, people whom they think could be their friends.

According to Professor Lauren Rivera who led the study, she found that “interviewers often privileged their personal feelings of comfort, validation and excitement over identifying candidates with superior cognitive or technical skills.”

In other words, they chose people whom they share good chemistry with.

Wrote Rivera: “in many respects they hired in a manner more closely resembling the choice of friends or romantic partners.”

To sum it up, one investment banking hiring manager in her study said, “One of my main criteria is what I call the ‘stranded in the airport test.’ Would I want to be stuck in an airport in Minneapolis in a snowstorm with them?”

One of Rivera's findings from the study was that the majority of employers in her study described their firms as having distinct personalities that come from the hobbies of their employees. Rivera quotes a hiring partner at a consulting firm who says, “We want people who fit not only the way we do things but who we are.”

In an example from her paper, a legal hiring manager at a firm rejected an otherwise qualified applicant because of his interests in lacrosse, squash and crew – sports which the hiring manager found too aristocratic for the organisation. Another hiring manager rejected a candidate who had expressed an interest in 18th-century literature and avant-garde film because he seemed too “intellectual.”

However, HRM suggests having good recruitment systems in place for HR to differentiate bias from cultural fit. After all, you don’t want a discrimination lawsuit now, do you?

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