Have you ever watched a magician and thought to yourself, “How did they do that?” Magicians have long exploited peoples’ flaws in perception to do things that seem impossible. The human brain is exceptional; even the most powerful computers have yet to match its capabilities. In fact, there are many filters and shortcuts we subconsciously use to manage all the information going into and out of our brains. These filters and shortcuts are generally effective, but in certain situations, accuracy can suffer.

When making hiring decisions, for example, relying solely on your judgment can lead to costly missteps. Confirmation bias– the tendency to focus on and recall information that aligns with expectations– is one example of a brain shortcut that can undermine hiring decisions. If a hiring manager has an initial impression of a person, either from a resume or a recommendation, he is at risk of only focusing on things that confirm that initial impression. It is not uncommon to hear about hires that had glowing recommendations, interviewed well, and then didn’t work out because they lacked capabilities once starting the job. Often in these situations, the interviewer confirmed the recommendation she’d heard and overlooked the pieces that didn’t fit.

Confirmation bias is only one of several potential issues that can lead to hiring the wrong person. Some others include:

  • Contrast effect
  • Similarity error
  • Stereotyping
  • Over weighting negative information

The good news is that hiring decisions can be improved by adding objectivity and structure to the process. Quality employee assessments and structured interviewing are two approaches that help guard against the above brain shortcuts.

Of course, just because our brains sometimes trick us, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever trust our own judgment. Expertise and experience add value to the decision-making process, and should not be ignored. When good judgment is complemented by systematic and objective information, however, it is much easier to avoid costly hiring mistakes by making the right decision the first time.