January 13, 2021


Written by Mike Sarraille, George Randle and Dr. Josh Cotton

The following is adapted from The Talent War.

You are biased. It’s not a criticism but a simple fact of life. We’re all biased and naturally drawn to the people who look and think like us. 

While people similar to us might be likable, that’s not a good reason to hire someone. As Soichiro Honda said, “If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don’t particularly like.”

You don’t want to hire what amounts to mini-me’s. Your company already has you. What it needs is people who are different from you, with different strengths and ways of thinking.

Bias is unavoidable but not impossible. By understanding the cognitive biases that arise in assessment and selection, you can avoid falling into the trap of hiring people just like you.

In-Group Bias

In-group bias tends to give preferential treatment to people we perceive as part of our group. 

Studies have shown that, in betting, people will bet on their group, even if there is no reason to do so. If the odds are the same or even slightly in favor of the opposing group, people will still bet on their group for no reason other than that they are in that group.  Essentially, people think, “If I’m in a group, that group is better.” 

We are all a part of any number of different groups. In hiring, in-group bias means giving preferential treatment to people of the same gender or race, who attended the same school as us, earned the same degree, worked at the same company, or supported the same sports team like us.

If you have a good “gut feeling” about a candidate, ask yourself whether it could be due to in-group bias.

Halo Effect

The halo effect allows a positive impression of a person in one area to influence your opinion in another area. 

Say a candidate worked for a prestigious company. Due to the halo effect, that single positive indicator makes you more likely to think positively of the person as a whole, blinding you to potential red flags. 

As an example of the halo effect in interviewing, if somebody answers the first few questions well, you may decide that they are a quality candidate and thus give them higher ratings on the remaining questions; conversely, if they answer poorly, you may decide they are not a good candidate and rate them more harshly on the following questions.

To combat this bias, try switching candidates in your mind. Ask yourself, “If it was Candidate B saying this, would I feel the same way?”

Confirmation Bias

Connected to the halo effect is confirmation bias—the tendency to interpret information in a way that supports your preconceived beliefs. 

If you decide early on that a person would be a good hire, perhaps they graduated from an Ivy League school, you will only pay attention to the information supporting your belief. 

Confirmation bias can also work in the opposite direction: if you believe a person would be a bad hire, you will only see the negative information reinforcing that belief.

With every candidate, make a concerted effort to search for both strengths and weaknesses.

One-Trick-Pony Fallacy

The one-trick-pony fallacy is our term for the tendency to think people can be good at only one thing. We tend to put people in boxes. If they are outstanding or specialized in one area, we reduce them to that one thing. For instance, we wouldn’t expect a famous baseball player to be an excellent piano player or accountant. 

It’s rare for people to be exceptionally knowledgeable or skilled at only one thing. In general, if someone has figured out how to be good at one thing, they have the underlying character needed to become good at many other things. 

The one-trick-pony fallacy is often an issue when translating a candidate’s experience from one industry to another. For instance, people often see Special Operations soldiers as warriors and warriors alone, but they also have desk jobs in reality. 

A great way to handle this bias is to consider what candidates have accomplished and how they did it. This shifts the focus to fundamental character traits (like drive, resiliency, adaptability, and so on).

Create a Diversity of Thought

General Patton said, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”

When everyone thinks the same way, you limit what your company can accomplish. Companies are most successful when they contain a diversity of thought. With more perspectives, you can come up with more and better solutions.

But to have a diversity of thought at your company, you must hire for it. 

By becoming aware of your potential for bias, you will be more likely to recognize it in action and counteract it, allowing you to hire people with diverse backgrounds, strengths, and thought processes. 

For more advice on building an effective hiring team, you can find The Talent War on Amazon.

Founder, Managing Partner & CEO | Website | + posts

Mike Sarraille is a retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer and a former enlisted Recon Marine and Scout-Sniper. A graduate of the University of Texas McCombs Business School, he is the founder and CEO of Talent War Group, a specialized executive search firm, and talent advisory that finds high-performing business leaders for senior, executive, or other critical leadership positions. He is co-author of ‘The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent’ and a columnist for Men’s Journal and Men’s Fitness under ‘The Everyday Warrior’ column. He founded and served as a board of directors for the VETTED Foundation, a cutting-edge executive-level transition program.

Mike enlisted in the Marine Corps and later became a Recon Marine and also served as a scout sniper. He was selected for a Marine officer program, but after finishing his bachelor’s degree at Texas A&M University, he sought a commission in the Navy to try out for the SEAL Teams.  He is also a recognized keynote speaker and subject matter expert in leadership development, talent acquisition, and talent management.

Managing Partner & Co-Director of Talent Advisory | Website | + posts

George Randle is an experienced talent executive, veteran, coach, mentor, and leader known for selecting, building, and reorganizing teams to reach their full business potential. George has 20+ years of Fortune 100 and Fortune 1000 global Human Resources and Talent Acquisition experience building elite teams. George began his professional life by enlisting in the US Army Reserves.  While serving in the USAR, he received his bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University and was commissioned an officer. His career assignments included Berlin, US CENTCOM, and III Corps with deployments to Africa (Somalia and Kenya), Central America, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Following his successful military career, George transitioned to the corporate world, experiencing many of the same challenges the Military and Veterans face today. These challenges along with the recognition that building elite teams are his true passion, George ultimately transitioned to the Human Resources and Talent Acquisition function. He later went on to create one of the largest and most successful Veteran Hiring Programs for a Global Fortune 50 firm. Collectively, the teams George has built have hired over 85,000 professionals, including over 2000 executives. He is also a Hogan (HPI, HDS, and MVPI) Leadership Assessment Certified coach.

George currently resides in Austin, Texas, and is the co-author of the best-selling book, “The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent” and the Host of "The Talent War" Podcast.

Website | + posts

Dr. Josh Cotton is an expert in talent assessment and employee effectiveness. He has designed scientifically valid candidate selection practices for the US Navy SEALs and Fortune 100 companies, and has advised leaders at DuPont, Omnicom, CSX, and Flowserve.

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