How Your Unconscious Mind Could Be Hiding Employees’ True Potential

How Your Unconscious Mind Could Be Hiding Employees’ True Potential

You strive to make rational hiring decisions, but make no mistake—your hidden brain is at work, and it could be obscuring high-potential individuals.

NPR science correspondent Shankar Vedantam says we all share normal brain functions that can lead to biased thinking and impact our ability to recognize top talent. Vedantam stopped by Indeed Interactive to share research and insights from his award-winning book and podcast, The Hidden Brain. His tips for understanding and combatting the influence of hidden bias can help talent leaders reimagine their hiring practices to uncover more top performers.

Understanding the impact of talent

To grasp the ways our hidden biases hide top performers, Vedantam says it’s crucial to first understand the importance of talent on the job.

“When you’re hiring someone for a workplace, you manage the difference between getting somebody who needs a thousand hours to master the skill on the job, and somebody who needs 10,000 hours to master the same skill on the job,” says Vedantam. The gap between those two candidates boils down to the talent differential.

This view echoes Indeed’s latest research, which found that top talent typically has a combination of innate and learned traits, including drive, self-direction, initiative, strategic thinking and problem solving. Possession of some or all of these attributes helps an employee develop a quick and thorough mastery of their responsibilities.

Recognizing the hidden biases that impact hiring

Studies have shown the ways well-meaning people hold unconscious biases related to attributes like race and gender. Vedantam advises talent leaders to act swiftly to put protective mechanisms in place to address these well-documented biases, such as using blind screenings of applications, and making sure selection committees are diverse.

On the subtler side, research has also shown that we carry biases around what creativity looks like and that we tend to think creative people are unfamiliar, unusual or somehow exotic. One study showed we’re likely to believe an idea is more creative when we’re told it originates from far away compared with when that idea is said to come from nearby.

For talent professionals, this can mean a willingness to overlook the most creative contributors already in our organizations, or assuming an engineer from across the country will bring more innovation than one we hire locally. To combat this skewed perception, managers should stay vigilant and take care not to discount promising talent just because of its proximity or familiarity.

Taking risks to find more transformational talent

The most talented employees understand that failure is often what propels them toward their next innovation. Vedantam cites work by researcher Adam Grant who finds that highly talented people fail a lot and produce a lot of duds — even the repertoires of Mozart and Shakespeare contain mediocre work. To find more candidates and employees with truly transformational potential, Vedantam suggests recruiters devote a portion of their efforts to “long shot” candidates who carry higher risk, but also offer the potential of higher rewards.

“If you’re fearful about blame and regret, you’re likely to find and choose candidates that are the safe candidates,” Vedantam says. “If you’re not taking enough chances, you’re not exploring the risk, you’re probably not going to experience the rewards.”

By adopting a mandatory level of risk and failure in recruiting, you can realize a greater payoff in exceptional hires. Encourage candidates to discuss their own failures and risks during interviews, and empower your teams to take chances on job seekers with unconventional backgrounds who might just prove to be superstars.

To learn more about the characteristics of top talent and strategies to attract them, download our latest research in the 2016 Talent Attraction Study: How Top Performers Search for Jobs.

To attract self-directed, action-oriented candidates, recruiters need to think like active job seekers and target high-performers in the places where they’re looking for opportunities, like Indeed.