Beware the HIPPO effect on hiring decisions

by Apr 6, 2023

The HIPPO effect on hiring decisions

Beware the HIPPO effect on hiring decisions, it is a flawed process for both the candidate and the organisation.


One of the most common complaints from even successful candidates is the number of interviews that take place in the selection process. Kicking off with telephone and online screenings with search consultants or recruiters, by the time they have seen the key players in the process,  the interview tally can easily rack up to a minimum of six, and quite often more interviews. This can include the HR manager, hiring manager, line manager, maybe departmental head, and even the CEO who will be the HIPPO in the process.

One candidate has just been called for an interview ten times by the same company. TEN!

Flawed process

This is a flawed process from both sides. The chances of a poor hiring decision can increase with each additional person and step involved in the process, as responsibility for the final decision becomes diffused. Interviewing is quite often done in panic mode with little thought given to structuring the process strategically for optimal efficiency.

They morph into selection lotteries with many not even arranged in offices, but in hotels, restaurants, cafés and airports. The successful candidate can frequently be the one who has accrued the most “checks” in the warm, fuzzy, feel-good box, which will have been completed by multiple interviewers. Spreading the hiring responsibility also provides protection against failure. No single person will be accountable if the hire does not work out.

As the saying goes there is safety in numbers.

HIPPO effect on hiring decisions


The impact of the HIPPO effect on hiring decisions

If candidates are in several processes, this can then become very time-consuming. Their interest and motivation can decrease with each additional step, as their perception reflects negatively on the hiring company’s decision-making processes. Candidates also constantly bemoan the repetition and duplication involved, when they are frequently asked the same questions by different interviewers.

It is not uncommon for an offer can go out to the candidate who is not necessarily the best candidate, but the most likeable and who has the widest appeal. Mr. or Ms. Average. Alternatively, one interviewer out of even six or seven managers involved in the hiring process can nix the best of the bunch. It’s hard to say if there is an ideal number of interviews, but any process with more than four internal interviews runs the risk of diminishing returns.

When the decision is finally made, it is frequently taken or influenced by the HIPPO. This is the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion, who in real terms will probably have the least interaction with the job holder once they are appointed.

The HIPPO effect “states that the opinion of the highest paid person is given more consideration in a decision because it has a higher value per se. The value of the opinion is thus linked to the salary of the person expressing a said opinion. The higher the salary, the more important the opinion.”

The impact of the HIPPO  effect on hiring decisions can vary depending on the organisation and the leadership style of the person in question.

Deeply embedded conformity bias

The impact of the HIPPO effect on hiring decisions, usually means they are the most senior and conformity bias kicks in. Hiring for cultural fit will play a key role around “this is the way we do things here”  The HIPPO’s opinions and decisions may be the overriding factor or at least the most influential. Junior employees can feel pressurised to toe the company line.

This can lead to:

  • a lack of diverse perspectives and creative thinking.
  • reduced dissent when employees may be reluctant to speak up and challenge the HIPPO’s ideas or decisions, even if they have concerns.
  • a culture of fear and a lack of open communication.
  • non-data based hiring decisions

HIPPO effect on hiring decisions

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Pressure on the HIPPO

But the pressure doesn’t always flow in one direction. The HIPPO is not empowering their team if they are not able or willing to let them make decisions. If this micro-managing applies in one area, the chances of gate-keeping happening in other areas are high. This will lead to burnout, which in turn impacts judgement capabilities.

The HIPPO feeling pressure may also become more risk-averse than the other employees in the process because they are now the final decision maker in so many areas. This can lead to overall risk aversion and the HIPPO becoming reluctant to take chances or a more creative approach.

In an organisation committed to diversity and inclusion, the impact of the HIPPO effect on hiring decisions is significant. A key element of inclusive leadership is empowering teams to make decisions. This gives them the authority to take risks while creating a safe space to make the wrong ones. Many leaders think they are being inclusive by seeing all candidates. This can be a fine line and one where it could be better to see the new hire when they start.

The only time the HIPPO should impact the hiring process is in the recruitment of their own direct reports or high-profile or sensitive roles.


Our mission at 3Plus is to help you build diverse teams, contact us to find out how we can help

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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