From June, 2012

Mirror Image Hiring: An I/O Psychologist’s Perspective

A few weeks ago, Ryder Cullison of Hire-Intelligence, LLC wrote a blog post about the dangers of mirror image hiring. Mirror image hiring operates along the assumption that if I’m a successful employee, then I should hire employees who share the same attributes. As an I/O psychologist, I wanted to weigh in on what theory and research in I/O Psychology says about mirror image hiring.

Essentially, mirror image hiring represents what is referred to in I/O psychology as the “similar-to-me” bias. The similar-to-me bias has been found to operate in judgments of fit in the selection process1, performance evaluations2, and even in teachers’ grades of student performance3.We actually engage in the “similar-to-me” bias quite often in our daily lives. For example, who do you sit with at lunch? Who do you invite over for dinner? Who are the people with whom you prefer to work? Who are your neighbors? We probably do not even think about it, but implicitly we prefer to interact with people who are more similar to us with respect to our characteristics (whether it be personality, values, interests, educational status, etc.). We do not realize that we have these preferences because they operate at the implicit level, beneath our conscious awareness. These implicit biases are normal and quite adaptive in that they help us to make decisions in our daily lives without having to exhaust our limited cognitive resources poring over the endless amount of perceptual data that we encounter on a day-to-day basis.

The problem comes in when these biases influence judgments of others when making employment decisions. For example, let’s assume that I interview someone for a job who happens to be from the same college from which I graduated. Odds are that I evaluate this person more favorably than others simply because we share a common background. The implicit assumption that I make (again, at an unconscious level) is that since I am hardworking, dependable, smart, etc., and I graduated from this college that this person who also comes from the same college must also share these characteristics. Now, let’s also assume that the college I graduated from is 96% white. Odds are that the person I am interviewing is also white. In the long run, this bias could potentially lead to a pattern of hiring discrimination and create adverse impact.

The “similar-to-me” bias could also lead to creativity stagnation and lack of innovation in organizations. This happens because as organizations continue to hire employees that have the same backgrounds and experiences as those already in the organization, employees begin to think and behave in the same fashion due to their shared experiences. According the Attraction-Selection-Attrition model, employees who don’t “fit in” with other employees because of their lack of shared backgrounds and experiences will ultimately choose to leave the organization, thus leaving behind only those employees who are most alike to each other. This points to the importance of diversity in organizations, not just from a legal and social justice perspective, but also from the standpoint of encouraging creativity and innovation in organizations.

The best way to combat the “similar-to-me” bias in employment decision making is to properly train interviewers and raters. Training should point out these biases and make interviewers and raters aware of the long-term consequences of making such errors. Training should also focus on the importance of documenting job-related behaviors. As attention shifts from traits and characteristics towards behaviors, the likelihood of committing errors such as the “similar-to-me” bias becomes minimized. In short, we cannot control our implicit biases, but by acknowledging the existence of these biases we can control their impact on employment decisions.


1 Rynes, S. L., & Gerhart, B. (1990). Interviewer assessments of applicant “fit”: An exploratory investigation. Personnel Psychology, 43, 13-35.

2 Turban, D. B., & Jones, A. P. (1988). Supervisor-subordinate similarity: Types, effects, and mechanisms. Journal of Applied Psychology, 73, 228-234.

3 Westerman, J. W., Nowicki, M. D., & Plante, D. (2002). Fit in the classroom: Predictors of student performance and satisfaction in management education. Journal of Management Education, 26, 5-18.

7 Reasons Why Discrimination in Hiring is here to Stay!

Discrimination is here to stay.  Yep I said it.  The elephant is in the room and we might as well talk about him.  He’s called Discrimination and he just used the bathroom behind your desk!  Your office represents your hiring process and this behemoth called Discrimination is soiling it daily.  You could just tell the elephant to get out but you realize every person involved in your hiring process has brought their own elephant.  Some are also named Discrimination while many others are called Bias and Prejudice.  You realize there’s no hope in getting rid of them all so you enact laws to protect parts of your organization from your own team’s elephants.  Unfortunately the mess soon becomes so great that they invade even the parts protected by your laws.

Can anything be done about discrimination within an organization?  Studies show diversity training does not work.  Rather it serves to further emphasize the differences between us.  Laws?  Their mere existence solidifies the fact that we are inherently a discriminatory group.  We actually need government enforced regulations to prevent us from discriminating!  We love to discriminate and not just against minorities and women!  If laws tell us not to discriminate on the basis of color, creed, religion, gender, age, and so on then you can darn sure bet we’ll find something else to discriminate against such as obesity, smoking, tattoos or unattractiveness.  Heck studies show we’ll even turn our nose up at the beautiful.

Why do we discriminate?

  1. We’re afraid – Our misconceptions of other races and cultures shape us into cowardly beings too afraid to take a chance in hiring a perfectly qualified candidate who may be a little different than us.
  2. We’re jealous – We don’t want to compete with someone who may be smarter or more attractive than us so we eliminate them from contention.
  3. We’re prideful – We often hire people who are mirror images of us assuming an army of clones will further contribute to our organization’s success.  You saw how well that worked for the Empire in Star Wars.  Often cloning fosters an environment devoid of creativity with no one present to challenge our decisions.
  4. We flock together – Over 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs are white.  Within the top echelons of these companies blacks account for only 2% of the executives.  What assumptions can we make from this data?  If 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs were black do you really think blacks would account for only 2% of all executives?
  5. We’re corporate minded – A corporation’s primary goal is to make money.  Spending extra money for the health benefits of a smoker or obese person doesn’t make good sense.  Likewise if our profits are built on the backs of the attractive than we have no business with the unsightly.  Yes, I realize that sounds ridiculously harsh but honestly don’t you sometimes feel this world belongs to the pretty?
  6. We’re prejudiced – Stating the obvious here but many of us have been shaped over years by our parent’s prejudicial views and the media’s sometimes negative portrayal of minorities and other ethnicities.  These views have subconsciously taken hold in our minds and we eliminate good candidates from contention.  A 30 minute interview with a qualified candidate won’t always undermine decades of influence.
  7. We’re in denial – For all those who have said while reading this article, “That’s not me” then this point is just for you.  EEOC lawsuit filings indicate discrimination is still prevalent and rising and more than just a handful of people are responsible.  The first step to eliminating the problem as with most is admitting you have one.  The sooner you look inward and consider your fears the greater the chance you can combat your own biases.

Maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe equal evidence exists suggesting we’re not as biased as we once were.  If someone has some I’d sure like to see it.

“Cultural Fit” or Discrimination: Who is Right and Who is Wrong?

I am hiring for an enterprise sales executive.  I have reviewed dozens of resumes, video interviewed eight candidates, and interviewed in-person four of those.  Three of these four candidates are equally qualified and could be a great asset to my organization.  Who should I hire?

For some of you scratching your heads I haven’t given you enough information to provide a response.  That’s because other than qualifications many of you use your instinct to choose who would best fit into your organization culturally.  Perhaps you make this decision based on their personality or maybe you make it based on their appearance.  Either way you employ a set of criteria you hope will serve to hire the best fitting employee who will stay the longest.

So on one side you have the cultural fit advocates who believe you can’t hire on qualifications alone.  They believe that to ensure exceptional employee performance and retention the job candidate must fit in with the corporate culture and hiring manager’s style.  In short you hire the individual with whom you feel you can best get along.

On the other side you have the individuals who believe hiring managers inject too many of their personal biases into the decision making process and use “cultural fit” as an excuse to eliminate qualified candidates they think might challenge them or whom they just don’t like.  Their concern is so great that many suggest removing the candidate’s name from the resume so that no determination of gender or ethnicity can be made while the extreme suggest a “revolutionary” process that eliminates the in-person interview all together!

Discrimination is bad, Bad, BAD but we can’t ignore the benefits reaped from the ethical use of cultural fit hiring.  Hiring without an in-person interview is dangerous and potentially destructive to the hiring organization.

Advocates of cultural fit believe:

  • It increases employee satisfaction
  • It increases employee retention and reduces costs of replacing departing      employees
  • It increases cooperation among employees and managers

Opponents of cultural fit believe:

  • It gives hiring managers a “get out of jail free” card to discriminate
  • It increases the chances the most qualified candidate isn’t hired
  • Increases the chances of mirror image hiring and thus a stagnant environment

So who is right?  Both parties are.  Hiring for cultural fit can do all the great things the advocates believe.  Unfortunately this in turn makes it possible for hiring professionals to abuse the system by using it as an excuse not to hire the black candidate, the overweight candidate or the old female candidate.

Statistics support the continued prevalence of discrimination.  The number of workplace discrimination claims filed with the EEOC since 1987 has increased by 51%.  Are discrimination laws helping?  Apparently not.  As one commenter to a Linkedin discussion I started suggested, “Laws don’t stop discrimination…they only let you know what you have to make sure NOT to mention when rejecting someone.”  So yes, discrimination is still prevalent and many qualified candidates are getting passed over for those candidates the interviewer “likes” best.

I still agree cultural fit hiring is needed.  What we really need to learn is that just because someone is different does not mean that they aren’t a fit.  That African American candidate you turned away could have been your best friend.  The qualified elderly woman could have been a second grandmother to you and that attractive female candidate you were jealous of might just have turned out to be the most loyal confidant you’ve ever had.

Hiring for cultural fit is necessary but when used as an excuse to eliminate qualified candidates through the fear we may not be able to relate to them is careless and I daresay a little cowardly.

Video Interviewing On Track for Broad Adoption

Hire-Intelligence recently completed a survey of human resources industry professionals on the topic of video interviewing.  As the creator and provider of Interview4 video interviewing software, we were interested in gauging the current state of usage and adoption, as well as attitudes towards this new tool.  I’m pleased to tell you that Hire-Intelligence, along with the other providers of video interviewing solutions, appear to be on track to building a successful product category.

I have a lot of experience developing and launching new products starting with the launch of People magazine in 1974.  My experience went on to include consumer packaged goods, ATM networks, sporting goods, over-the-counter medications, sporting events, real estate developments, industrial measurement instruments, and technology hardware and software.  Based on this experience, I tend to analyze the launch of video interviewing in the context of “diffusion of technology” models.

Diffusion of technology theory has been around longer than even People Magazine.  The definition of diffusion of technology, per Wikipedia, is “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.”  More simply put the theory attempts to explain how fast a new product  spreads through our society.

Lots of academic studies have resulted in a diffusion of new technology model summed up by this chart:

The horizontal axis shows time, starting with the launch of the new technology at the left.  The vertical axis shows the percent of the relevant target market using (“adopting”) the new technology.  The blue curve shows percent of new users coming into the market at any point in time, while the gold curve (Go Bears!) shows the cumulative share of users over time.

Five categories of adopters have been identified, and are shown on the chart above.  Innovators, just 2.5% of the potential market on average, are the first buyers and users.  They are followed, in order over time, by Early Adopters, Early Majority, Late Majority, and finally the Laggards.  If you’re developing and launching new products you’ll probably find this a useful concept, helpful in gauging the success (or lack thereof) of your latest effort.

One very important variable we haven’t discussed is how much time does it take to get from zero users to 100% penetration of the potential market?  Without getting any more academic, suffice it to say this number varies quite a bit, but on average it takes about 4 years to get to 20% penetration.  Another way to put it is that the Early Adopter phase takes about 4 years, give or take.

So where are we with video interviewing after maybe 5 years?  Our recently completed survey revealed that 21% of respondents had used video interviewing in the past year and another 25% are contemplating using it in the next 12 months.  This indicates we’re moving through the early adopter phase and ready to see broader acceptance.  This conclusion is supported by the fact that 19% of the respondents told us that they believe video interviewing will become the “industry standard”.

This last data point is particularly interesting given that the most-oft mentioned reason for not using video interviewing (or not using it more frequently) is a reluctance to change current hiring processes.  Sounds like a laggard point of view to me.

In conclusion, let me share a diffusion of technology anecdote.  I was on the streets of Hong Kong in the 90’s with a colleague who commented upon seeing the hoards of Chinese walking and talking on their cell phones, “we’ll never do that in theU.S.”   I just thought to myself, “are you crazy, of course we will.”