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Prejudice Pitfalls

Tips for Avoiding Positive and Negative Bias During Your Job Search

Weighing your options on a potential career move comes with a roller coaster of emotions: excitement, optimism, fear, uncertainty and more. But you may not even be aware of some of the factors shaping those reactions.

We are all susceptible to unconscious bias — factors that shape our reactions to an opportunity one way or another without us even being aware of their influence.

Don’t let unwarranted bias scare you away from a fantastic opportunity. Likewise, don’t be swept away by a wonderful, but shallow introduction to a company. Both scenarios require you to take a step back and look for signs of unconscious bias.

We’ll lay out a few scenarios for you.

Availability Bias

If something is recalled, it must be important…right? Not necessarily. Availability Bias is a mental shortcut that tricks a persons mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept or decision. Our brains can play games with reality. What we remember may not be the entire story. 

How does the Availability Bias impact you?

Your recall of specific incidents can have a disparate impact on job opportunities. For example, you interview at a software company that serves the mortgage industry; you read an article about interest rates climbing and mortgage volume declining. Your outlook on this company is negatively affected, even if this information is not directly relevant to your new position.

Or, you watch a news program about how retail companies are struggling; you are reluctant to interview for a job in a potentially failing retail industry.

In both case, Availability Bias has caused you to narrow your choices for employment — even though the factors would have little impact on the actual job.

What can you do?

Acknowledge that Availability Bias exists. This is a beneficial first step to eradicate a prejudicial roadblock. Stay ahead of the game by understanding where you gather information. Examine how you receive facts and what filters you instill to ensure validity.

As a secondary step, adopt the concept of red teaming. Ask a colleague, friend or family member to question and debate an assumption you have about a company, person or industry. You may discover that when you delve into the root of a presumption, your foundation is unjustifiable.

Halo Effect Bias

Psychologist Edward Thorndike pioneered the Halo Effect concept, a phenomenon whereby evaluators tend to be influenced by their previous judgements of performance or personality.” Keep in mind, all that glitters is not gold. The Halo Effect suggests general opinions are formed from one striking element of a person, place or thing…which may or may not be relevant. First impressions are not all-inclusive narratives.

How does the Halo Effect impact you?

Commonly used in marketing tactics, the Halo Effect can have a definitive impact on selecting a job opportunity or mastering an interview. For example, if a company promotes itself as environmentally friendly, you may have an overall positive image of the organization—even without researching their explicit green practices.

Or, consider meeting your first interviewer who seems charming and gregarious. You may downplay job-related details because you feel a strong connection to the person. As wonderful as he or she may be, don’t avoid substantial issues that could affect your long-term success.

What can you do?

Once a positive impression is solidified, all other data is shaped. Be aware of where your impressions originated; and what, or who, has influenced your opinions. Analyze the data—whether it is on the potential company or specific answers to interview questions. Examine this knowledge with a critical eye and determine whether or not it aligns with your initial impressions or not. Combat the Halo Effect by giving a second look at your first impression.

Bottom line: Your career deserves your full attention, minus the unmerited biases that can sway you one way or another. Be aware. Check yourself. And counter emotional reactions with hard facts. Great opportunities await.

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