How To Reduce Bias In Your Hiring Decisions
Jan 20, 2022
14 min read

Every recruiter wants to believe that they are making objective and fair hiring decisions for their team but in reality, we are more biased than we think. Our unconscious and conscious bias starts right at the beginning of our screening process and plays a huge role in how we interview various candidates. It influences not only our final hiring decision but also whether our top candidates choose us in the end. To be able to bring more diversity and inclusivity into our organization, we need to learn how to reduce bias in our hiring process.

It’s not just more ethical but also good for the business. Teams that have greater ethnic and gender diversity have been repeatedly shown better performance. Beyond just visible diversity, unbiased hiring brings more perspective into the room and can uncover hidden talent with untapped potential in their field.

In this article, we’ll cover what types of biases you need to look out for, the unfair hiring practices you need to stay away from, and how to overcome them all with unbiased hiring strategies and the right technology.

Types Of Hiring Biases

There are several aspects of a candidate’s profile that can cloud the judgment of hiring managers, for example:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Political views
  • Disability
  • Family status
  • Appearance and charisma
  • Personal sympathy
  • A certain type of education or experience

During the first screening round, we may already form an opinion about the applicant based on their resume picture, name, date of birth, or hometown without even realizing it. These are perceptions that influence how we continue the interview process and how soon we eliminate candidates before we even understand their professional achievements.

Hobbies, personal interests, and volunteering work may also hint at religious views or political ideology that recruiters may or may not personally resonate with. While the core values of a person should be assessed for culture fit, these stereotypical attributes rarely give a reason to jump to conclusions.

Beyond personal data, previous experience and education can also become a basis of bias. The age-old cliché that certain workplaces and educational institutions will “look good on your resume” is perpetuated by recruiters who are quick to judge experience based on a prestigious name alone. This is not to say that these qualifications aren’t valuable but making them the end of the hiring process fails to consider candidates with non-traditional training and experience.

Four Unfair Hiring Practices To Avoid

Lack Of Peer Review

Small companies often leave hiring decisions up to a single recruiter or let the CEO have the final word. This practice is bound to create biased decisions even while following a set of criteria. Usually, this is because it confuses culture fit screening with choosing the people that the team or the CEO has great chemistry with.

Assessing personality types is an important part of a selection process but it should be done based on psychographic data, not personal sympathy. The person you’d like to hang out with after work is not necessarily the one who has the right skills to get the job done. In the long run, this strategy can also tip the overall balance of the company’s talent profile. For example, you might notice that your team is filled with great ideators and strategic thinkers but no detail-driven executors.

Tokenism

Tokenism in recruitment is the act of hiring talent from a certain minority in order to create the perception of diversity in the company. The difference between tokenism and inclusive hiring is that in this case, hiring managers give preference to representatives of a certain group (normally a race or gender underrepresented in the company) without fair evaluation of qualifications.

Teams that have higher ethnic and gender diversity have better performance because of the variety of perspectives present. Exchange programs and hiring practices that provide equal opportunity can help create that diversity.

However, giving preference to visible differences over competence is just as unfair and inefficient as excluding certain profiles. If your team looks too homogeneous, you need to dig deeper to find the reason why you’re not attracting or considering applicants different from your current team profile.

Nepotism

Some organizations and firms still exclusively hire from a certain higher educational institution or network which excludes applicants from other socioeconomic and educational backgrounds. Partner programs with universities and student organizations are a great way to bring in more junior talent but not if it becomes exclusive criteria.

Another similar practice that some companies apply is to open up referral programs for employees and get recommendations for open job roles. Again, this can be a great way to widen your talent pool and add another layer of prescreening to your selection process — so long as you give equal chances to cold leads as you do to referred contacts.

Falling For Buzzwords

Many conventional screening processes don’t go deeper than looking at the years of experience, previous employers, or highlighted skills of the individual and fail to gain an accurate picture of their real potential. There are even hiring tools that screen resumes for certain keywords found in the job description or defined by the recruiter.

The main problem with this practice is that it makes you focus on what you want to hear and form a decision too early. Once you get sidetracked by a certain bias, you’re more likely to be justifying your sympathy for the person in the later stages of the interview process instead of evaluating them.

How To Know If Your Hiring Decisions Are Biased

Here are 5 quick questions to ask yourself (or your hiring managers) that will help you assess your current hiring process and what may influence it.

  • Do I typically hire the same kind of people who are like me?
  • What do I really mean when I say the candidate is not the right fit?
  • Where do I source the talent I consider for the job?
  • Do I create an inclusive environment where all candidates feel comfortable accepting an offer?
  • What socioeconomic, professional, and personality profiles am I missing from my team?

How To Reduce Bias In Your Hiring

Take the test

All of us have biases, whether we are aware of them or not. The first step to making our hiring decisions more just and better for the business is to look into ourselves and ask our recruiters to do the same.

Harvard University has developed a series of tests under Project Implicit that help individuals uncover their unconscious biases that may apply in everyday life and in the context of a workplace. You can test yourself on bias around gender, color, sexual orientation, disability, body shape, and more.

It’s important to create a safe environment for your team to assess themselves without any judgment on the results. Sharing what they’ve learned from the assessment should be optional or expressed in a well-facilitated space without consequences. A qualified organizational coach can then help educate your team and guide them towards change in the way they perceive coworkers, candidates, and even themselves on these spectrums.

Once you’ve developed awareness of what bias might affect your thought process in hiring, here are some practical strategies you can apply to overcome it in each stage of your hiring process.

Minimize Recruitment Bias In Research

Bias in recruitment starts as early as in the research phase where we decide what talent pool we source from. As always, change begins with taking an honest look at the current situation.

What kind of personality profile, experience, and perspective are you missing from your team? What ethnicity, gender, or age is predominant in your company and how does it affect your work culture and strategic decision making? Answering these questions can shine some light on the profiles you need to open doors to in the future. By consciously filling the gaps in our talent research, we can encourage more diversity in the talent we consider. 

For example, if your team is predominantly male, you can set up a recruitment campaign with female-only career days. You can also look out for gendered words in your job descriptions and see if you can make them more gender-neutral. Make your progress measurable and see how much these initiatives actually improve your diversity of applications in a given timeframe.

Eliminate Bias In CV Screening & Candidate Selection

Blind resume screening is another solution companies apply in order to rule out preferences towards certain socioeconomic groups or people they simply sympathize with. Screening resumes without revealing the candidate’s location, name, date of birth, or picture can help focus on their capabilities and relevant work experience rather than their personal information. Keep in mind that blind screening doesn’t rule out all biases and they might still come up in later stages of the interview process or after the person is being employed.

Remove Bias From Interviews

An interview process is a high-stress situation for most people but while it can be energizing for an extrovert, it can make an introvert completely freeze. If presentation skills are not relevant to the job description (for example, for developers or analysts), you can help these candidates bring out their best selves by offering a voice call instead of a video call or in-person interview.

You can also improve the quality of your hiring decisions by evaluating fixed and mutable characteristics separately. Instead of only assessing past experience, look at the areas where your candidates most want to grow in the future. Instead of judging what they can bring to the table based solely on the opportunities they had previously in life, ask them how they would solve a concrete problem present in your company. Standardize interview questions for all applicants in order to reinforce equal opportunities.

Reduce Bias In Job Offers

No matter how many people are involved in the hiring decisions of your company, you need to keep yourself and your recruiters accountable. Way too often we hear arguments on hiring or rejecting a candidate that begins with “I can’t put my finger on it but…” or “I have a feeling that…” These are not data-driven decisions and therefore shouldn’t decide about future employee contracts.

Intuition and picking up non-verbal cues are useful skills for recruiters to know where to look for red flags or areas in a work profile that need to be further examined. However, these impressions always need to be justified with proper evaluation. You can only do this if you have a unified competency model and hiring workflow for assessing culture fit, team fit, and job fit that’s consistently used for each candidate. Make sure you always request a detailed evaluation from your team before you make the final call.

On the other hand, if your job offers are often rejected, it might be a culture issue. Do you find that profiles of minorities say no to your offer more often than those more similar to your current team profile? If the answer is yes, you might need to work on making your work environment more inclusive.

Look out for anonymous reviews on sites like Glassdoor and take the feedback seriously. You can also run your own survey within the company or ask for suggestions from underrepresented talent on how you could make them more comfortable in their work environment.

Eliminate Bias With Technology

In a conventional selection process, even minor influencing factors such as the time of day or the order of candidates affect our decision. We can’t be completely unbiased but with the right technology, we can get pretty close.

We’re blending psychometrics, big data, and machine learning to create the first fully-integrated unbiased recruitment system for hiring managers. By looking at the complete personality profiles of candidates, you can get accurate data on whether they are a fit for your company culture, team, and job description. Sign up now for early access.

Share this post: