Human Capital Outlook

Reducing personality biases in senior management hirings

Several Indian companies have distanced away from an environment which promulgates a systematic preference towards candidates with certain personality traits that are consistent with the culture of the organization; however, this evolution is still far from complete. This article aims to start the process of analyzing that there still exists a problem of personality bias for senior management hirings.

Senior management hiring ethoses are still heavily guided by a few parameters which are best described by the hiring managers as ‘organizational fit’. The author can trace back in recent history, several companies who would not like to hire someone who is aggressive because that does not go well with the culture, age biases & many other such obsolete criterias. Most often than not, such hiring decisions are beset with ‘personality conflicts’ which result in screening out good candidates who could have made a bigger impact.

There are basically two fitment criteria’s of evaluation in a hiring-
Firstly, the Candidate -Job fit which is a match between applicant & the job. This is based on the knowledge, skills & abilities of the candidate & on the other side, demands of the role.

Secondly, the Candidate- Organisation fit, which is usually a match between values. This relates to the idea of contextual performance, as distinct from specific job performance, a similarity of values results in a good organizational fit.

It is believed that values guide behavior & decisions, hiring an individual who matches the organization’s values helps to reinforce the organization’s culture. Those with similar value systems will find it easier to communicate with each other(!) Additionally, those with similar personalities are likely to have better inter personal rapport & interactions (?). Once hired, the ease of interactions are likely to lead to better working and increased tenure. This acts as a surrogate guide for hiring managers when assessing fit.

Besides the obvious problem of cloning, the following are noteworthy flaws in such a thinking-
- Hiring managers seldom agree on the specific indicators of a good fit.
- Many idiosyncratic biases seep in
- Hiring managers can vary on the criteria they apply
- Hiring managers may be using themselves as the benchmark of organisation fit.

Interestingly, there is a reason as to why HR gurus have not solved this problem & eradicated this completely- firstly, this practice is so obvious & prevalent, secondly, hiring managers don’t like to change things, especially their interview styles & acceptance of a particular pattern of the company’s culture, who will blame them for this?

Based on hundreds of oberservations of hiring scenarios, the author surmises that about 1/3rd of the candidates get rejected without a strong reason for rejection but only a mild ‘does not fit the culture’ feedback.

Several times, hiring managers completely tend to overlook the strengths of a candidate if there is a perceived weakness on any one aspect related to the culture of the company. They make value judgments on the candidate’s personality after assessing one trait, and then assuming the existence or non existence of others traits. They make extensive personality inferences which are not necessarily accurate. For example, a conservative IT services company based in Chennai ( the company has grown only 10 % yoy for the past 5 years, despite being in a high growth- ERP implementation business) does not want to hire a lady candidate who has been found to be fairly assertive for a Head of Marketing role as this quality does not go well with the top management team. Her assertiveness is being equated with arrogance & hence the rejection.

This directly raises a point- are hiring managers in such set-ups used to globalizing culture & organization fit based on the perceived correctness of their analysis? The next question then is that how objective are hiring parameters? How are they drawn & set? Intuitive interviewers incorrectly assume that strength in cultural fit directly correlates with strength in competency. 

It is not important that in a hiring scenario, one evaluates x number of competencies & y number of performance traits; what matters is that looking objectively is more important. The following points are noteworthy in this regards.

Firstly, one has to start the process with a clear job description enumerating not just the profile but expectations from the role, stress points, positioning etc. It has to clearly bring out realistic standards for the role & KRA’s which are measurable so that hiring managers find it difficult to place personal biases into the assessment situation.

Secondly, objectivity in the interview is the key. In most cases, the hiring manager makes a quick assessment & judgment of the candidate based on first impressions & responses. Decisions are mentally made about the candidate immediately & several times result in inoptimal hirings. A simple exercise is helpful to prevent such human biases from affecting the process. Simply ask the candidate to spend the first few minutes describing each of his past jobs, achievements etc., even though this may be a repetition from his C.V. With the candidate being made comfortable, the discussion which builds up will be devoid of any personal prejudices.

Thirdly, hiring managers could benefit from a better guidance on what a good fit is. They should have well-validated criteria on which to base their inferences. This could be in the form of well-researched competencies which are tailored to suit the organization. At the same time, good selection decisions could be analyzed as an example to study the criteria’s being used.

Most sectors in the country are reeling under a suppliers market for talent & this situation is most profounded at the senior management ranks. There isn’t an unlimited pool of candidates to choose from. By reducing & aiming to remove such personality biases, significant efficiencies could be obtained in the hiring process.

Businesses today demand innovation & this is one area which requires diversity of thought, personalities & attributes, not homogeneity by hiring clones into the organization. At a time when organizations need to be adaptable and agile, there is a strong need to limit such biases in order to stimulate creativity and change.