Hiring Bias: How to See It and How To Overcome It

Image of men working at a communal desk

Diverse and inclusive workplaces are critical for success, but bias has a habit of creeping its way in. Let’s take a look at what bias is, how it can work its way into the hiring process, and what recruiters can do to help hiring teams overcome it.

What is Bias?

Bias is a prejudice in favor of or against a thing, person, or group in comparison with another. More often than not, biases are unfair and unsubstantiated. Bias is also significantly more prevalent than people often believe. While being biased is part of being human, we can make dedicated efforts to recognize, understand, and actively fight against those biases.

What Biases Affect Hiring Decisions?

The most common form of bias that recruiters will experience is implicit bias. Implicit bias is a bias that we don’t consciously note or actively create. But knowing some common types of biases can help us to spot them and stop them in their tracks.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency for people to favor information that supports their pre-existing beliefs or existing biases. It often leads to people focusing on a single trait of a person and using that trait as the foundation for their opinion. For example, if a hiring manager has a bias favoring ivy league educated candidates, it is possible that they will prefer the candidate with the ivy league education even when confronted with a candidate with better on-the-job experience.

Halo Effect

The halo effect is similar to confirmation bias. The halo effect is when we become completely engrossed with one positive trait about a person. We then let that trait dictate our entire understanding of them. Let’s say a candidate is really great at creating spreadsheets. We may then allow the halo effect to take over. We begin to assume that they must be super organized which would mean that they’re good at managing budgets and projects which means they’re good at managing people and so on. All of those beliefs were based on the simple fact that they are good at making spreadsheets.

Similarity Attraction or Affinity Bias

This is probably the bias that people are most likely to recognize. Similarity attraction bias is when we are more likely to hire or recruit people who are similar to us. Often, that similarity has nothing to do with performance capabilities. This can mean that we are more drawn to someone who went to the same school as us, joined the same organizations, or grew up in the same town.

Nonverbal Bias

Nonverbal biases rely on judging candidates almost exclusively based on nonverbal cues like handshakes, posture, eye contact, etc. While it can seem like no big deal to judge people on these nonverbal conversational cues, you could inadvertently be judging something that is out of their control. Remember that consistent eye contact doesn’t mean someone is a good candidate for a role, it just means they’re comfortable making eye contact.

Contrast Bias 

Contrast bias is the tendency to upgrade or downgrade an object or person when comparing it to another object or person. For example, if the first person who interviews absolutely knocks it out of the park you may compare the remaining candidates to that first candidate rather than comparing the remaining candidate objectively to the job’s needs as you should.

Those are just a few of the biases that can make their way into the hiring process. Ultimately, as a recruiter, it’s your role to stay aware about potential biases and that means keeping an objective gaze on every interaction.

How to Recognize Hiring Bias

Here’s a bit of a secret: Sometimes biases work in our favor. That’s why biases continue to be such a major part of the hiring process! If they were consistently proven wrong, they’d disappear. You need to constantly be on the lookout for hiring biases from yourself and the people you’re working with.

If the hiring manager is piling on requirement after requirement, it might be a good idea to begin to ask, “Why?”

Why does a candidate need a four-year college degree?
Why does an entry-level job need a candidate with 3 years of experience?

By simply asking why and turning the objectivity mirror onto requirements can help to recognize when those needs are unfounded. If a requirement is unfounded that could mean there is some sort of bias at the root of it. By discovering if there is no reason for a requirement, you can use your Talent Advisor skills to adjust expectations.

Keep your ears out for particular feedback after interviews. Things like “Oh, we went to the same school!” or “They remind me of an old coworker who was just the worst!” may be innocuous comments or they could be a sign of potential bias.

Ultimately, recognizing bias relies on being educated yourself and bringing objectivity to your conversations with hiring managers. It’s not easy, but it’s a worthwhile endeavor to support diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

How to Overcome Bias

Understand Where You Are and What Led You There

Every change has to start by understanding where you’re starting from. While diversity recruiting is a major priority for lots of companies in 2021, many haven’t taken the necessary steps to be successful. In fact, our survey found that less than 4% of organizations have thorough and detailed diversity recruiting metrics that are actively tracked.

Bias likely plays a major role in why companies don’t get started on the right foot. By tackling your previous mistakes you can be better equipped to face new challenges.

Image of The Current State of Diversity Recruiting download prompt; text reads "See how your diversity recruiting efforts match up against the average in our report! Download now"
Standardize the Interview and Feedback Process

While it may not be possible to entirely remove bias from a judgment process like hiring, being as objective as possible is critical. Ask the same questions of each candidate, ensure that each person involved in the hiring process is aware of the true requirements for the position, and create objective and unified goals for the position and the hiring process.

Be Vocal When You See a Problem

It can be hard to stand up and say something when you see a red flag, but if you want to create more diverse workplaces that’s exactly what should be done. Remember to use the all-important question: “Why?”

Let’s say that a hiring manager you’re working with says they only want to hire people who went to an ivy league school. That sets off alarm bells in your head so you ask, “Why?” The hiring manager tells you that the last person they liked who worked in the position went to Yale. Therefore, they want you to find someone else who went to Yale and would have the same skills. It’s time for you to jump in and ask some deeper questions. In all likelihood, it wasn’t the ivy league education that made that person a great employee. It was their curiosity, dedication to their professional development, and drive. By asking the right questions of your hiring manager, you can get down to the real needs of a candidate.

Try the “Flip It To Test It” Approach

In 2016, Kristen Pressner presented a TEDTalk. She explored her own unconscious biases against women in leadership roles despite the fact that she is a woman in a leadership role.

You can watch the full video here:

She introduces a “Flip It To Test It” approach. This diagnostic suggests that you “Mentally flip whomever or whatever you’re talking about to test yourself. If the “flipped” result feels weird, you may have uncovered a bias.

If a female candidate is being interviewed and the hiring manager’s feedback is that she’s “too aggressive about her professional goals,” flip that feedback and consider if the same would be said if the candidate was male.

Recognizing and overcoming bias is a lifelong journey filled with tough steps, education, and acknowledging and correcting mistakes. Ultimately, it’s a journey worth taking that will lead to more diverse, inclusive, and successful teams.

Don't stop now. Keep reading!

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap