Unconscious bias in recruitment leads to worse outcomes for both employers and candidates. Candidates get shut out of jobs they’re best qualified for. And employers have a recruitment process that fails to predict which candidate will be most successful in the role. 

People can make biased hires because the successful candidate happened to go to a “good” school. Or bias can also be because the recruiter thought they would be “a good fit” for “the culture,” whatever that means.

Several types of unconscious bias can affect who gets hired in the role, regardless of their actual merit. Racial bias, gender bias, and affinity bias all play subtle roles in the hiring process. This is especially true if a hiring manager hasn’t reflected on their own biases.

Fortunately, if we acknowledge this, there are ways to avoid it. This makes the hiring process fairer for candidates. And it also makes the hiring process more fruitful for employers. Let’s look at those biases in detail. We’ll also look at some ways employers can avoid them while making hiring decisions.

Handshake (Unconscious bias blog)

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How unconscious bias negatively affects recruitment

If you’re not thinking about how unconscious bias could creep into your hiring process, you’re going to miss out on potentially great candidates. Instead, the people you hire will have got into the company based on factors such as how much the interviewer personally got on with them. And this doesn’t actually reflect on how well they’ll perform in the role.

That means your recruitment process isn’t predictive of how successful candidates will be. If that’s the case, you’re going to see higher employee turnover. And that’s because very soon you’ll find out that these mis-hires aren’t really the best people for the job. If employee turnover is high, you’ll see lower skill retention in the company, lower employee engagement, and lower team satisfaction.

Along with the DEI concerns—which might affect access to capital from investors—this is one reason why employers are trying to get rid of unconscious bias in their recruitment process. 

Common types of unconscious bias

Unconscious Bias #1: Racial bias influencing hiring preferences

Racial bias affects hiring decisions. Even if nobody in the hiring team would think it. Studies have shown that resumes with non-white-sounding names are less likely to win an invitation to the interview stage than the same resume with a white-sounding name attached.

Three women wearing suits and sitting around a table (Unconscious bias blog)

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Unconscious Bias #2: Gender bias in opportunities and pay gaps

Gender biases can creep in at any stage of the hiring process, from the screening call to the salary negotiation. Globally, women make as little as 80% of the salary a man could make in the same role.

Unconscious Bias #3: Confirmation bias distorts information interpretation

Confirmation bias is when we make a snap judgment about a situation with very little information. Then, we consciously or unconsciously try to interpret all further information as confirming our original judgment. We’re not changing our minds to fit the facts.

If the recruiter instantly takes a liking to a candidate, having just talked to a bad one, they might try to interpret everything that happens next in the best possible light. Any piece of information, such as the candidate’s previous workplaces or what university they went to, could have the recruiter instantly file them in the “good candidate” folder.

None of this is predictive of candidate success. But similarly to many biases, it’s an attempted shortcut to making the right decision.

Unconscious Bias #4: Affinity bias on candidates from similar backgrounds

Many of the biases discussed here are forms of affinity bias. It’s natural for people to gravitate towards people who are somehow similar to them. But if these affinity biases play a significant role in recruiting, you’ll end up with a homogenous workforce.

Every workplace has a culture. And it’s fine for recruiters to be looking for a certain kind of person. One who’s going to fit in with the culture that makes the company successful.

“Culture fit” might mean looking for someone who’s high-energy and fun to be around. Or it could be an original thinker who’s capable of explaining their position in great detail.

It’s OK to look for certain qualities in a candidate. But when looking at hundreds of applications, it’s easy to start using superficial details around how similar they are to employees as a proxy for those qualities.

Preference to recommendations from leaders

Over-reliance on leadership for recommendations about where to advertise, who to interview, and who to hire can perpetuate organizational bias. Organizational bias is where certain biases within the company favor some members over others, regardless of their actual merit or value to the organization.

Organizational bias can occur even in something as small as shift distribution. For example, let’s say the shift manager has an “inner circle” of employees they’re more friendly with than others. They might get in the habit of asking them about extra shifts before anyone else. Without thinking about it, they’re giving those employees an unfair advantage. And others are losing out on extra income. 

Some of this can be avoided by using software like self-serve shift management software and automated task allocation. These tools help to remove these biases and can even open up new shift possibilities. But, be sure to balance this out with a bit of human input and good communication to make sure that people’s wants and opinions are catered to. 

How to avoid unconscious bias in recruitment

So, how can you avoid these kinds of biases in your own recruiting process?

Three women having a discussion around a table (Unconscious bias blog)

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Build an interview panel from various backgrounds

A diverse hiring team is one quick way to protect against unconscious bias. This doesn’t involve an investment in software or any changes to your existing process.

Build a diverse hiring team by considering factors like gender, background, education, and experience. This helps avoid ‘groupthink’ and ensures a range of perspectives. Thus, it prevents the team from overlooking qualified candidates.

If you have different people involved in the interview process, they’re not all going to have exactly the same biases. Even without specific processes or training, the decision this team makes will average out to a fairer outcome than a hiring team made entirely of, for example, white male managers.

Remove personal details from resumes

Removing personal details from the resume screening process prevents racial, gender, or affinity bias from affecting selection for interviews. It’s impossible to tell a candidate’s race or gender if there’s no identifying information on the resume. If there’s an address on the resume, that can be removed so it doesn’t give away clues to the candidate’s economic background.

Anonymizing hundreds of resumes by hand would be a lot of work. But it’s such a common tactic by now that it’s a must-have for any halfway decent applicant tracking system (ATS). This means resumes are only being rated on how relevant their experience is to the job.

Standardize and only ask job-related questions

In the traditional job interview process, the hiring team has questions written down, but there’s room to go “off-script” and explore tangents. This feels friendly and satisfies our curiosity at the moment. But it means we can rate candidates based on our memory of those good conversations rather than job-related questions.

A structured interview process means every candidate is asked the same questions in the same order. Putting every candidate through exactly the same interview makes recruitment a more scientific process. The only variable that changes between interviews is the candidate.

Making recruitment more accurate means that interviews stay focused on the job. This way, interviews don’t become casual chats just because the candidate and one interviewer went to the same school. This helps prevent bias based on personal connections from influencing the interview outcome.

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Craft inclusive job descriptions to attract diversity

You want your job ads to attract a wide range of applicants to choose from. But the way your job descriptions are written could affect who decides to apply.

It might be easy for us to pick which job description has masculine- or feminine-coded language, but there are other factors to consider. This is why Ongig and similar tools exist to point out these factors as you write your job description. A job ad that doesn’t make any qualified candidate feel excluded is the first step to an unbiased hiring process.

Support and allocate budget for implicit bias training

The recruitment process is just the start of making your company a more welcoming culture for all new hires. Regular DEI training can reduce turnover because candidates feel like a valued part of the team regardless of their background.

You can also set it as a task in your onboarding software. This will make sure everyone receives the same DEI training and message from the beginning and continue to foster a positive working environment. 

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Create a structured, step-by-step hiring system

Procedural changes such as blind resume screening and structured interviews are early steps towards creating a more structured hiring system. For example, you can reduce bias by having the hiring team rank candidates on scorecards as soon as an interview has finished. By keeping rankings secret, you avoid interviewers just going along with the most senior people in the room.

Establish diversity metrics and monitor them regularly

If your goal is specifically to increase the diversity of the team, you need to set diversity goals. By anonymously collecting information on applicants’ race, gender, or socioeconomic status, you can assess who’s reaching various stages of the hiring pipeline. If you find that a certain demographic almost never makes it past the screening call, this shows there’s something you need to fix.

Why I Wrote This:

There are several ways bias can affect the recruitment pipeline. But by understanding these biases and setting up new procedures to address them, you can create a much fairer and more accurate process. If you want to learn more about how Ongig’s Text Analyzer software can help, request a demo.

by in Diversity and Inclusion