10 Unconscious Hiring Bias & How to Avoid Them

Anete Vesere (1)

Anete Vesere

Content Marketer

Are you aware that certain biases are influencing your hiring decisions? Unconscious bias can result in unfair screening, less diversity, and negatively affect the hiring process. 

In this blog, we’ll explore 10 types of unconscious hiring bias that may impact your recruitment process, including affinity/similarity bias, in-group bias, halo effect, horns effect, confirmation bias, social bias, and illusory correlation bias. We’ll also provide practical tips on how to avoid unconscious bias and create a more inclusive and diverse recruitment process. 

Let’s get started!

10 types of unconscious hiring bias causing unfair screening

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.

 

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. Thus, 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 as a result of unconscious bias, you 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 unconscious hiring bias and their definitions

Affinity/similarity bias

From a culture fit perspective, we unconsciously tend to hire ‘like-minded people’. People who have the soft skills that represent our core values. 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. 

This is exactly when affinity/similarity bias happens – we prefer candidates who share certain characteristics with us, such as hobbies or universities attended, making it particularly challenging from a cultural perspective. 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 mistakenly assume that someone with the same hobbies will also have the same soft skills as we have ourselves which may lead to overlooking candidates who possess the required skills but don’t share the same interests.

In-Group bias

Three people hugging closely, representing an example of in-group bias. In-group bias refers to the tendency of individuals to favor and show more positive attitudes towards members of their own group over those of other groups.

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 often leads to stereotyping bias.

In recruitment, recruiters tend to evaluate candidates who fit into similar groups more positively than candidates with fewer shared characteristics, leading to less diversity within the talent pool unless HR teams rotate frequently.

Halo effect

If you have ever been in a situation where knowing one positive thing about something has been enough to convince you that everything else regarding the other aspects is also positive, then you’ve firsthand experienced the halo effect.

Here are just a few examples of the halo effect can express itself in a hiring setting:

  • The candidate has worked for a well-known company in the industry, i.e. McKinsey, leading the recruiter to believe that they must have gained valuable skills and experience simply by association.
  • The candidate went to a prestigious university and the recruiter assumes that they are highly intelligent and capable, despite their lack of relevant experience.
  • The candidate has a friendly demeanor and makes small talk easily, causing the recruiter to assume that they are a good team player and have excellent communication skills, without actually assessing those skills directly.

Horns effect

A headshot of a person with devil horns on their head. The horns effect is when a person's negative impression of someone influences their perception of that person's individual traits, regardless of whether or not those traits are actually present.

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, the horns effect is when after knowing or perceiving one bad thing about a person, this person seems less positive overall. 

Here are just a few examples of the horns effect can express itself in a hiring setting:

  • If a recruiter sees that a candidate grew up in a neighbourhood with high crime rates or has a criminal record, they might assume that the candidate is inherently dishonest or untrustworthy. 
  • The candidate has a gap in their employment history, causing the recruiter to assume that they must be lazy or unreliable, without considering other potential explanations for the gap.
  • The candidate has a regional accent that is unfamiliar to the recruiter, leading them to assume that the candidate may not have strong language or communication skills.
  • The candidate has a tattoo or unconventional hairstyle that doesn’t conform to traditional professional norms, causing the recruiter to assume that they may not be a good fit for the company culture or may not take the job seriously.

Confirmation bias

A zoomed-in frame. This image represents confirmation bias, which is the tendency to seek out information that confirms one's existing beliefs, rather than considering all evidence objectively.

This bias is the tendency to focus on and look for evidence that supports our existing beliefs, rather than information that challenges them. It can influence the recruitment process by causing interviewers to focus only on asking questions that confirm preconceived notions about a candidate, potentially overlooking candidates with diverse skillsets and backgrounds.

For example:

  • A recruiter may actively seek out information that confirms their preconceptions about a candidate, while ignoring evidence that contradicts their beliefs. This can include conducting online research that confirms their initial impression of a candidate’s qualifications or suitability for the job.
  • During an interview, a recruiter may ask leading questions that confirm their preconceived notions about a candidate’s suitability for the role. For example, if the recruiter believes that the candidate is a good fit for the job, they may ask questions that elicit responses that confirm this belief.

Social bias

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 favour 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

This bias occurs when people perceive a relationship between two variables that do not actually have any meaningful association. This can be especially harmful in situations where certain groups are consistently paired with negative outcomes, leading to the false belief that those groups are inherently problematic or inferior. 

Illusory correlation bias in a hiring setting during an interview could occur when an interviewer makes a connection between two factors that may not actually be related. Here are a few examples:

  1. “Our top-performing employees are morning people. I think we should focus on hiring more morning people since they seem to be more productive and reliable.”
  2. “Based on our past experiences, candidates who have a lot of experience in a certain industry tend to perform better in our company. Let’s prioritize candidates with industry-specific experience in our hiring process.”
  3. “Our best developers have a degree in computer science. I think we should only consider candidates with a computer science degree for our developer positions.”

 

In all of these examples, the interviewer is making assumptions based on factors that may not actually be relevant to the job. It’s important for interviewers to be aware of this bias and to focus on asking questions that directly relate to the skills and experience necessary for the position.

Anchoring bias

Anchoring bias occurs when people rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making a decision or forming an opinion. Once this “anchor” is established, it can be difficult to move away from it, even if new information contradicts it.

For example, stating “They were referred by someone I trust, so I’m inclined to hire them even though they’re not the most qualified candidate” exhibits anchoring bias because the manager is using a reference point (the person who made the referral) to anchor their decision-making, rather than focusing on the candidate’s qualifications and abilities alone. 

The manager in this situation is basing their decision on the reference point of the person they trust, which can influence their perception of the candidate and lead them to overvalue their qualifications, skills, and fit for the job. This bias can result in the manager hiring a less-qualified candidate over a more qualified one, simply because of the reference point of the person who made the referral.

Attribution bias

Attribution bias occurs when we evaluate or try to find reasons for others’ behaviours. Reasons that are not always the most accurate.

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.

For example, if a candidate seems nervous or hesitant during an interview, the interviewer may assume that they lack confidence or have a timid personality. Another example of attribution bias in a hiring setting is when a candidate provides a response that the interviewer interprets as being defensive or aggressive. The interviewer may attribute this behavior to the candidate’s personality, and assume that they are difficult to work with or have a confrontational attitude.

Beauty bias

An image of a flower, such as a rose or a lily. This image represents the beauty bias, which is the tendency to perceive attractive people as more competent, intelligent, and socially skilled, and to favor them over less attractive individuals in various domains such as hiring, promotions, and social interactions.

Beauty bias occurs when people form opinions or make judgments based on a person’s physical appearance, rather than their actual abilities or qualities. 

For example, a recruiter may choose a candidate for a customer service position because they have an attractive appearance and a friendly smile, even if they lack the necessary skills or experience for the job. On the other hand, a less attractive candidate who is better qualified for the job may be overlooked simply because of their physical appearance. This type of bias is unfair and can lead to discrimination against qualified candidates who do not fit the conventional beauty standards.

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

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 by using objective candidate assessment tools, such as game- based assessments.

 

The true success of hiring depends on how many objective measurements you have & how you use these measurements when making hiring decisions.

Get our guide to learn how combining data & science can help battle unconscious bias

Tip 4: Structure the interview process

The interview process can be a source of unconscious bias. However, structuring the interview process, using a diverse interview panel, and preparing interview scorecards can help eliminate bias and lead to fair hiring decisions. This is particularly important in remote interviews, which require additional considerations for effective structure.

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.

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