Hiring bias can be either conscious or unconscious, but either way, it’s bad for business. Bias leads to recruiters passing over high-potential candidates for lesser hires simply because of their own partiality.
What is Hiring Bias?
Let’s start with the basics. Interviewer bias is when different, unfair standards are applied when evaluating people to hire or promote within a company or organization. Sometimes interviewers actively voice a preference for certain types of individuals over others, but more often bias creeps into the recruitment process unexpectedly and subconsciously.
Unfortunately, bias is quite common when hiring new employees. Prejudices sneak into the minds of those conducting job interviews, negatively influencing decision making and clouding judgement.
What Types of Hiring Bias Exist?
Gender bias is a preference or prejudice toward one gender over another. Examples of gender stereotyping in recruitment include hiring men instead of women for positions involving math and science because the interviewer believes men will be better at it, or hiring women for more nurturing roles like nursing and teaching when men are well-suited for these professions, too.
Race and Ethnicity Biases
Despite efforts to reduce racism in our society, it unfortunately still exists. Some interviewers still judge people by the color of their skin or cultural factors such as nationality, ancestry and language. This isn’t only frowned upon; it’s illegal.
In the same line of thinking as race and ethnicity biases, judging candidates by their name alone also happens. The fact is Muhammad and Noor don’t get the same number of callbacks in North America than Sarah and Chris.
Age (or generational) bias in the hiring process involves making unfair assumptions about someone based on their actual or assumed age. This bias is especially common in the technology industry where interviewers tend to believe that older people can’t possibly be as tech-savvy as younger people.
Religious discrimination involves treating applicants unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. Religion should never factor into hiring decisions. Make an effort to separate church and cubicle.
Sexual Orientation Bias
It doesn’t matter if you’re straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer, asexual or identify with another sexual orientation; that has no bearing on how well you can perform the job at hand. And yet still, sometimes interviewers judge people on an actual or assumed sexual orientation.
Interviewers often gravitate toward hiring people they have something in common with. Perhaps they lived in the same city, went to the same school, or know the same people. Part of this is human nature; people want to belong, so they tend to hire candidates who are like them. This limits diversity in the workplace. But commonality bias creates a “personality silo” where skills become secondary to personality fit, limiting diversity in the workplace.
Beauty (or handsome) bias comes into play when interviewers subconsciously believe how a person looks affects how they will perform in the job. Conventionally attractive people tend to get hired and promoted more easily than unattractive people, despite not necessarily being the best candidates for the position.
The halo effect comes into play when an interviewer becomes biased by certain positive things about a candidate that have no bearing on their ability to do a job well. Because of this, the interviewer will disregard red flags and focus too much on a particular aspect of an applicant, such as where they went to university or an old award they received once upon a time.
The horn effect is the opposite of the halo effect. It comes into play when interviewers cannot move past something negative (but unrelated to the job) about an applicant. Maybe the candidate has visible tattoos or piercings, or perhaps they have the same name as an ex romantic partner, leading to the wrongful decision not to hire them.
Automation bias is a phenomenon that occurs when people give undue weight to technologically-created information. When predictions, numerical scores, or rankings are presented as precise and objective (such is the case with artificial intelligence) recruiters may give them more weight than they truly warrant.
The Dangers of Recruitment Bias
Hiring managers and recruiters frequently (and mistakenly) rely on their intuition to make hiring and promotion decisions. The trouble is intuition often equates to unconscious bias.
Recruiters and hiring teams need to remove ego entirely from the recruitment and interviewing processes. Oftentimes, the recruiter or hiring manager is overconfident in their ability to pick a good candidate, so confirmation bias creeps in. They try to elicit answers that support their assumptions about candidates, jeopardizing the chances of finding the right person for the job.
Why Is Bias Bad for Business?
When left unchecked, hiring biases shape and limit not only the workforce, but also the entire company culture. When bias enters into hiring decisions, it can cost you time, money—and your company’s reputation.
Potential Legal Consequences
Perhaps the most obvious—and the potentially the most damaging to your company—are the legal consequences of biased hiring practices. Biased interviews leave your business wide open to an expensive lawsuit.
Negative Brand Reputation
Biased hiring decisions can damage your brand’s reputation. If your company hires someone who is unfit for the position because of interviewer bias, the general public may see the brand in an undesirable light. The wrong hire may be rude or indifferent to customers, who then tell their friends, creating a negative feedback loop.
Discourages Top Talent from Applying
If your company has developed a reputation of biased hiring, this can discourage top talent from applying for future positions. Good employees are tough to come by and your company is doing nothing to help promote itself and attract well-qualified people if it doesn’t make proactive efforts to minimize bias.
Bias often leads to hiring the wrong people, increasing turnover rates. Whether the employee chooses to leave on their own or HR needs to fire them, losing staff wastes valuable time and money that would be better spent growing the right employees.
Above all, hiring the wrong person for a job can negatively impact sales, reducing the company’s bottom line. If profit is part of the reason your company is in business, then you need to take a serious look at bias in your recruitment process.
Overcoming Hiring Bias
Hiring managers and recruiters need to evaluate candidates’ ability to do a job well—rather than rely on subjective assumptions.
Let’s dive into some best practices to reduce bias in your recruitment process.
#1. Offer Awareness Training
Since biases are often unconscious, make it a priority to introduce common hiring biases to all those involved in the interviewing process. Awareness training for recruiters and hiring managers brings biases to the surface, allowing people to more easily identify subjective thinking when it pops up during interviews. Once hiring managers and recruiters are aware of their personal biases, they are better prepared to challenge them.
#2. Ask Candidates to Perform Skills Tests
Another way to reduce bias in the recruitment process is to ask applicants to complete a skills test. This step is often done even before interviewing because it helps set an objective standard in the early stages of hiring. Skills tests relate directly to the type of tasks involved in the day-to-day job, allowing the candidate to prove that they have what it takes to succeed in the position. It also helps employers critique the quality of candidates’ responses rather than judging them by factors that do not relate to their ability to do the job well.
#3. Involve Multiple People in the Hiring Process
Have several people from the organization review candidates’ applications, and even sit in during interviews. Getting multiple opinions mitigates the possibility of similarity hiring biases by relying on interviewers with different interests and backgrounds, some of whom will have more in common with the candidate than others. Set up hiring workflows that automatically notify team members when it’s their turn to interview a candidate or submit an assessment.
#4. Create Standardized Questions
Before interviewing job applicants, take time to specify exactly what questions you want to ask. What are you hoping to find out about the aptitude of interviewees? Standardized questions should be asked to all applicants. Not only should every candidate be asked the exact same questions, they should be asked in the same way and in the same order every time. This ensures all candidates receive the same interview experience, minimizing bias.
#5. Establish a Reliable Scoring Baseline
To maximize the chances of candidates being evaluated fairly and consistently, clearly define metrics that will be used to assess people’s suitability for different job positions. By making sure everyone is using the same scoring baseline, it helps reduce bias and favoritism. Static competency-based hiring criteria, which is the basis of structured interviews, is an important part of making an apples-to-apples comparison between potential hires.
Structured Digital Interviews
Structured digital interviews are far more reliable than their unstructured counterparts. When administered correctly, they have a predictive validity of 62 percent, which is twice as high as the predictive validity of bias-riddled, instinct-based interviews.
Progressive technology is paving the way to smarter, more objective, legally-defensible hiring decisions. When structured interviews are digitized and incorporated in video interviewing software, this helps organizations’ adopt this hiring best practice to mitigate personal biases and double your odds of hiring the right person for the job.