Is unconscious bias affecting your recruitment success?

Bias. These days it’s something of a dirty word, and for a good reason. Bias is usually associated with unjust discrimination, where members of certain races, ethnicities, genders, castes, or social groups are excluded or mistreated based on preconceived and unfounded ideas. However, from a psychological perspective, biases help us process information quickly by using past experiences to make assumptions. They are also crucial to social life because our perceptions of others are based on the benefits and costs we associate with their presence. We can’t indiscriminately cooperate with everyone because that could potentially lead to harm.

So we are all conditioned to develop certain unconscious biases. That’s natural, but it’s important that we recognise these biases and how they affect our judgments of others. The consequences of not recognising this are evident everywhere in society, such as budget allocation, policing, education, and recruitment.

This article will look at the impact of unconscious bias in recruitment and how you can mitigate it.

Why diversity matters in business

Aside from being a moral thing to cultivate, much has been written about the tangible business benefits of diverse workplaces. Research by Gallup has found that greater diversity means that a broader range of perspectives and experiences are available, which helps appeal to a wider range of customers, reduces the tendency to groupthink, and encourages innovation. An analysis of FTSE100 firms over 12 years found that firms with three or more women directors reported significantly better than firms with less diversity. The Hamilton Project says that highly skilled immigrants contribute significantly to innovation. The Harvard Business Review confirmed a multiplier effect here, as diverse companies attract a broader range of potential talent, but talented individuals also tend to choose such companies.

Types of interview bias

There are many identified and researched biases, some of which often impact the interview and hiring process. Confirmation bias refers to the tendency to seek, recall, favour, or interpret information in a way that supports one’s pre-existing beliefs or viewpoints. In a hiring context, this can mean filtering an applicant’s qualifications and experience through the lens of a first impression formed by the interviewer based on appearance, age, gender, or race.

The halo/horn effect means allowing a person’s positive (halo) or negative (horn) characteristics to unduly influence other perceptions about them. Excellent academic performance may cause one to overlook some deficiencies, while inappropriate or sloppy dress may cause one to disregard appropriate experiences or skills.

Affinity bias occurs when we inherently prefer people we believe are similar to us in beliefs, background, appearance, etc. Hiring managers may prefer people who went to the same university as them or come from the same socioeconomic background rather than focusing objectively on the benefits they could offer the company.

Attribution bias is about assessing the causes of others’ behaviour, advantages, and disadvantages, which can be either internal (based on personality or ability) or external (situational or circumstantial). This could lead, for example, to favouring candidates from privileged backgrounds over candidates from poorer environments.

Avoiding unconscious bias in interviewing

The types of biases prevalent in hiring decisions and how they can negatively impact your organisation are the first place to start. Addressing these biases requires an ongoing reflection and reevaluation of perspectives, practises, and procedures.

Become aware

Everyone has unconscious biases, regardless of their background. Recognising and accepting this is the first step in assessing and mitigating the impact of these biases in an organisation. Awareness education and training can help managers and employees better understand their own perspectives. Putting the issue on the agenda can help create a conversation within the organisation about bias and potentially generate innovative ideas for dealing with it.

Rethink job descriptions

Bias can start in the words used to describe job descriptions. Language carries connotations, so recognising this and revising job descriptions to use more neutral language, you can appeal to a broader range of potential applicants.  

Standardise the interview process

While some recruiters prefer an unstructured interview to get to know a candidate organically to get a feel for their suitability, this approach has a greater potential for bias. Structured, standardised interviews allow interviewers to evaluate different candidates against the responses of others, facilitate the development of a benchmark, and help avoid unconscious bias in interviewing. Evidence suggests that it is even better if the interviewer learns nothing about the candidate’s CV, experience, or work samples. This eliminates potential bias and makes the interview more impartial.

Remove demographic data from the CV review

No matter how aware you are of your bias, it will still affect your judgement of people based on their appearance, nationality, age, gender, and even name. Demographic data can be manually or automatically removed from resumes using AI software before reviewing them. This allows managers to focus only on talent and qualifications. Companies can also consider preventing human resources bias by removing resumes from the application process altogether, relying instead on customised tests that measure applicants’ abilities to handle actual job duties and responsibilities.

Test your assumptions

One way to eliminate potential biases against underrepresented applicants is to consider how you’d react if you were to swap them out with someone you’d typically hire. For example, women who hold strong opinions may be categorised as emotional or irrational. Put a white man in the same situation, and you might see him as passionate or determined. This simple thought experiment can help expose biases as soon as they occur. This way, you can address them immediately and develop strategies to avoid them in the future.

Want to make sure you are hiring the best employees?

The hiring process is one of the most important for any company because the consequences of choosing the wrong candidate through unconscious bias in the hiring process are enormous. We help companies select and promote the best talent, using objective psychometric tests to ensure that employees are an ideal fit for company goals and growth. Contact us at Talent Select for more information.