What is the halo-effect and how can it impact interviews?

By Robert Half on 9 November 2021
Estimated Read Time: 3 minutes

The 'halo effect' is a term coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike to describe the way people unconsciously bias themselves to like other people.

In a hiring context, it refers to the tendency to let an interviewee’s good qualities or at least those that can approve of erase perception of their less attractive ones.

In short, hiring managers can give them a halo that might just be hiding their horns.

The responsibility of those hiring talent is to look for the beneficial reasons for hiring a candidate and the potential risks in doing so.

It is the halo effect that can often blinds hiring managers to this risk.

Related: Interview techniques for conducting a job interview

This can be based on virtually any positive assessment made or preference those in charge of hiring might have, including gender, race, ethnicity, height, looks, hair colour, accent, hobbies, values, behaviours or attitudes.

Why does the halo effect happen in interviews?

Hiring managers tend to lean towards people who are similar to them, and who believe will likely cooperate with them.

Right or wrong, most people are genetically programmed to value similarity and fear difference or unfamiliarity, so they can show unconscious bias towards candidates who remind them of others with whom they have had positive experiences.

Once a hiring manager develops a positive attitude towards a particular candidate, their decision-making can further explore reasons to continue liking them.

Related: Shortlisting the best candidates

How to avoid the halo effect

There are several ways to avoid the halo effect in interviews and make the hiring process more robust:

1. Be inclusive

Make sure that different people handle different levels of the selection process, with one team screening resumes and another team conducting interviews.

2. Include more stakeholders

Have at least three people on a hiring panel; keep each person’s ratings secret from the others, and avoid discussion.

Related: Sample interview questions for employers

3. Conduct several interviews

A preliminary one, a full panel interview, and a work interview or a short trial during which the person is paid to work with the team for a few days.

4. Bring in a third-party

Have an off-team or independent interviewer there who has no reason to ‘halo’ the candidate, as they won’t be working with them.

5. Follow a hiring checklist

Make your screening and testing process rigorous, particularly in regard to key performance indicators (KPIs). Be sure to conduct reference checks on any potential candidates.

Related: Making the right job offer

The halo effect and making hiring decisions

The halo effect can mean making the wrong choice and missing out on the best candidate or even ending up with a real problem.

The best defence is awareness of one's own unconscious biases. Smart hiring managers know how to recognise and avoid the halo effect, so they don't end up hiring the wrong person.

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