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!

Download a FREE copy of our book to learn how to overcome each one of the Top Ten Mistakes In Hiring. Learn how to overcome Hiring Mistake #6 – Performance Bias by conducting a rational and objective interview. Click the button below to get a copy of our FREE Book – You're NOT the Person I Hired.

Download our FREE e-book - You're NOT the Person I Hired

Using A Personality Assessment Can Be Helpful

Q. Our company is considering using personality or behavioral testing prior to hiring people. What has been your experience with using these?

I’m a strong believer in using some sort of assessment prior to hiring someone, especially for key employees. These assessments can add a lot of valuable insight about the candidate. Not all assessments measure the same thing, so it is important to know what it is you want to assess. There are general assessments, ones specific to functional areas such as sales, ones that measure intelligence, many assess a person’s communication style, and still others target specific aspects of the candidate’s personality and behaviors. Selecting the right assessment for what you want to measure is critical.

It is also important to have enough peer level people take the same assessment to use as a benchmark. An assessment that shows how the candidate stacks up against the others is very useful information. Over time the assessment will reveal the traits of those hires that are successful and those that didn’t work out. Identifying the traits of both is important when assessing the candidate.

Want some tips on attracting top talent? Download the chapter from our book, You're NOT The Person I Hired, on sourcing. CLICK HERE to download this chapter.

Want to assess your hiring process? Download our FREE 8-Point Hiring Methodology Assessment Scorecard. How does your company rank on these critical points? CLICK HERE to download.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback. If you liked this article and found it helpful, please forward it to others.

Brad Remillard

Is Experience Overrated in Selection?

Ad Age Blog

Anthony Young posed the question in a posting on the Ad Age Blog whether experience was overrated in selecting advertising agencies. Here’s a short excerpt of what he said:

In new business, agencies frequently like to speak to their experience, but do clients place the same importance on it? In a recent new-business meeting we had with a prospect, I insisted that we not present any credentials or client case-studies. The pitch team was unsure but agreed to go with it. The clients' feedback: Of all the agencies they met, we impressed them the most.

We can extend this idea of “is experience overrated” to hiring and a variety of other selection issues. Here was my response to this comment about using experience as “selection” criteria”:

You make a very good point asking the question of whether experience allows you to predict future performance. This is the tribal methodology employed by most companies, whether it's in the hiring process or the selection of vendors, suppliers, consultants, coaches, and service firms.

We've written an entire book on this subject,  based on 25 years of research, why hiring at a managerial and executive level fails over 50% of the time. One of the primary culprits in this failure is an over-reliance on past experience.




One of the key problems in “selection” is that the “client” does not know what they want in terms of outcomes or results. Without a specific quantifiable definition of success, it becomes very difficult to select on past successes and draw the comparisons to whether or not your candidate/vendor can deliver your expected outcomes in the future. Without a definition of what success looks like in the future, most executives and managers fall back on the tribal approach of making selections based on prior experience.

Using prior experience fails often, but it's safe. It's comfortable. It's what we've always done. And it's CYA. If the candidate, vendor, or agency fails, everyone can point at the fact that they had the “right” prior experience – therefore the executive responsible for making the decision should not be held accountable for the failure. NOT defining future success for selection decision-making and NOT using it in the selection process is a wonderful technique of absolving yourself of accountability.

Using past success or performance is scary for most executives since they are uncomfortable putting their necks on the line to define future outcomes (and possibly being held accountable for communicating what they plan to do), and they've never been formally trained in how to validate past successes and use it to predict future success.

You state this eloquently when mentioning that companies are very slow to adopt to change because the entire “system” gives too much value to past experience – which is very conservative, cautious, and the antithesis of change.


If you would like to read the full article, please click the link below:

Is Experience in Media and Advertising Overrated?

What are your thoughts about changing your company culture from an over-reliance on past experience in selection criteria to focusing more on past success or performance?

Do you believe that the tribal approach of an over-reliance on past experience is inherently conservative, stifling, and cautious? Do you believe it limits or hampers creativity, imagination, and innovation?

Barry Deutsch

P.S. Download a copy of our 8-point Hiring Self-Assessment to determine if your hiring “selection” process (and you can use this as an extension to other decision making about suppliers, vendors, consultants, coaches, service firms) is capable of finding and engaging with top talent.

When did accepting mediocre performance become the new normal?

The New Normal for accepting mediocre results 

Everyone is talking about what the “new normal” is in our post-recessionary period.

Is it getting by with fewer employees, being more nimble on execution, or learning how to be more responsive to customers. In the “new normal”, do employees have higher expectations, customers bring more demands, and suppliers want to partner on a more intimate basis.

Here’s one that’s got me scratching my head:

When did accepting mediocre performance become the “NEW NORMAL?”

Why do so many managers and executives accept the fact that their team cannot deliver the outcomes desired (and that are appropriate for that team). This links back to my previous blog post titled “Are You Over-Paid?” and my blog post titled “Let’s Give it Another 30 Days.”

I’m asking this tough question now in every CEO and key executive presentation I deliver. What happens when I ask it?

The temperature drops in the room.

No one can look me in the eye  – everyone looks down – as if to pretend I had not asked the question in the first place

The silence after the question is so powerful it’s almost deafening.

After a few awkward moments of silence, the executives around the table look at me with a look that says “how dare you mention the elephant in the room.”

Why are you so afraid to discuss your acceptance of average and mediocre performance by the people on your team?

I return to the “argument” I presented in my blog post titled “Are You Over-Paid?” Imagine that 50% of what you do is the work your team should be doing. Sally is only doing 65% of her job, Mark is doing 75% of his job, and Julie is doing 80% of her job. Your picking up the slack among those 3 that cannot do their FULL job. You’ve dummied down their job responsibilities, taken their work on your shoulders, and violated Michael Gerber’s E-Myth no-no: Stop working in the organization (team/department) and start working on your organization (team/department).

The new normal should NOT be the acceptance of mediocre performance – it should be the REFUSAL to accept mediocre performance. “Good enough” shouldn’t cut it.

Here’s a tough question that will literally cause your heart to skip a beat: How do your employees view you as their boss:

“My boss is okay with average and mediocre performance. He thinks good enough and just getting if our focus.”

“My boss sets high standards and holds everyone accountable. I’ve accomplished more by working for my current boss than I ever imagined possible.”

Which one reflects how your direct reports think of you as their boss?

Barry Deutsch

Leadership: How one good apple can save the whole barrel

The private equity firm was in a world of hurt. They paid over $100 million dollars for this fast food restaurant chain and it was now losing over $40 million a year. Their investment was now effectively worth zero. They called me in to find a new CEO for the company. We interviewed many candidates, but one stood out above the rest. Why? Our questions about leadership brought out his greatest strength. You could tell from his answers he was more than a manager, he was a leader. He came from a very large fast food chain where, frankly, he wasn’t all that well liked by senior management. They were uncomfortable with his “style”. But, his “style” created a team where every person who worked for him loved him and would work their fingers to the bone for him. Not surprisingly, he took the worst region in the company and made it into the most profitable region in the company. This guy worked harder than anyone. Despite being an EVP, he wouldn’t hesitate to grab a rag and wipe down a table when he visited a restaurant. He had example after example on how he turned around his region through hard work and leadership.

When he met with our client, in 15 minutes they knew they had found their new CEO. He took the job and within two years had the company back in the black. How? Was he a management genius? No. He was successful because he was a leader, not just a manager. His team believed in him, his banks believed in him, and his private equity investors believed in him. He was able to get the performance he needed from his employees and the financial backing he needed from the financial community. Good leaders hire good leaders and he was no exception. He hired a good team and the rest is history. He was with the company for over a decade and sold it to a financial buyer for over $600 million. (Needless to say, he’s now “on the beach”.)

Lesson: Don’t confuse management with leadership. Ask candidates for examples of where they’ve demonstrated leadership. Would their subordinates say they were a strong leader? Why? Have a hiring process designed to attract and retain top quartile talent throughout your organization and your opportunities will become endless.

Is your hiring methodology designed to attract top talent? If you want to assess the quality of your hiring process, download a free copy of our 8-Point Hiring Methodology Assessment Scorecard. CLICK HERE to download.

You should also join our Hiring and Retaining Top Talent group on LinkedIn. There are many great articles and discussions on  hiring. CLICK HERE to join.

Author's Bio

Mike is the founder of Hagerthy & Co, an executive search, training and consulting firm. For information on how to arrange for their complimentary Hiring Process Assessment go to www.hagnco.com/page13.html#HiringProcess