30 June 2021

10 types of unconscious hiring bias causing unfair screening & how to eliminate them

Biased recruitment. When we talk about biased recruitment, we tend to focus most on bias arising from a candidate’s demographics – age, gender, race, etc. However, hiring bias is about much more than that, of which we are most likely not even aware. And although there are lots of different biases, the consequence is the same for all. A talent pool that is decreased in terms of both size and diversity.

In the first part of the blog, I will dive into the 10 most painful types of hiring biases.In part two, I’ll share some tips on how to prevent hiring bias from impacting your hiring process. Lastly, I’ll tell you about what are the benefits of a bias-free hiring process.

The dangers of unfair screening

Let’s imagine a situation where you think you have found the perfect candidate. This person is likeable, friendly, with an amazing educational background and work experiences. And guess what – their favourite musician is also your favourite one. So, based on your first impression and gut feeling – you hire them. Or in the opposite scenario – you are interviewing a candidate whose music taste is completely different from yours. The point I’m trying to get across here is that you will mistakenly associate this person with something negative. Thus, view them as unfit for the job role.

It takes one tenth of a second to make a wrong judgement about someone. So it comes as no surprise that first impressions can be misleading. Hiring the wrong person (or rejecting a great one) can end up being a costly mistake.

When bias affects your recruitment process, it is not only the financial losses that you’ll be left with. Once bias creeps in your hiring process, your talent pool becomes less diverse and inclusive. The worst part of it all – you are not ensuring equal opportunities. It would be foolish to not focus on removing bias from the hiring process. After all, having different people, with different backgrounds, skills and personalities, together in a group is a proven success formula to make the ‘impossible’ possible.

So, let’s get right to it. What are the 10 types of unconscious bias that can leave the biggest negative impact on your hiring decisions?

Affinity/similarity bias

Affinity/similarity bias happens when we favor a candidate because we share a characteristic with them. For example, we went to the same university or worked at similar companies. This one is especially tricky from a cultural perspective. 

From a culture fit perspective, we want to hire ‘like-minded people’. People who have the soft skills that represent our core values. And there’s not necessarily something wrong with that. However, as soft skills are hard to assess from a resume, we tend to focus on secondary information (resume information). Thus, making an assumption about someone’s soft skills based on this information. This can lead to either wrongfully rejecting candidates who actually have the soft skills we’re looking for. Or on the contrary, advancing candidates who don’t have the soft skills we’re looking for.

During a job interview, this is often perpetrated by asking candidates about their personal life, hobbies, and other non-job-related questions. Just because we assume that someone with the same hobbies will also have the same soft skills as we have ourselves.

In-Group bias

The image shows in-group bias, the tendency that people have to favor their own group above that of others. The image shows people belonging to a group favor each other over the people that are outside of this group.

The in-group bias is the tendency that people have to favor their own group above that of others. In other words: once you feel like you fit in a certain group, you tend to favor the people in this group over the people outside this group. The basis for group formation can vary greatly; groups might be formed based on gender, age, living environment, job experience, etc.. The consequences of this bias can be expressed in the evaluation of in-group members vs. ‘outside people’, sharing similar opinions within the group and creating bias towards other groups.

When translating this into the situation on the labor market, you will experience that recruiters tend to review candidates who fit in more similar groups more positively than candidates with fewer common grounds. This results in the fact that your talent pool will become less diverse over time if there’s no rapid rotation within the HR-team.

Halo effect

Have you ever been in a situation when knowing one positive thing about something has been enough to convince you that everything else regarding the other aspects is also positive? This is called the Halo effect. It basically means that your first impression of a person’s qualities is based on other unrelated factor. For example, you see someone who is wearing business attire you might perceive them as more competent and skilled than someone who is wearing a t-shirt with a coffee stain on it. 

During a screening process, this can easily lead to wrongfully rejecting high-potential candidates. During an interview process, you might get so blinded by this one positive thing and end up making a mishire.

Horns effect

The image shows the Horns effect, which means that after knowing or perceiving one bad thing about a person, this person seems less positive overall.  The image shows a person perceived as having horn - negative qualities.

The Halo Effect and the Horns Effect are the exact opposites of each other. While the Halo effect makes us interpret one positive thing about someone as an indication of other aspects being positive, Horns effect is when after knowing or perceiving one bad thing about a person, this person seems less positive overall. For example, if you perceive someone as “scruffy”, which might not be associated with something positive. This can influence your perception of their overall performance and suitability for the job. 

Confirmation bias

First impressions, they are all that matters, right? Well, actually first impressions can be the most misleading. Especially in a hiring setting. Relying on gut feeling when making a hiring decision puts you at risk of missing out on great candidates just because of an impression that has been formed in 1/10th of a second. (Yes, that’s how quickly we tend to snap judgements about people we first meet).

Confirmation bias occurs when we form this initial judgement of a candidate and then we continuously focus on any information that will support our initial impression about this person. Let’s say you believe that people who graduate from a specific university will be very successful employees. If you are interviewing a candidate from that university you’ll most likely ignore the irrelevant things that they say (how they used to never go to class and hated education) and pay attention to the positive things because they will confirm your bias.

Social bias

The image shows social bias, which refers to being in favor or against individuals or groups based on their social identities. This image shows stereotyping based on gender.

Besides stereotyping based on age or gender, also race, cultural background, sexuality and religion also often form the basis for discrimination on the labor market. Unfortunately, there are still countless people in this world who categorize you purely based on the colour of your skin without even knowing another single piece of information about your background. This is Social bias. It’s a bias that the entire world suffers from and sadly, struggles to admit to it. Social biases are so deeply ingrained in society that unlearning them is a life long process. However, there are things that can be done to prevent social bias from creeping in during the hiring process. But more about that later, so continue reading!

Illusory correlation bias

Illusory correlation bias is the tendency to perceive a relationship where no such relationship actually exists, whether it be between people, behaviours or events. For example, interview questions such as, “If you could be an animal, what animal would you be?” are believed to provide an insight into a candidate’s personality. When in reality, there is no evidence that such questions actually can predict someone’s job performance. Or to give you a more tangible example – if a candidate wears a religious cross during their interview, the interviewer might wrongfully assume they will be too conservative for the company. And bam, this is how you can lose a perfectly fit candidate.

Anchoring bias

This image portrays anchoring bias, which occurs when we become too attached to one single piece of information about an individual and cannot let go of it.

Imagine you are hiring a replacement for Sarah, the current Sales Lead at your company. Based on Sarah’s skills, experience amongst other qualities, you create the perfect candidate profile. Now, why exactly is this so bad? Because you become anchored to the expectation that the next Sales Lead should (and will) be exactly the same as the current one. This is Anchoring bias. What’s important to realize is that you are looking for another individual to become a Sales Lead, not for a duplicate version of Sarah.

The same also can happen when you’re reviewing someone’s CV and you notice that they worked for Google for a year (which is not a bad thing of course). But then this becomes the piece of information you become rigidly attached to, it becomes an anchor to any other further expectations you will have of said candidate. The result? You decide to not look at any other potential candidates, because you’ve become anchored to this one piece of information.

Attribution bias

Attribution bias occurs when we evaluate or try to find reasons for others’ behaviours. At first glance, this might seem harmless, however jumping to false conclusions about a person without knowing their full story leads to incorrect judgement of that person. A judgement that is based on nothing else than assumptions. If you do something really well with the workplace, you will accredit this success to your skills and persistent effort. When humans make mistakes though, we always have a tendency to point fingers at others and blame a variety of external factors that led us to making this mistake.

The thing about attribution bias is that we do exactly the opposite when it comes to evaluating other people. In a hiring setting, this means that we can unknowingly perceive the successes and achievements of candidates as pure luck and see their mistakes as the ultimate signs of unsuitability for the job role.

Beauty bias

This image shows beauty bias, a type of bias that encourages you to prefer a candidate that is, based on norms created by society, considered attractive. This image shows discrimination influenced by bias towards someone who is considered overweight.

A beauty bias is a type of bias that encourages you to prefer a candidate that is, based on norms created by society, considered attractive. And let’s be honest – looks don’t make anyone a better employee. Although beauty is subjective, we are human and often we get blinded and begin associating someone’s appearance with their future job performance. 

Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and eventually hired. Common examples of discrimination include bias against someone who has a lot of tattoos, is obese, or simply just does not fit in with the society’s dominant aesthetic criteria. 

How to prevent hiring bias – 5 tips

Tip 1. Educate yourself and your team about hiring bias

To deal with any issues, it is first important to understand what these issues are and where they come from. The same goes for hiring bias. That’s why it’s important to first understand what are the dangers of hiring bias. And that means that not only hiring managers or recruiters should become aware of the potential dangers of bias, but also every single person that is involved in the hiring process as a whole. If everyone is aware of the 10 hiring bias I explained above and of the consequences they entail, then everyone can also be held accountable when bias does interfere with making hiring decisions.

Tip 2. Write inclusive job descriptions

Bias does not only creep in during the candidate screening process, bias can also occur even before you receive any applications. If you want to create an entirely bias-free hiring process from the very beginning of the funnel – take a look at your job descriptions. Do they include a lot of business jargon and long unrealistic requirements? Are there any gender coded words and phrases? One glance at a job description and it might end up that you lose a handful of candidates simply because they feel like they are not what you are looking for. Want to know how to write job descriptions that are bias-free and inclusive? We’ve made a 5 step guide to writing better job descriptions!

Tip 3. Collect valuable insights in an unbiased, data-driven way

There’s a fair chance that a candidate’s resume is your only or main source of truth when screening your candidates. Resume-based candidate screening, however has proven to be a broken selection method, simply because human behaviours aren’t capturable in just a piece of paper. In fact, job experience and education (which are the main contents of anyone’s resume) are both bad predictors of future job performance. 

Debiasing your hiring processes is all about objectifying your hiring decisions. Instead of focusing on someone’s past, focus on their cognitive skills, personality and learning ability. One way to do this is through a data-driven candidate evaluation process, such as gamification. Neuroscientific games allow you to objectively reveal skills and behaviours of your candidates, to ultimately hire people based on science rather than gut feeling. Check out this blog to find out how to get started with implementing a data-driven candidate evaluation process!

Tip 4. Implement Blind hiring

Let me first start by explaining what blind hiring means. Blind hiring is the function of blurring out personal details within the applicant profiles during the first stages of the application process. This way you can focus on what matters – the skills and potential of the candidates, rather than their level of education or their work experience. When characteristics like these are removed from the equation, you are more likely to select the candidates that are best fit for the job vacancy, not just candidates that you intuitively think will be the best fit.  After all, why would you care about what someone’s name or age is if they are the perfect fit for the job role and your company culture?

Tip 5. Standardize your interview process

Okay, you’ve managed to avoid being influenced by your unconscious bias during the initial candidate screening process, you’ve implemented blind hiring and now you’ve selected a few candidates that match your hiring needs. Is this where the dangers of bias end? Not really. In fact, most of our unconscious biases tend to creep in during the interview process as that is the moment when we create a first impression of the person in front of us. First impressions, same as many hiring decisions, are made within the first five to ten minutes,  and thus, are heavily influenced by bias. However, if conducted correctly – interviews can actually help you remove bias. This can be done in three simple steps:

  • By standardizing the interview process
  • Using a diverse interview panel
  • Preparing interview scorecards

By following these steps, you will be able to make first impressions about candidates that are objective and fair, evidently, leading to better hiring decisions. One thing I’d like to mention is that where conducting interviews in-person can already result in a lot of bias & subjective interpretations, this danger becomes even more evident when interviewing remotely. As remote hiring has become the new normal, it’s important to know how to effectively conduct interviews online. Here’s how

Benefits of reducing hiring bias

Hiring objectively, without any bias is just an equation. And if you know both the outcome of your equation, as well as your variables, all you need to do is search for the right value of these variables. Objective hiring isn’t something you will achieve overnight. However, there are multiple benefits of reducing hiring bias:

  • Less bias means a more diverse & large talent pool (more inclusivity).
  • You begin hiring on insights that matter, rather than based on your gut feeling. This not only leads to an increasing hiring quality but also reduces the mishire rate. 
  • Better talent retention (diversity within the team creates a working environment in which team members want to stay long-term).
  • Better overall employee (new hire) performance & productivity (neurodiversity leads to unique decision making-power and your team is more prone to come up with innovative solutions and ideas).

For even more practical ways to reduce bias in your hiring process, take a look at the Unbiased Hiring tips our team shares so you can begin to remove bias from your hiring process!

Are you curious to find out how we can help you ensure a bias free hiring process from the very start of the funnel?
Get in touch with us and we will be more than happy to tell you all about it!

Cheers, Anete