Four apples - three green and one red - sit in line with a person's hands on one green and one red apple as if trying to make a selection between the two.

Trying to choose which job you should take? Question your intuition.

New research finds that an applicant’s initial job preference influenced both how they interpreted information about their offers and their final decision.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When you’re on the job hunt and the market is saturated with opportunities, you may find yourself in the position of having to make a choice between two or more job offers.

While making the decision to take or not take a job isn’t necessarily an easy one, new research highlights that your initial offer preference plays a significant role in your decision.

In two studies, researchers at the University of Florida and University of Cincinnati found that job applicants’ initial preferences about their offers influenced both how they interpreted information about their offers and their final decision.

Brian Swider

Beth Ayers McCague Faculty Fellow Brian Swider.

“People tend to think that job seekers are rational, but that’s too narrow of a view of their decision-making process,” explained Brian Swider, Beth Ayers McCague Family Fellowship Associate Professor. “In the recruitment process, this can be problematic for both applicants and companies alike as people are, inadvertently, using biased information to make a decision.”

While preferring your initial job choice can be problematic, Swider notes that there are understandable reasons for doing so. First, decision-making is challenging and time consuming, so choosing your initial preference allows you to reach a conclusion quicker and with less effort.

“Many people are choosing between jobs that are wildly similar, so they need to find ways to make them different in order to make a decision,” Swider said. “We do that by looking at the biased information we have and confirming our thoughts.”

Second, relying on your initial preference helps you to proactively manage any dissonance that arises when you take the job and helps you preserve your ego.

“Essentially, it makes you feel more sure about your decision and is an ego enhancement,” Swider said. “We all want to be right and confirm what we believe.”

Lastly, whether it’s a college student choosing their first job or a seasoned professional looking for their next step, people are busy and looking for a way to scratch one more thing off their to-do list.

“People have a million things going on, so we create cognitive shortcuts to help us get through the day,” Swider said. “While we think we’re being rational, because choosing a job is when you really want to be sure you’re making the right choice, this is when cognitive biases can be most prevalent.”

Considering the time, effort and cost challenges associated with the hiring process for job seekers and recruiters, Swider notes there are steps both can take to minimize the influence of initial preferences in the recruitment process.

For job seekers, Swider suggests seeking out contradictory information about your initial preference, objectionably ranking information for both your initial preference and alternative options and simply recognizing that your decision-making process is flawed.

“Knowing that this occurs doesn’t eliminate it, but it can reduce it slightly,” Swider said. “But if you can recognize and seek out information, then you have a better ability to keep your initial preference from influencing your decision as time goes on.”

For recruiters and companies, Swider recommends putting your efforts into becoming a recruit’s initial favorite as soon as possible.

“You want to be an early mover in the process,” he said. “Get in front of potential applicants as early as possible and get them to develop a positive impression about your organization. Go above and beyond to highlight the great things about your company, but understand that if you’re not their initial favorite, then they will naturally discount the good things about your company.”

However, if your company is an initial preference for an applicant, while that could be good for your recruitment outcomes, it could lead to retention issues if your positive selling points don’t become a reality for your now employee.

Read more in the full research, coauthored by Laurens Bujold Steed, published in Personnel Psychology.