Tips for candidates

10 cognitive biases that affect your job search

How to avoid them

Everyone who has to make decisions is subject to cognitive biases, unconscious or otherwise, whose influence can be decisive.   

We won’t go into the 10 cognitive biases that recruiters exhibit – as we know today, every rational decision-making process is limited by a set of constraints, including psychological biases.   

On the other hand, we have observed the influence of these same biases in the decision-making process of our candidates. These biases have sometimes led us to review our candidates more quickly than expected (often for the better!). 

Cognitive biases: how they affect candidates 

Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts we unconsciously take when processing information. As a candidate, these biases can influence the way you perceive job offers and companies.  

The recruitment process is not only an evaluation of candidates by recruiters, but also a period during which candidates can be influenced by cognitive biases. Recognizing these biases is essential for candidates seeking to maximize their chances of success while remaining objective.  

These biases can affect a candidate’s decisions at various stages of the recruitment process, from the interview to the offer, and can be induced by the recruiter’s words or by their own beliefs.

a man confused because of his cognitive biases

#1: Scarcity effect

The scarcity effect is the tendency to place excessive value on things that are rare or difficult to obtain.  

It’s the classic car salesman’s trick: “I’ve only got one model left in stock, after which I’ll have no view of production for the next two years”. Right or wrong, scarcity has a powerful effect on the value we place on things.   

And this also applies to recruitment: “This is an opportunity that won’t come along twice…”. – The offer is valid for 24 hours. After that, we’ll pass it on to the second candidate on the shortlist!”

The scarcity effect can encourage you to seize a rare opportunity regardless of whether it matches your profile. This can lead you to accept a job that doesn’t match your skills or career aspirations, resulting in job dissatisfaction and a potential waste of time and energy.  

How can you avoid this?

Keep your career objective in mind and focus on opportunities that match your skills, aspirations and goals.   

Be careful: you may indeed come across an exceptional opportunity.   

The main thing is to objectify your decision-making: is this a company you follow regularly? Does it really rarely open positions? Does this position, which is finally opening up, suit you? 

#2: Halo effect 

The halo effect occurs when positive attributes of a person or company influence the overall perception, masking negative aspects. It’s like a mask that hides flaws.   

I recently remembered a candidate who was involved in one of our processes. In the end, he accepted a different offer that was quickly presented to him by another company. “It’s a ✨ sales director ✨ role,” he told me. An enticing title that masked the reality of the role.   

After all, he didn’t sit on the executive committee and reported to the CFO. The portfolio of solutions offered was meager, his influence in the company weak, and the promised bonuses far removed from reality.   

It’s a classic halo effect situation where our candidate only perceives the position through the job title.   

We also think of candidates who only remember the tempting bonuses promised in the interview, the brand new offices that hide the reality of repetitive, meaningless work, or the classic “it’s a big international company” that can hide many realities.   

How can you avoid this?   

Prepare targeted, open-ended questions for your various exchanges, and don’t hesitate to challenge your interviewer on the benefits listed in the job offer. 

#3: Sympathy bias

Sympathy bias occurs when individuals tend to favor people or things with which they have personal affinities, emotional ties, or preferences.  

A lawyer’s job is essentially to make their client sympathetic to the jury. We’ve all seen the recruiter (or manager!) who is very (too?) friendly. A big smile, a few well-placed jokes and a sincere willingness to listen are enough to convince you to go for an interview, even if the job itself doesn’t appeal to you.   

I personally remember meeting a candidate early in my career who I thought was excellent, especially since the contact was friendly and transparent. I quickly referred him to a client without taking the time to fully assess the mutual fit.  

It couldn’t have been a worse fit. The interview was short-lived and the feedback was negative for both parties. The personalities of the candidate and the hiring manager were completely different, and the values of the candidate and the company didn’t match. Based on our mutual sympathy, the candidate and I rushed headlong into a client interview that could have been avoided and saved time for all parties.   

How can you avoid this?

The key to overcoming sympathy bias is to recognize that the priority is to make decisions that align with your professional goals.   

You can be grateful to those who have been kind to you, but don’t let that dictate your career choices. Be honest and respectful in expressing your needs and goals. Most people who value you sincerely want you to succeed, even if it means taking a different path than they envisioned for you. 

#4: Commitment and consistency

It’s clinging to a past decision even when it no longer makes sense. You want to keep your promises, even if they lead nowhere.  

You’ve gone through a hiring process and reached the final stage. But by the time the process has run its course, your desire for the job has run out of steam. Once you’ve received the offer, you can’t imagine turning it down.   

How can you avoid this?

Well, even if it’s a little late, think ahead. It’s easier to resist now than later. Then, once the first interview is over, you can try to project yourself into the job. Can you imagine yourself in it? Are the tasks really what you want? Does the working atmosphere meet your expectations?   

And if, unfortunately, at the end of the process you realize that this opportunity isn’t for you, rip the Band-Aid off as soon as possible. So, yes, we’re a little heartbroken as recruiters, but we’d rather see you turn down the offer than quit your job within the first month. But thank you for your consideration. ❤️

#5: Dunning-Kruger effect 

The Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when people with limited skills or knowledge in a field overestimate their abilities and believe they are more competent than they actually are.   

Overestimating your abilities can lead you to apply for jobs you’re not prepared for, which can lead to failure, low self-confidence, and difficulty securing suitable opportunities.  

However, many jobs allow you to learn by doing. But you need to be realistic about your knowledge and experience.   

How can you avoid this?   

Read the job description carefully. If a degree, specific experience, or technical knowledge is absolutely necessary, take the time to assess whether it fits your profile. That’s the first step.   

Unfortunately, if you fall victim to this bias, you may not be realistic about your skills. The best solution is to seek the advice of those around you, or better yet, someone competent in the field you’re interested in. Accept criticism and use it to improve yourself and achieve your goals.   

Paradoxically, as a recruiter, I’d advise you to be cheeky if you don’t tick one or two boxes. But be honest and humble during the interview. There’s no point in pretending to be an expert in this or that area. An honest discussion is the best way to find out if your personality and soft skills can make the difference. 

#6: Imposter syndrome 

Imposter syndrome is characterized by the persistent feeling that you don’t deserve your success, despite objective evidence to the contrary.  

It’s a dangerous bias to have when looking for a job. You doubt your abilities, never feel up to a job description, and as a result, never apply for the positions you dream about.   

It can also manifest itself in your job interviews, where you have a strong tendency to devalue yourself or diminish your accomplishments. And even though you could be the ideal candidate, you’re sending a message to the recruiter that you’re not the right person for the job.   

How can you avoid this?   

Remember, this feeling is perfectly normal. Even Madonna sometimes doubts herself.   

Okay, first of all, you’re not bad. You only have yourself to thank for what you’ve accomplished. You didn’t get where you are by accident or luck. And on this path, failure is key because it allows you to improve. It’s trite, but it’s true.   

Take stock of your successes and accept that you were the actor in your achievements. Likewise, accept the praise you receive. People don’t give compliments for the sake of it; they mean it. 

#7: Negativity bias 

Negativity bias is the tendency to attach more importance to negative aspects than to positive ones. 

Long commutes, lower pay, variable hours, outdated facilities… It’s natural to consider these negatives when evaluating a job opportunity.   

However, these drawbacks can prevent you from objectively evaluating the benefits of a position. You run the risk of missing out on a career-enhancing opportunity.   

✅ How can you avoid this?   

It’s important to put them into perspective in terms of benefits, growth opportunities, and overall fit with your professional and personal goals.   

List the pros and cons of the position. Are the negatives less important to you than the positives? If not, can those elements be changed? No company is perfect. No job will meet your expectations 100% of the time. But you can be part of the change.   

On dating sites, when the picture is perfect, the reality is sometimes different. If the negative elements aren’t hidden in a closet, it shows that the company is objective and transparent. 

#8: Statu quo bias 

Status quo bias refers to the tendency to prefer current stability to change. It’s also called the comfort zone.   

It’s the cozy little nest you’ve been in for a while.   

It’s comfortable, but it doesn’t ignite your inner fire. It can also be unsatisfying, but change scares you. You don’t want to give up the spoils for the shadow. And it’s even harder when your current employer regularly reminds you that you’re an essential part of the team.   

“Will I be able to adapt to a new work environment? Will I be up to the challenges of the job? What will the team be like? What if I don’t fit in?”  

Asking questions is normal. Asking too many questions is counterproductive. These questions are just a way to avoid taking on a new challenge.   

How can you avoid this?  

To overcome status quo bias, it’s important to think about your long-term goals. If your current situation is preventing you from moving in the direction you want, then change is inevitable.   

Be open to the idea that change can bring unexpected benefits. Consult career management professionals, talk to mentors, and develop a plan to overcome these fears. In the hiring process, the recruiter is also an important advisor.   

#9: Anchoring Bias  

Anchoring bias occurs when an initial piece of information, or “anchor,” disproportionately influences our subsequent decisions.  

This is especially true when you’re looking at a job ad. You scan the ad and focus on certain elements. You look for certain keywords that will help you determine that this job is not for you. And so you move from one ad to the next, following the same pattern.   

Based on your first impression, you determine that the opportunity is not for you and decide not to apply. This can mean missing out on some great career challenges.   

How can you avoid this?   

Even if you have requirements, keep an open mind and consider each role as a whole.   

Also, remember that a job posting is not a job description. The ad only presents part of the job. You will learn the most important information about the job during the interview process.   

So put aside your first impressions and dig deeper. You might be pleasantly surprised. 

#10: Hype/Repetition Effect  

The repetition effect is a psychological phenomenon that occurs when individuals pay more attention to and attach more importance to information that is repeatedly presented to them.   

In marketing, advertising hype is the repeated delivery of an advertising message to influence consumer perception and behavior. Similarly, you may be more likely to apply for a job with a popular company that you hear about regularly than a company with a lower profile.   

I was recently in contact with a young candidate who was actively looking for a job. Her temporary contract with a large makeup company had just expired. When she was offered the opportunity, she couldn’t say no. It sounded like an extraordinary opportunity. But the reality was very different: micromanagement, aggression, condescension, and a toxic atmosphere.   

How can you avoid this?   

When you’re faced with an opportunity with a company whose products/services you like or hear about regularly, remember that the employer is not the seller.   

The repetition effect can create a positive impression of the company, but it’s important to step back and look at the opportunity objectively. Ask relevant questions during interviews, explore the company culture, and make sure your career goals and personal values align with the company.  

Stop letting cognitive biases affect your job search   

By being aware of these cognitive biases and taking steps to mitigate them, candidates can make more informed decisions and find the opportunity that best matches their skills, aspirations, and values.  

While each bias needs to be addressed in a different way, it’s not always easy to identify which bias may be affecting us in an X situation.   

Here are some general tips to help you make objective decisions:

  • Identify your expectations and define your long-term goals. 
  • Seek advice and feedback from a variety of people.
  • Be transparent about your experience, skills, and accomplishments.
  • Gather objective company data.
  • Step back and reflect.

Start overcoming your cognitive biases now!

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