10 Unconscious Hiring Bias & How to Avoid Them

Anete Vesere

Content Marketer

When discussing biased recruitment, the focus is often on demographic-based biases such as age, gender, and race. However, there are many other types of biases that can negatively impact the candidate screening process. These biases lead to a smaller and less diverse talent pool. 

In the first part of this blog, we will explore the 10 most common types of hiring biases. 

In the second part, we will provide strategies for preventing bias in the hiring process and the benefits of a bias-free approach.

The dangers of unconscious bias in hiring

Let’s imagine a situation where you need to make a decision between two candidates for an Account Executive role:

 

Candidate A. This person is extroverted, friendly, with an amazing educational background and work experience. On top of that – they share the same interests and hobbies as you. 

Candidate B. This person is quite nice, yet introverted. They do not seem to share as many interests with you and also only have 1 year of experience in a relevant industry.

 

Maybe this is a bit of a simplistic example, but the point I’m trying to get across here is that your unconscious biases will affect your decision on whom to hire. No matter how objective you try to be.

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 – Candidate B may have turned out to be the AE you’re looking for, but you unconscious bias mistakenly assumed that extroversion is automatically linked with good performance in sales.

There are hundreds of unconscious biases out there, yet which are the ones that are most common in the hiring process?

 

10 types of unconscious hiring bias causing unfair screening

10 unconscious hiring bias and their definitions

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, share the same hobbies 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 such as our first impression of the person during the interview process.

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…

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.


In-Group bias

in group bias impact on hiring decisions

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. This bias is strongly impacted by Affinity/Similarity Bias and leads to Stereotyping Bias.

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

halo effect in hiring

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

horns effect impact on hiring decisions

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. 

An example of this bias in hiring could be a situation where a candidate has a great interview and excellent qualifications, but you recall one small negative comment or mistake made during the interview more strongly than all the positive aspects of the candidate. 

As a result, you may be more likely to disqualify the candidate for the job, even though they have many positive attributes.

Confirmation bias

confirmation bias impact on hiring

Confirmation bias is a tendency to focus on and look for evidence that supports our existing beliefs, rather than information that challenges them.

An example of this bias during the screening and candidate interviewing process could be a situation where you have a preconceived notion that a certain type of candidate (e.g. someone with a specific educational background or certain skillset) would be a better fit for the position. As a result you may focus on asking questions that confirm this belief, rather than asking a variety of questions that would help you to get a well-rounded understanding of the candidate’s qualifications. 

Additionally, you may pay more attention to information that confirms your preconceived notions and discount information that contradicts these assumptions. 

As a result, you may overlook a candidate who has the potential to be a great fit for the job, due to confirmation bias.

Social bias

social bias impact on hiring

Social bias in hiring refers to the ways in which societal stereotypes and prejudices affect the hiring process. One example of this bias is when a hiring manager unconsciously favors a candidate who belongs to the same social group or ethnicity as them, over other candidates who may be more qualified. 

For example, a hiring manager may favor a white candidate over a candidate from a minority group, even if the minority candidate has more qualifications and experience. This can happen because the hiring manager unconsciously associates positive qualities such as work ethic, intelligence, and reliability with members of their own social group, leading to a biased decision-making process.

Illusory correlation bias

illusory correlation bias impact on hiring

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. 

Anchoring bias

anchoring bias

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

unconscious bias 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

unconscious bias - beauty bias

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. 

4 tips on how to prevent unconscious bias in hiring

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 at least of the 10 unconscious hiring bias explained above and of the consequences they entail, then everyone can also be held accountable when bias does interfere with making hiring decisions.

Stop shaming and blaming, instead begin acting on it!

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 they full of 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. Standardize your interview process

Okay, you’ve managed to avoid being influenced by your unconscious bias during the initial candidate screening process, you’ve collected valuable insights in an unbiased, data-driven way 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 that first real 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 by bias. 

Yet, 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 also how to effectively structure a remote interview process.

Benefits of reducing unconscious hiring bias

Objective hiring isn’t something you will achieve overnight. However, there are multiple benefits of reducing hiring bias:

  1. Less bias means a more diverse & large talent pool (more inclusivity). P.S. Diversity in the workplace has been proven to bring a lot of benefits!
  2. 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. 
  3. Better talent retention (diversity within the team creates a working environment in which team members want to stay long-term).
  4. 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).
  5. Improved talent acquisition: By removing unconscious biases, organizations are able to identify and recruit top talent, regardless of their background or personal characteristics.
  6. Enhanced reputation: Organizations that are committed to removing unconscious biases from their hiring processes are viewed positively by customers, employees, and other stakeholders.

Ready? Set! Go!

Creating a fair and unbiased hiring process starts with you. By being aware of and addressing your own unconscious biases, you can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace. 

Don’t wait any longer, take the first step towards eliminating unconscious bias in your hiring process today.

Happy & unbiased hiring!

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Amsterdam • May 11th 2023 •

The summit on Unbiased hiring and DE&I in Recruitment.