Part II: Targeting High Performers – Avoiding Confirmation Bias

Dear Reader,

The following is the second of a three part series detailing some simple steps one can take to identifying high performing executives and staff; along with improving the outcome of your hiring.

Part II: Targeting High Performers –  Avoiding Confirmation Bias

It’s been suggested by pundits that the talent acquisition and employment interview process is an exercise in mitigating hiring risk.  Some argue that the odds of success are no different than playing craps in a casino. While this view might be considered as a little cynical, studies have determined that the average CEO’s tenure is a mere four years, with his or her lieutenants not remaining unscathed either.  In fact, 40% of all senior hires fail within 18 months. So perhaps the cynicism is well placed.

Taken in this context, clearly the hard and soft cost of hiring and/or firing (regardless of tenure) has become inordinately expensive to the firm’s bottom-line; and would (or should) directly impact the hiring manager’s annual performance bonus.

How does one improve the odds for a successful hire?

Reality Test Your Interview Biases

“We have chemistry” “Let’s spitball this” “Seems like a fit” “I have a gut feeling” “I knew in 30 seconds” “I’ll know the right person when I see them.” “So tell me about your life” …. so I can glean enough information to support my pre-determined opinion.

We have all heard the above phrases in and around the interview process….and unfortunately, the reliance on chemistry and gut has contributed a great deal with dismal results. The root problem is confirmation bias. 

In other words, regardless of the decision to be made, individuals are two times more likely to focus on specific information about a candidate that supports their opinion, while actively filtering out information that does not confirm their opinion.

Case studies used so frequently in management schools are designed to foster critical thinking and creative solutions to previously existing reality-based scenarios. You’ll achieve better hiring results if you frame a real life situation into the interview assessment. It’s a simple process. Take a critical decision your company arrived at within the last five years, then provide the candidate with the relevant details. Ask them to deliberate on the problem and offer a solution. Give a sufficient amount of time for them to respond with a reasoned answer.

I had a Chief Investment Officer client ask three VP Acquisition candidates to analyze two commercial assets he was contemplating to acquire. Not only was he getting some very effective acquisition analysis for free, he was also learning how the prospective colleague went about analyzing and responding to the scenario.

As a result of his association with the client, the successful candidate went on to become a senior acquisition executive acquiring trophy office assets throughout the Eastern Sea Board of the United States; the runner-up became the Real Estate Country Head for active off-shore bank. The third candidate – who resented the exercise – has over the years, managed to achieve some success but much less than than the first two who enthusiastically rose to the task at hand. The first two candidates understood the client’s effort to mitigate the potential for “confirmation bias” by reality testing his assumptions.

A simple method to improve the outcome of a hire is to guard against confirmation bias by reality testing your assumptions about how the candidate thinks and approaches problems. Real-world scenario based questioning can uncover more accurate and revealing information about a candidate than abstract or generic interview questions for which candidates may have stock answers ready-made.

I invite you to join me on LinkedIn at or follow my Blog at so we may notify you when we publish the final installment of the series.

A brief outline of my recruiting companies and their related services is listed below. We would welcome an opportunity to assist you with the growth of your firm.


Forbes J. Rutherford

Vertical Offering of Recruitment Services

The Rutherford Group of Companies consists of a vertical of specialized recruiting firms that complement each other at various stages along the recruiting value chain. Each firm offers clients a varied approach to talent acquisition at a different cost per hire. The pricing varies from ‘Least’ to ‘Most’ and is subject to the urgency of your hiring need.

By adapting your point of entry onto the “recruiting value chain,” our methods let you ‘test the waters’ before jumping completely into the talent pool. Depending upon urgency, your first point of entry can be the insertion of an ad on our international job board ( at a very low cost of entry.

Alternatively, you can engage our ‘job ad agency’ ( to implement a job marketing and employer brand management strategy to target market your position to relevant candidates.This service can be an adjunct to your internal corporate recruiting department.

If your need requires immediate resolution, your third option is to engage our team of experienced recruiters who will pro-actively seek talent within your targeted talent market (

Properly employed, the cost savings are significant; a job advertising and employer brand marketing campaign through is equal to the cost of an average career ad in the Wall Street Journal.


  1. Rutherford International Executive Search Group Inc. – Executive/Board Search, Succession Planning & Team Analysis, Facilitate M&A; opportunities, Match High Performing Executives and Capital Investors, Asset Stabilization & Platform Restructuring, Support Client Growth into New Markets by Identifying Platforms that are open to Acquisition or Strategic Alliance, Behavioral Research – High Performance;
  2. NEXtalent Inc. – Paid on a success basis, this company supports recruitment assignments where base salary is under $150,000.00. We’re open to corporate volume contracts where there is an annualized human capital resource plan in place. Offices currently in Toronto and Calgary with planned expansion to Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver by Q1-2014. Having access to Rutherford International’s research department, NEXtalent currently recruits throughout Canada in the following sectors: Lenders, Direct Investors, Advisory Firms, REIT’s, REOC’s, Property/Facility Managers, GC’s and Retailers/Hospitality –;
  3. is an Interactive Real Estate Job Ad Agency that markets your employer brand including active job openings utilizing Web 2.0 & SEO technology, newsletters and targeted emails. The firm puts your opportunity directly in front of relevant candidates, our researchers process the response and experienced recruiters are on-hand to short-list the response for you on a time and material basis.  Depending upon the base salary, this process is approximately a quarter of a recruiter’s fee. In fact, one client was able to hire two individuals from the single ad campaign thereby achieving incredible savings over traditional recruiting methods. –;
  4. – International Real Estate Job Board aggregates job opportunities from 53 countries. Clients are able to purchase a single ad or a package of postings at a volume rate. For larger volume clients, we host a micro-site for you that can be actively linked to the homepage of and the Career section of your corporate web site. –

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