Busting Hiring Bias
Unconscious bias, whether we’re aware of it or not, affects our approach to hiring. It dictates the types of questions we ask, the resumes we prefer, and all other decisions we make when comparing candidates.
While it is admirable, it is also hardly realistic to expect a hiring environment completely free of bias. We can, however, endeavor to be aware of the biases we tend to so that we can counter them when making hiring decisions. The practical tips and tech covered in this article can improve awareness and help you cope with your own unconscious hiring biases.
These Hiring Bias Stats Will Bewilder You
- 85% to 97% of hiring managers rely on intuition.
- Individuals with Asian last names on their CVs face a 28% lower chance of getting called for an interview, while applicants with "White-sounding" names get 50% more callbacks than those with "black-sounding" names.
- Many candidates may lose potential job opportunities by remaining anonymous during the blind application. 91% of employers utilize social media for recruitment purposes, with 79% admitting to rejecting candidates solely based on their social networking profiles.
- Men are preferred over women in hiring as they are viewed as more skilled. Men are also offered about $4000 more per year in salary than women for the same positions.
- Women take home 82 cents for every dollar men earn.
- When asked to assess the centrality of employee appearance to business success, 93% of employers said it was either critical or important.
- In the United States, individuals considered "good-looking" tend to earn an average of 10-15% more than their counterparts.
We know what you’re thinking, "This is awful!”
You’re right, it is. Yet the good news is that recruiters and hiring managers can stop these hiring trends by shielding their minds from bias.
The first step to doing so is identifying all the common types of hiring bias and understanding the root causes that sway people from making good hiring decisions. If you understand a bias, you can spot the times you find yourself or your recruitment peers falling into mental errors that may lead to poor decision-making. You’ll also know what to do next.
Here are the seven most common hiring biases that manifest in recruitment and hiring teams during the interview process. Bear in mind that, most of the time, the thoughts that lead to biased decision-making are unconscious and do not come from malicious intent.
The 7 Types of Unconscious Bias in Hiring and How to Counter Them
1. Confirmation Bias
What is confirmation bias?
Most people don’t want new information, they want validating information to support what they already believe to be true. Confirmation bias is like wearing a pair of tinted glasses that make you see the world in a certain way.
It's when your brain prefers to focus on information that supports your beliefs while conveniently ignoring or downplaying anything that challenges those beliefs.
What does confirmation bias look like in recruitment?
A recruiter or hiring manager may consciously or subconsciously look for a particular appearance or personality type when considering candidates. It is common for hiring managers to model their “ideal candidate” on the most effective member(s) of their team. While it is easy to justify this type of selection in the interest of cultural fit, it does not serve the company. Cultural fit is formed in shared values, not shared hobbies or a shared sense of humor.
To confirm that the candidate we like is suitable for the role, or that the candidate we don’t like isn’t, we may ask irrelevant questions that confirm our bias while overlooking red flags that challenge it.
In human resources and recruitment, confirmation bias can manifest as the horns and halo effect where a candidate we find unsuitable can’t say anything right, and a candidate we prefer can’t set a foot wrong in our eyes. We’ll look at the horns and halo effect in more detail soon.
Examples of confirmation bias in hiring practices
- Recruiter A has a belief that people who enjoy traveling tend to switch jobs frequently. During the resume screening round, when they come across a candidate's resume with "travel" listed as a hobby, they unconsciously start looking for clues or evidence of shorter employment tenures to confirm their preconceptions while ignoring information that contradicts their beliefs.
- Recruiter B believes that only graduates with top honors are truly smart. When they review a resume of a candidate who graduated with a lower score, this implicit bias makes them unconsciously look for proof of this belief. For example, if the person interned at a company that isn’t very prestigious, they would reason that it was because they were rejected by internship programs at top firms. They may then use this as a (founded or unfounded) reason the person is not an adequately qualified candidate or smart enough to be hired for the vacant role.
- Interviewer C believes that the candidate is a good fit for the job because they attended the same college. During the interview, they only ask leading questions that reinforce their preconceived ideas about the candidate's suitability for the role.
How to reduce confirmation bias in hiring
- Skill-centered focus: Shift your attention to candidates' skills as the primary consideration, setting aside other factors such as the college they graduated from. Remember, it's the knowledge, experience, and innovation they bring to the table that matters most, not the diploma that will hang on their wall. This is especially the case if you're hiring for returnships.
- Structured interviews: Utilize structured interviews as your shield against confirmation bias. A set of standardized interview questions will keep you on track and prevent you from asking biased or leading questions. Structured interviews also bring consistency to the interview process, leading to fairer comparisons and a more objective assessment.
- Let interview tech do the heavy lifting: Interviewing tools can help you keep candidate interviews objective and within parameters that aid fair decision-making. The best video interviewing platforms allow you to review and share interview recordings to get input from stakeholders and keep notes on candidates in a centralized place.
Using one-way video interview tech as a candidate screening tool has the added benefit that jobseekers do not meet recruiters face-to-face, so your hiring team cannot lead their answers to the pre-set questions in any way. Implementing these one-way video interview tips will further reduce the possibility of introducing bias.
2. Affect Heuristic Bias
What is affect heuristic bias?
Affect heuristic happens when your decisions and judgments are based on snap judgments or established mental shortcuts rather than logical reasoning.
Basically, your brain relies on your intuitive decision-making processes or "gut feelings" to instantly judge whether a situation or a person is good or bad without going into deep analysis. It's like your brain saying, "Hey, this feels good, so it must be good!" or "Hmm, I don’t like this, so it must be bad!"
Affect heuristic bias often manifests as similarity bias where we see a person or situation as acceptable or unacceptable based on how much we can relate to it.
What does affect heuristic bias look like in recruitment?
Unfortunately, as recruiters we sometimes let emotions get the best of us while hiring. If we are having a bad day or, based on first impression, don’t like a candidate’s taste in clothing, general appearance, or demeanor we might find ourselves having a "bad feeling" about them. This “gut feeling” makes us skeptical of their suitability for the position even when their qualifications are on par with the role’s key competencies.
On the other side of the coin, we may give a candidate an unintentional advantage in our hiring decisions because they feel “familiar” due to their appearance or shared interests. This is known as affinity bias— when we immediately like a person because we can relate to them.
Examples of affect heuristic bias in hiring practices
- Interviewer A gets into a big argument with colleagues right before interviewing a candidate. They can't help but feel affected by that earlier incident, and these emotions cause them to have negative gut feelings about the candidate.
- Recruiter B goes through a tough issue with their children. During an interview, they come across a candidate who shares the exact same struggle. They unconsciously develop a positive bias towards this candidate simply because they feel an emotional connection. This emotional bond makes them favor the candidate over others, despite having poorer qualifications.
- Hiring manager C discovers the candidate is a passionate fan of the soccer team they happen to dislike, especially because that team defeated theirs in a recent match. Instantly, the hiring manager’s mood sours, and this negative emotion unconsciously leads them to evaluate the candidate more critically and harshly.
How to reduce affect heuristic bias in hiring
- Get everyone on the same page: Establish clear and objective evaluation criteria that focus on the stuff that actually matters– qualifications, skill set, and relevant work experience. By doing this, you cut down on the emotional guesswork and personal biases that can throw you off track.
- Keep it structured: Conduct interviews with a game plan in hand. Prepare a set of standardized questions and evaluation criteria so that you'll be able to compare apples with apples.
- Blind screening: Consider adopting blind screening techniques that strip away personal details like names, gender, or hobbies from resumes. This helps you steer clear of the pitfalls of unconscious biases tied to irrelevant factors. We want to focus on what really counts, not whether a candidate shares our interests.
- Diverse interview panels: By having multiple evaluators, you bring a whole range of viewpoints to the table. This prevents any one person's affect heuristic bias or similarity bias from running the show.
- Crunch the numbers: Utilize metrics and assessments to make objective, data-driven decisions. Performance data from previous experiences, tests, and candidate assessments can give you a clearer picture of what an individual brings to the table.
3. The Halo Effect
What is the halo effect?
Similar to confirmation bias, which tends to color our perception and influence our judgments, the halo effect happens when our overall impression of someone influences how experience them. Our positive opinion creates a glowing halo around the person and all they do, making us see them in a more positive light overall and overlook their shortcomings.
What does the halo effect look like in recruitment?
We let our positive opinion of a candidate overshadow a comprehensive assessment of their qualifications and suitability for the role.
Examples of the halo effect in hiring practices
A hiring manager reviews a dozen resumes for a position, and one of them stands out because they graduated from a prestigious university with top honors.
The manager is immediately impressed by the candidate's educational background and assumes they must be highly competent in their field. Later, during the candidate interview, the hiring manager takes note of the candidate’s positive attributes but does not consider their lack of skills or specific experience necessary for the role.
How to reduce the halo effect in hiring
Structured evaluation criteria, blind screening, and multiple interviewers are still helpful in this case.
Keep your focus on the candidate’s ability to do what the role requires based on objective assessments and relevant qualifications. The priority is what they can bring to the table in the future.
Assess their ability to do the job at hand by giving them a project that mimics what they'll actually do if they get the job. The hiring team can then vet their skills based on how they perform in that task.
4. The Horns Effect
What is the horn effect?
While the halo effect makes candidates shine, the horns effect makes us zoom in on a single negative trait they may have.
What does the horns effect look like in recruitment?
This form of confirmation bias happens when you fixate on one particular flaw in a candidate and turn a blind eye to attributes that should count in their favor. By entertaining the horns effect, we let the candidates' negative impressions overshadow a comprehensive assessment of their qualifications for the role.
The horns effect can also manifest in damaging prejudices held against a particular group of people. For example, unconscious biases can lead to discounting or disliking a candidate based on their race, nationality, or sexual identity.
Examples of the horns effect in hiring practices
The candidate has a unique hairstyle that doesn't follow traditional professional norms, and the recruiter assumes they may not fit well with the company culture or take the job seriously.
How to reduce the horns effect in hiring
The strategies covered above under “How to reduce the halo effect in hiring” also apply to curbing the horns effect.
5. Beauty Bias
What is beauty bias?
Beauty bias happens when people judge others solely based on their appearance rather than considering their real abilities and qualities.
What does beauty bias look like in recruitment?
Beauty bias happens when hiring managers choose to go forward with or hire those candidates they perceive as beautiful, not because they possess the right skills for the job.
A flip side of beauty bias is that a candidate may be perceived as too beautiful. This happens when, for example, a recruiter holds a (conscious or unconscious) bias that a physically attractive woman cannot also be very smart.
While it is fair to regard a company’s policies on dress code, professional appearance, and personal care in hiring (especially in client-facing roles), we should be careful not to judge a person’s effectiveness on how they look.
Examples of beauty bias in hiring practices
A recruiter is hiring for a customer service position and comes across two promising candidates. One has a polished appearance and conforms to societal beauty standards. The other doesn't fit the conventional beauty norms but possesses extensive skills and experience which would benefit the company more than the first candidate.
Despite the latter candidate being more qualified, the recruiter is swayed by the attractive appearance of the former and chooses them, disregarding the difference in value these candidates can bring to the role.
How to reduce this bias in hiring?
- Don’t look: Blind hiring can help us focus solely on candidates' qualifications and experience without being swayed by appearances.
- Standardization: Even if we don’t outright favor a more attractive candidate, unconscious bias can make us tip the scale in their favor by asking leading questions or skimming over shortcomings. Standardizing the evaluation process can help us ensure that all candidates are evaluated on the same playing field.
- Varied input: Changing up the hiring panel for various roles means our decisions are considered from different backgrounds and perspectives, reducing the impact of personal biases and promoting a more inclusive evaluation.
- Diversity and inclusion training: Training on identifying and countering our biases is essential in maintaining fair hiring practices and building diverse teams. And this shouldn't be limited to recruiters and hiring managers who are directly involved in hiring decisions. The rest of the team should also receive DEI training to ensure a tolerant workplace and promote retention. Great hires won't stay in a work environment that reeks of prejudice for long.
- Ask the robots: While we should not shift the entire human decision-making process to machines, AI-powered recruitment tools can lend an unbiased hand in candidate screening.
A note on artificial intelligence
AI recruiting tools evaluate candidates based on standardized criteria, ask candidates the same questions in a consistent manner, and analyze vast amounts of data from previous hiring processes for evidence-based hiring decisions. An AI tool cannot be swayed by how a candidate looks, how its own day went, or how much the candidate looks like their friend’s daughter.
But these tools are also limited. Ai is not as adept at spotting a creative thinker, an innovator, or a toxic demeanor as human recruiters are. That’s why a truly objective hiring decision should involve both technology and human input.
6. Conformity Bias
What is conformity bias?
Conformity bias is when people change their behavior or opinions to match those of a majority or a group, even if they privately disagree. Essentially, it means going along with the crowd rather than expressing one's true thoughts or beliefs.
What does conformity bias look like in recruitment?
Talent acquisition and hiring decisions are generally made by more than one stakeholder. This is necessary to make sure we employ the best candidates. While getting input from a group of people has value, it is only effective when each member of that group gives their authentic opinion.
Because humans like to belong, we tend to align our opinions with ones that are popular. When, in a hiring team of five individuals, we are the only one who chooses Candidate A over Candidate B, we tend to assume the majority rule must be right. We change our decisions to match the opinion of other recruiters, hiring managers, the board of directors, or the department we’re hiring for.
Examples of conformity bias in hiring practices
A recruiter is confident that they have selected the right candidate as they have thoroughly executed a fair and objective recruitment process, utilizing reliable HR Tech like pre-employment assessment tools, structured interviewing software, and blinded hiring solutions.
However, when the board of directors starts advocating for another candidate, the recruiter starts doubting their decision. They start questioning their data, thinking that if everyone else prefers the other candidate, they must have superior qualities. This pressure alters their perception of the two candidates and forces them to agree with the group's decision.
Bear in mind that conformity bias can be led by the bias of others. Perhaps a colleague in the hiring team is projecting a halo effect onto a candidate and singing their praises, which puts pressure on everyone else to see that person in a positive light as well.
How to reduce conformity bias in hiring
When it comes to dodging conformity bias, data and facts are your allies. Don't let yourself get swayed by the opinions of others.
When your opinion is in the minority, refer to the candidate data gathered, your criteria checklist, take-home assignments, and the pre-employment assessment results you’ve based it on.
7. Gender Bias
What is gender bias?
Gender bias occurs when people favor one gender over another, leading to unequal opportunities, stereotypes, or discriminatory practices.
What does gender bias look like in recruitment?
Gender bias happens when we employ people based on their gender instead of their job qualifications.
This also tends to manifest as affect heuristic bias in roles that are seen as traditionally male or traditionally female. We tend to believe a male candidate will make a better engineer, for example, because male engineers are so prevalent.
Because the way we perceive genders is so hardwired in our subconscious, gender-related bias is especially hard to discount in hiring. But it is incredibly important that we treat candidates with equal consideration for the sake of the candidate experience we offer, and the diverse workforces we aim to build.
Examples of gender bias in hiring practices
A recruiter with a traditional view of gender roles in the workplace imagines a male candidate will naturally fill a vacant leadership role. They, therefore, write a job description that uses language suggesting a preference for traditionally masculine traits such as being assertive, competitive, and tough.
"Seeking a strong, assertive leader to fill the position of Sales Manager. The ideal candidate must be highly competitive, able to take charge, and make tough decisions. We're looking for a rockstar who's dominated in a fast-paced, challenging environment. Strong negotiation and strategic thinking skills required."
This job listing perpetuates the bias that only individuals with certain characteristics, typically associated with males, are suitable for leadership roles.
How to reduce gender bias in hiring
- Watch your language! Use gender-neutral language in job descriptions and recruitment marketing efforts to avoid excluding any specific gender from applying to the role. A DEI writing tool such as Textio can help achieve this.
- Neutral resumes: Taking the names, genders, and other identifying information out of resumes during the initial screening process can help evaluate candidates purely based on their qualifications.
- Consistent criteria: Stick to structured interviews and evaluation criteria.
- Prioritize DEI: Actively seek out candidates from diverse backgrounds by reaching out to professional networks, organizations, and platforms that cater to underrepresented groups. This will broaden your talent pool and increase the chances of hiring diverse candidates.
- Check yourself: Regularly review our hiring data by department and by hiring team to identify any gender disparities or biases in the recruitment process. By keeping a close eye on metrics like job applicant demographics, interview outcomes, and offers made, we can ensure that everyone has equal opportunities to thrive and that we do our best to cultivate diverse hiring practices.
We All Carry Biases, But Let's Aim Higher
Let's not beat ourselves up for not being completely impartial. It's impossible for any human being to be completely free of bias. Instead, let's seek out our biases, be aware of them, and embark on a journey of self-reflection and equitable hiring outcomes. In the end, we are accountable for the candidate experience we deliver, and the effect (both good and bad) our recruitment efforts have on the company’s bottom line.
It might feel awkward at first, but normalizing these discussions and providing a safe environment for personal growth is essential for fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace.