Narrowing down a field of applicants can be a daunting task. Just ask a hiring manager we'll call Beth.
Before Beth tried to fill an opening at her small business, she never realized the amount of time and effort it could take to find the perfect candidate. Like other hiring managers, she found herself reading resume after resume offering the same skills, education background and relevant work experience. Some stuck out more than others, but overall, it was the same information time after time.
Beth isn’t alone in this struggle. Last June, The Wall Street Journal conducted a study of 848 small business owners and found that 33 percent had positions that went unfilled because the businesses couldn’t identify the strongest applicant. Perhaps they could have benefited from knowing the following five factors that can affect a hiring decision without the decision maker realizing it:
1. Only reading an applicant’s resume
Professor Nicholas Epley and Ph.D. candidate Juliana Schroeder from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business published a study in February showing that a hiring manager who hears the job qualifications of an applicant rather than just reading them will view that candidate more positively.
Based on this research, Beth would have been better off using one-way video interviews rather than just reading applicant resumes on her own. Video interviews allow candidates to highlight the most important information from their resumes and to answer the general “tell me about yourself” question verbally. Another option: Gather the team to read resumes aloud together.
2. Use of feminine versus masculine words
Especially in male-dominated fields, women listing traditionally feminine strengths, such as "empathetic," "collaborative" or "intuitive" are seen less positively than those listing traditional strengths like "confident" or "decisive."
A study of 674 applicants, published in the July 2014 issue of Psychology of Women Quarterly, examined the use of masculine versus feminine phrasing in the traditionally male-dominated engineering field. Women who used gender-neutral terms and avoided disclosing their gender were seen more favorably than women who didn’t.
Of course, considering masculine traits as more desirable than feminine traits will not result in a diverse work environment. Instead of a workplace filled with dominating and assertive employees, the goal should be to create a harmonious environment that includes patient and understanding employees, male and female.
3. Colors Worn to an Interview
In September 2013, a national survey of 2,099 human resource professionals and hiring managers was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of CareerBuilder to determine the way colors are perceived in an interview. Twenty-five percent of employers viewed orange as the least professional color, while 23 percent viewed candidates wearing black as more professional.
For example, a marketing applicant wearing too many neutral colors might give Beth the impression he or she is not innovative.
It’s important to look beyond the colors the applicant wears. As long as the candidate arrives at the interview dressed professionally, orange attire should not be be the reason an outstanding applicant doesn’t get the job. Otherwise, make it known if a certain dress code exists.
4. Hiring without considering outside factors
In a study published in PLoS One in July 2013, 66 percent of hiring managers surveyed indicated they would consider an applicant’s GPA without considering contextual factors associated with those grades. Additionally, 58 percent of employers surveyed said they automatically eliminate an applicant whose GPA falls below a 3.0.
Considering that no two educations are alike, a student or graduate with a high GPA from a less challenging school does not automatically mean he or she would be a better employee than one with a GPA below 3.0 from a more difficult academic program.
Throughout the hiring process, applicants should have the opportunity to address such minor red flags. If GPA is an important deciding factor, try giving interviews to people who may have a lower GPA but also have more job experience. Perhaps the candidate needed to focus on an outside job in order to afford school in the first place. A factor like this would make it difficult to pull a higher GPA.
5. Subtle body language
The nerves associated with job interviews are enough to make anyone have an awkward interaction. When Beth was hiring an accountant, she expected a quiet and serious person to arrive at the interview. What she got was "Curtis," an incredibly intelligent man with the personality of a comedian.
At first, Beth wasn’t sure Curtis would be a good fit for her company. Two studies of 240 participants at Northeastern University, published in the January 2015 issue of The Journal of Social Psychology, have shown that smiling more when that facial expression contradicts the position a person is applying for can actually decrease the candidate's likelihood of success.
Yet, consider the problem here: An applicant applying for a serious job may be a genuinely happy person. So making assumptions about this individual's future job performance based on little personal ticks may result in the loss of a potentially great employee.
Finally, if finding a qualified applicant for your next job opening seems overwhelming, a software like Pomello can help you zero in on factors that make for a good job and overall company fit. Pomello works by asking current employees various questions to define workplace culture and then matches employers with applicants who best fit the resulting profile.