Talent Management

Hiring Mistake #6: Performance Bias

Hiring Mistake #6 is Performance Bias, which is the tendency to become enamored with how the candidate “performs” or “presents” during the interview.

Have you ever hired a candidate who said all the right things in the interview, only to realize after they start that the reality of their skills, knowledge, and capability does not live up to what you heard in the interview. I’m not even talking about outright lies, embellishment, and exaggeration. Sometimes, when you look back at those interviews where we “fell in love” with the candidates, you realize with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight that the candidate didn’t lie, embellish, and exaggerate their capability – you just didn’t probe, ask specific questions, and validate whether they could do the job.


You fall in love with the candidate because they interviewed so well. You extrapolate the dominance, assertiveness, rapport, personal warmth, intensity, energy, and enthusiasm demonstrated in the interview onto your fantasy of a perfect candidate. Who wouldn’t want to hire this person?

You must first ask yourself – what mode are most candidate in when they interview for a job? If you answered “sales mode” you can start to see why the interview process is flawed. You’re not seeing real style or behavior – you’re witnessing interview performance or an actor on the stage.

Do you believe that the style someone exhibits in the interview is the same style they will show on the job? Raise your hand if you think there is a direct correlation between interviewing well and on-the-job performance. I ask this question in every workshop I conduct and NO ONE raises their hand. So, if we don’t believe there is a direct correlation, why do we get so hung up on focusing on the interview “presentation” or “performance”?


Brad and I have been working together in our executive search practice for over 25 years. We’ve done over 1,000 executive searches and interviewed well over 250,000 candidates. We cannot find ONE single shred of evidence linking how someone interviews with their on-the-job performance – as interviewing is conducted in most companies. This holds true even for roles in which “performing” or “presenting” is critical, such as sales, business development, or marketing roles. Is that a scary statistic? What does it say for how most interviews are conducted at your company?

To the best actor goes the job. Let’s STOP hiring outstanding actors and start hiring great employees. Let’s STOP making Hiring Mistake Number 6 – Having a Performance Bias – giving too much credit to the way in which the candidate presents or performs in the interview. Let’s STOP making the mistake of assuming the “presentation” or “interview performance” the candidate makes is indicative of their on the job success. I frequently ask the CEOs and Key Executives in my workshops, seminars, and webinars – what are you hiring:

A candidate who presents/performs well in the interview


An employee who can deliver the results you need with a set of behaviors and style that is consistent with your culture and values?


In order to make a fair, rational, and objective decision, the emotions of the hiring manager must remain in check. Ask questions and uncover details that deal with the candidate’s ability to do the job, not the personality and communication styles he or she prefers.

Many hiring managers pride themselves on being able to tell as soon as someone enters the room if they are qualified for the position or not. Fundamental hiring mistakes can happen when the hiring manager sees, prefers, and hires in his or her own image. This is terribly unfair to the candidate, and unwise from a business perspective.

You could pass right over the perfect person with assumptions and judgments such as these. In fact, our research indicates that most hiring managers make mistakes on at least 2/3 of the candidates they meet in the hiring process – mistakes which are spread among all the TOP TEN HIRING MISTAKES. Performance Bias contributes to many of those mistakes.

Do not let your own agenda, biases, or preferences enter into this process; they have no place. It does not matter if you “click” with the person in the first interview. What does matter is his or her ability to do the job and what talents and abilities the individual can add to your organization. One of the most important elements of effective interviewing is to stay objective and rational, not letting your propensity to become seduced by an enthusiastic presentation ruin a hiring decision.

Here are some tips to help you remain as objective as possible:

  • Reject first impressions. They are often misleading and based on emotions, stereotyping, biases, style, or chemistry.
  • Avoid making decisions too soon. You require time to find out all of the details you need to know. The more you dig for information, the more data you have to support your decision. The more data you have about a candidate’s past performance, the more likely you are to make informed hiring decisions. You are also less likely to base your decisions on subjective elements.
  • Realize that some of the negative traits you might be witnessing could be directly related to nervousness. Most people loosen up and feel less nervous as the interview progresses. Do not automatically interpret such traits as slow responses, no eye contact, lack of warmth or confidence negatively. It could very well just be stage fright.
  • Ask a pre-determined set of questions that focus on achievement, accomplishments, and comparability of previous outcomes to your desired results. We call this a 5 Core Question Interview.
  • Be sure to follow your pre-determined questions. This will eliminate the tendency to judge the candidate on anything other than the work and his or her capability to execute it. We call this the Magnifying Glass Approach to conducting an effective interview – peeling the layers of the onion to get to the truth.
  • Listen more than you talk. You will collect more evidence of past performance if you tune in and listen to every word. The candidate should speak about 85 percent of the time you have together.
  • Be the devil’s advocate. If all you are hearing and perceiving are things that appear only positive, or vice versa, reserve judgment at all costs. There has to be a flip side—your job is to find it!

Have you ever made Hiring Mistake #6: Performance Bias? Do any of your direct reports make this hiring mistake? How steps or tactics do you use in your company to minimize this performance bias in the interview process?

Category: Talent Management

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About the Author: Barry Deutsch

Barry Deutsch has been a popular Vistage Speaker for over a decade in the areas of hiring and retention. In recognition of the value of his presentations, Vistage has given him the prestigious IMPACT Speaker of the Year Award. He is a co-aut…

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