The 10 Psychological Ideas that Employers, Recruiters and HR People Need to Know

In Better Business Relationships, I have attempted to pull together a wide range of psychological ideas to help management. Ideas to enable managers to get the best from their people. Ideas to help new employees fast-track the creation of productive internal relationships with their bosses and colleagues. Many of these psychological ideas are valuable to employers, recruiters and HR professionals when interviewing candidates. Here we take a look at 10 of those ideas.

1. Cognitive bias

There is much about unconscious bias in the media at present – particularly with regard to gender and race. But cognitive bias extends further. Our brains are subject to a number of tricks – systematic patterns of deviation from rationality in judgment. Daniel Kaneman has written extensively on the topic. Recruiters may experience anchoring bias (over-reliance on the first information received), primacy and recency effects (remembering the first and last candidates better than others), confirmation bias (tendency to seek information that supports our existing beliefs) and salience bias (tendency to use available traits to make a judgement about a person or situation). The overconfidence bias makes 90% people think they perform higher than average people in their roles.

2. Non-verbal communication

In Western cultures, we rely heavily on non-verbal communication – particularly visual and auditory cues to form our first impressions of people. Research shows that how we say something is more important than what we say. Authenticity is where what is said aligns with how things are said. Nervousness or masks may hide true feelings. Recruiters may misinterpret those from cultures where non-verbal communication and expressive styles are different.

3. First impressions

A first impression is formed in a fraction of a second – and is based mostly on visual and auditory signals rather than the content of what is spoken. We each have a unique internal mental map of the world that acts sub-consciously to drive our perceptions in particular ways. Recruiters may form an inaccurate first impression of a candidate as they filter out or miss important information that contradicts their view of the world. Projection is another example – if a candidate triggers an unconscious memory of someone from our past we may project our views and emotions about that past person onto the person in front of us.

4. Rapport and trust

We have a natural rapport with around 10-30% of the people we meet. Understanding how rapport and trust are formed – and how to accelerate the process – is a vital skill for recruiters and those being placed in senior or sale positions.

5. Mindset

Some recruiters will have a fixed mindset – they hire for existing capabilities. Others will have a growth mindset and recruit for potential. .Psychologists have discovered that a third of people adapt to change more easily than others. Recruiting for a fast-changing environment means being able to identify the “adaptive third”.

6. Personality 

Recruiters and HR people will be familiar with a range of personality assessment tools. Some are based on dubious psychological models. Some are not scientifically valid but widely appeal to commercial minds. Personality may present differently in a group or other situations. You need skill and training to interpret personality tests properly. Some simple personality assessments – such as dogs (motivated by affiliation), cats (motivated by achievement) and bears (motivated by power and achievement) may be valuable where formal assessments cannot take place.

7. Emotional intelligence

Sometimes, technically well-qualified people lack “people skills”. You can measure emotional intelligence (EQ) and understand how self-aware candidates are, how well they manage their emotions, how well they recognize emotions in others (i.e. empathy) and how good they are at relationship management. People can improve their emotional intelligence – it isn’t a fixed trait. Our minds are plastic. Research suggests that EQ is a leading predictor of success and leadership. A futurologist indicated that “those whose only advantage is intellectual skills will lose out”. He suggested that only 1% of the workforce will see their income increase and 99% will see it decrease and the difference lies in interpersonal skills for the “caring economy”. There are models to develop people’s political astuteness in dealing with internal politics and engendering stakeholder support. In an increasingly global environment where recruiters are assessing candidates’ suitability for international roles, there is a tool to measure cultural intelligence.

8. Motivation 

People are motivated by different things and this can have important implications on what roles they perform and how they fare. Exploring the main motivators – particularly when it comes to negotiating reward packages – is a key part of the recruiters’ job.

9. Coaching and counseling 

Coaching is focused on helping people to reach their potential in the future. Counseling is focused on helping people deal with issues from their past. They are different disciplines. Recruiters may need to coach candidates through the recruitment process and the early stages of their employment. Candidates going into team leadership roles will need to be able to coach and develop their team members.

10. Feedback

Recruiters have to provide feedback all the time. Research by neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger has shown that the brain treats social pain much like physical pain. Giving positive feedback can activate reward centers the same or more than financial windfalls. There appear to be five social rewards and threats that are deeply important to the brain: status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. Some people experience feedback as an attack on their “status,” which to the brain is perceived as a physical attack.

About the author: Kim Tasso is a Management consultant, psychologist, and author.

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