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Contrast Effect


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Contrast Effect
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Contrast Effect


Recruiters and hiring managers process countless resumes, and instead of letting each resume stand on its own merit, it is easy to compare the current resume under review to the one previously reviewed. When this happens, contrast effect is occurring. 


There are two primary types of contrast effect in hiring:


  • Positive contrast effect: A candidate is perceived to be more qualified than they actually are because they are compared to a candidate with less desirable attributes.

  • Negative contrast effect: A candidate is perceived to be worse than they normally would be because a hiring manager compares them to their preferred candidate.


Contrast effect can occur in interviewing when candidates are judged not on their attributes and skills but on how they compare to other candidates. The problem is that candidates may be compared at random because their resumes were reviewed by the hiring manager in quick succession. 


A recruiter or hiring manager's perception may alter when they begin comparing one candidate to another. Instead of judging a candidate based on their own merit, the contrast effect often kicks in, and the candidates are being judged relative to each other. 




For this example, our fictional candidates will be named Joe, Annie, Tyler, and Brittany. 


For example, Joe and Annie are interviewed on Tuesday. Both candidates perform well in their respective interviews, but Annie has more experience and is more qualified. While Annie is probably the most suitable person for the position, she may be seen as more favorable than she actually is because she is being compared to Joe. In this scenario, negative contrast effect has occurred. 


Contrast Effect becomes a greater concern when Tyler and Brittany are interviewed the next day. The hiring manager has already determined that Annie is ideal for the job. While Brittany has some positive attributes, Tyler is more qualified than Brittany. Although Tyler is not as qualified as Annie, Tyler's qualifications are elevated because he was deemed more favorable when compared with Brittany. This results in positive contrast effect when Tyler's qualifications are elevated beyond what is realistic, and he receives a job offer. Even though Annie was the most qualified applicant, she was undermined by Tyler's erroneously elevated qualifications.


Related Terms

Judgment Bias

is a term used interchangeably with contrast effect.

Halo Effect

occurs when a hiring manager focuses too heavily on a candidate's perceived positive aspect that overshadows the rest of a candidate's resume or application.

Horns Effect

occurs when a hiring manager places excessive focus on one perceived negative aspect of a candidate's background or experience.
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