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At its core, recruiting is a biased task—judging people from a piece of paper that lists their accomplishments; interacting with them in what most describe as a nerve-racking ordeal (the interview); ultimately choosing someone as best you can, based on a compilation of clues and assumptions that they’ll do the job right. The inherent bias in recruiting is necessary for the job. Hiring has to be a judgment call; something tells a recruiting manager that one candidate is better than the rest. But what happens when bias and judgment affects the recruiting process negatively?

Humans are programmed to judge people. We make first impressions based on looks, age, gender, race, all in an instant, and those first impressions are hard to break. Unfortunately, our own judgmental nature can be detrimental to our recruiting job. If what really matters is a person’s ability to do a job, then it’s important to get past judging the aspects of a person that we wouldn’t necessarily judge as A+ and seek what we are truly looking for in an employee.

This brings into question what happens when candidates include a photo of themselves with their resume. Although this is not as common a practice anymore, one recruiting method that has exponentially grown in popularity over the last few years comes with a photo included: social recruiting. LinkedIn, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter—many users on these networks have profile photos, and not just one but many. Does seeing a candidate’s photo hinder our ability to look past their appearance and focus on their job skills?

As it turns out, many job-seekers believe that a photo may hurt their chances of landing an interview. In a recent LinkedIn survey, 45 percent of respondents said they would not include a photo of themselves on their resume and 34 percent said they would “only if asked to.”

Interestingly, job-seekers may have nothing to fear. Another LinkedIn survey found that only 21 percent of recruiters would not hire someone with piercings or facial tattoos. That means that 79 percent of recruiters would choose a candidate “if they’re the right one for the job,” “if their resume was excellent,” or “if they came highly recommended,” regardless of their appearance.

Either way, making sure that your recruiting process is done in a way that minimizes first-impression judgment calls is beneficial to finding the best candidates. A few things to consider:

  • Draft job specifications that really encompass what you’re looking for in a candidate. Share them with coworkers who have insight into the position and ask them to revise them based on their experience. Rank the most important skills, experiences, education, and other characteristics of a successful candidate. This will allow you to match what you see in the candidates’ resumes to exactly what you need.
  • Establish a review board for resumes. Include people who can spot valuable technical skills, those who can determine if the candidate would be a good cultural fit in the company, and so on, depending on the job specifications. Ask these people to be present during the candidate interviews, where they should again focus on their area of expertise. Segmenting what each interviewer is supposed to look out for can help dilute first impression judgments when you later consider their feedback as a whole.
  • Try to focus on the relevant job skills and experience, rather than on the candidates’ personality. Oftentimes, the first impression comes not from looks, but rather from someone’s personality. Maybe they seem happy or bubbly or charismatic. This can be just as distracting as someone’s looks when it comes to recruiting. Remember, although a good personality may seem important for a job, research shows that any one personality factor has little correlation to being successful in a given job.
  • Use pre-screening assessments as a tool for identifying candidates’ skills. This will help you get down to what they can really accomplish, past what you may think from their looks but also (and most importantly) what it says on their resume. Administering pre-screening tests—for instance asking a public relations professional to write a communications plan, or a salesperson to pitch a sale—can help you actually determine if the candidate has the right skills and experience for the job.

The idea is to look past the surface clutter—the looks, the piercings or tattoos, the bubbly personality, or the apparent self-confidence—and see what will really make the candidate successful in the job.


  • Paul says:

    Recruiters and HR pros aren’t deprived of feelings and nothing human is alien to them – there are people they like and people they don’t. It’s really difficult to learn to avoid making decisions based on first impressions as they say they are the lasting ones, especially for those who rely on their gut feeling every so often. I’m not saying this is the right way to recruit, but sometimes the first impression is the only thing that saves you from a bad hire.

  • Laura Cobbles says:

    I have to disagree with the previous comment. Nowadays there are lots of ways and technologies to assess the candidate’s fit for the position in a more objective and non-biased way than a gut feeling. There’re tests which measure your soft skills on the basis of which you can draw a picture whether or not employee fits in your organization as a person.

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