Ah yes, the glorious days of high school, where no one felt left out and everybody was a cheerleader. Right?  In reality high school, with its cliques and groups, is representative of our very human tendency to stereotype. For most of us, getting older is a welcome reprieve from our teenage years and we build close relationships and find our ‘people.’  But we still don’t like those who might throw a wrench into the works of a smooth functioning team, and our judgments of outsiders are fast and definite.

But, what does this have to do with hiring and being hired?

A whole lot actually.

Here’s the thing.  The brain likes to make decisions quickly – to categorize (See Thin Slicing). We do it without conscious thought and it is largely out of our control.  Thankfully, we are starting to understand how our brains make these initial judgements.  By understanding this process, we can determine how positive and negative evaluations (the reasons why we are loved by “our” people and maybe, well, not so loved by those “other” groups) form and how we can maximize our ability to get what we want out of any social interaction.  

The first thing to understand is that when we meet someone we judge them (and are judged) based on TWO factors:  Warmth and Competence.  Warmth relates to how warm, trustworthy, likeable or similar to us someone is.  Competence refers to our perception of another’s abilities in a relevant domain (in high school this may have been “coolness” or “number of friends”, in business this is often a professional competency like confidence, intelligence, managerial experience, or creativity).  If we can learn to understand how these factors shape our decision-making, we can understand how to make hiring managers love us and how to avoid bad hires based on subconscious misperceptions.

Practical Applications




Competence is the easier of the two to convey and understand, particularly in a traditional resume and interview-oriented hiring process.  By confidently backing up the skills and competencies listed on your resume, you can determine how competent you will be perceived to be.  To master this powerful element, ask yourself:  “What can I do / What am I great at?” and “How can I communicate this in a reliable fashion?”

But with great power comes great responsibility and this is particularly true when competence meets warmth.  Perceived warmth, or lack of warmth is what can make someone’s competence seem helpful or threatening. In fact, it’s the stumbling block for many bad hiring decisions.


We tend to favour those who are similar to us, particularly with regards to emotions, extroversion, and energy (those in our “In-Group”) while finding those who are different from us (those in our “Out-Group”) to be colder and more distant.  We tend to think of those who are competent but cold as threatening (“stereotype threat”), jealous, or envious.  Think:  Why aren’t they more talkative, open, engaged (or Why are they so unprofessional and talkative)?  They must be up to something!  Individuals whose warmth does not match our own may not share our goals and aims and are therefore not trustworthy.  

Alternatively, if someone is warm (or part of our “In-Group”) we may let competency deficiencies slide in the face of a “really good feeling” about that person.  They may not be as good, but their values and emotions seem more “inline” with what your organization is after.  Whether or not any of this is true, our brains make these evaluations almost instantly and outside of our conscious control!

It is easy to see how these biases can cause us to make sub-optimal hiring decisions, so what can we do…?

Employers: Hire Well the First Time

Here are some tips for employers to help you hire well the first time:











  • Be aware of your in-group bias – the levels of energy, emotion, extroversion and engagement that you prefer and display.  Who do you see as “one of your own”.  When facing something that contradicts this, be more aware of potentially misleading “gut feelings.”  
  • Don’t hire or promote someone just because they’re a non-threatening in-group member.
  • Warmth in a candidate is good, but competence is better.  This should be metric #1.
  • Don’t let competition get in the way of hiring a competent/skilled performer.  Natural tendencies to feel competitive or threatened are good indications that you need to debias your hiring effort. 
  • Be aware that stereotypes around certain groups, (think nerds –although nerds are cool now), can get in the way of a good hire.






Candidates: Get Hired

Knowing how to present your soft and hard skills can help you impress a prospective employer and be the candidate of choice. Consider the following when interviewing:







  • First, appear competent, then appear warm.  Without conveying competence from the start, you run the risk of being perceived as incompetent and cold (the worst possible start).  
  • If you’re different from the culture or interviewing style into which you are attempting to gain access, up the warmth (so that you are not perceived as a skilled competitor).  Try to find commonalities with your interviewers and match their energy, openness, and engagement.
  • Be aware that these are the first two thin slices that people will judge.

Employers value both warmth and competence.  They also prioritize, without often realizing they are doing so, those that won’t compete with members of their group/team.   If you want to get hired, emphasize accomplishments and skills, but do it from a posture of service.  If you’re hiring, understand that bias can colour the process. Know that the very human need to feel someone is both capable and like us can make you hire the wrong person, or pass on a candidate who could have been exceptional.




Want to learn more about warmth and competence? Read what Wikipedia has to say on the topic.

Your Next Step

No one should walk the job search or hiring road alone. At Clarity Recruitment we help others realize their success through a process that marries proprietary technology with unwavering commitment.  Contact us today to take control of your career, or to partner with us to hire well.

Clarity Recruitment, connecting exceptional people with remarkable companies.






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