4 Unconscious Hiring Biases and How to Tackle them

hiring bias

4 Unconscious Hiring Biases and How to Tackle them

5760 3840 Mita Mandawker

Recruiting is one of the most difficult and yet most fulfilling career paths. Recruiters play the role of the first gatekeeper in building the culture of the company. They are primarily responsible for finding the hidden gems, the unicorns, the purple squirrels that will elevate the team, add incremental value to the culture, and will take the company to new heights.

However, one of the biggest roadblocks towards achieving the ideal outcome are the unknown and unacknowledged biases that exist in the hiring processes (both conscious and unconscious). These biases affect the quality of the talent pipeline and consequently become a barrier towards building a diverse and innovative team. Recruiters can overlook the most qualified and best-suited candidates for the job because of biases.

Even Google has not been exempt from unconscious biases. To tackle the problem, they developed a workshop, Unconscious Bias at Work, where they explored four bias busting techniques that can help mitigate the potentially negative influence of unconscious bias.

Harvard University researcher Mahzarin Banaji in the Harvard Business Review best explained the biases as, “Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased. We imagine we’re good decision-makers, able to objectively size up a job candidate or a venture deal and reach a fair and rational conclusion that’s in our, and our organization’s, best interests. But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.”

So how do you overcome these biases?

The first step is by identifying which biases you will encounter and then taking active steps to ensure you are challenging them.

Here are some common unconscious biases that recruiters face, and here’s how we recommend you tackle them:

Affinity bias

Affinity bias is when the recruiter or hiring manager gravitates towards those (candidates) who are like them, some examples could be someone who has attended the same college as them or maybe grew up in the same town.

How does this play out in the hiring or interviewing context, and why is it essential that we be mindful of this bias?

For example, if the founder were to select the team members similar to him, who in turn selected people who were similar to them, and so on, ultimately, it would hurt the diversity and inclusion of the company.

While affinity bias is crucial for culture fit that companies yearn for. However, one needs to be mindful that this is not the only merit when hiring; after all, no one wants a team of robots.

💡What can organizations do?
Start from the top – be intentional about having a diverse leadership team; it will trickle down the bottom. After all, a diverse management team serves as a model for the rest of the organization. Use technology for receiving and reviewing applications to remove biases from the hiring and interview process.

Ensure diversity even in your hiring panel to reduce the affinity bias. Multiple rounds of interviews with different panels, each evaluating a different set of skills needed for the role, will help you keep the affinity bias in check.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is when people tend to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or assumptions.

In the hiring context, confirmation biases occur when the recruiter forms an opinion on the candidate after going through their CV and application and then uses the interview to confirm that opinion, instead of interviewing that candidate objectively.

This can lead to poor hiring decisions, and the recruiter may even end up ignoring obvious red flags in a candidate in an attempt to confirm their initial impression.

💡What can organizations do?

Standardize the interview process – to the extent possible, create structured interview guides that are relevant to the job position, train the interviewers to be disciplined about using these guides; this will ensure all candidates are evaluated against the same rubric leaving no room for confirmation bias.

Use hiring assessments like case studies, psychometric tests, technical assessments, and more to evaluate the candidates for their ability by simulating the real-world problems they would solve in that role.

Halo effect

Halo effect bias is when the person thinks everything about a person is good because they like them. For instance, a recruiter assumes that just because this candidate is good at communicating, he/she will be good at everything else that needs to be done on the job description is a halo effect.

In essence, letting one positive trait or characteristic influence the judgment about the person’s overall capability for other unrelated factors.

💡 What can organizations do?

Conduct multiple rounds of interviews with different stakeholders to assess the candidates on different parameters, and having multiple stakeholders, would help curb all forms of biases. Try anonymization, where all identifying information is removed from applications to ensure objectivity.

Use rigorous screening and testing processes, particularly for key performance indicators (KPIs) for the position being filled, so that you can make the best decision.

Contrast bias

Contrast bias occurs when two things are judged in comparison to one another instead of being assessed individually. In the context of recruitment, it occurs when the recruiter judges the candidate’s performance against the other candidate(s) that came before them and not the hiring criteria or on their ability.

Some other instances of contrast biases recruiters face are:
– Looking more favorably on someone’s CV if it’s reviewed directly after a poor one
– Scoring a candidate higher at interview if the preceding candidate scored poorly

💡 What can organizations do?

Evaluate candidates based on their work samples and not just CVs; it gives the candidates a chance to show their ability and for you to see if they can problem-solve the issues they would tackle if they were to join your team.

Train your recruitment team about these biases and actively find ways to minimize or eliminate them from your hiring process.

A diverse talent pipeline is the first step to a long way in ensuring you build a company with great talent, which is heterogeneous, innovative, and more productive. We always recommend our clients to hire for skills and potential and then for any certain traits. We all have our unconscious biases, so it’s good to have a second opinion regarding a candidate you want to hire or dismiss. Holding each other accountable is also a good practice to adopt, as you may all uncover some subconscious associations and patterns of thinking you weren’t previously aware of. Conduct training workshops for your hiring teams to help them identify these biases and keep them in check.

Finally, accept the fact that we all have biases but we can always strive to be better.

Check out our latest research on Hiring for equity, which contains findings – after 12 months of research and provides practical (and largely zero cost) ways that employers can use language, marketing, and behaviors to attract and retain more women into digital roles.



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