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The Hiring Process: What Bias Looks Like

By day, I am a recruiter and I enjoy what I do. I get much satisfaction when I can offer a candidate gainful employment and their dream career. In this profession, there can be challenges such as not having enough qualified candidates, lack of diversity in the candidate pool, candidates and/or hiring managers missing interviews, or after you have gone through the entire interview process and made an offer, then you find that the candidate has accepted a competing offer. Now it’s back to the drawing board. Unconscious bias is also a challenge.

In recruitment, you hear about increasing diversity, creating an inclusive environment, and avoiding unconscious bias. Let’s focus on bias because, at times, it’s hard to prevent because it’s unconscious. Unconscious bias can and does occur during the hiring process. It happens when you form an opinion about candidates based solely on your first impressions or personal opinions with no regard for the candidate's skills or ability. Recruiters and/or hiring managers may make hiring decisions based on subconscious emotion, perception, and stereotypes.

Did you know there are up to 18 common types of bias in the hiring process? Let’s dig a little deeper on 13 of them.

  1. Affinity bias: Also known as similarity bias, is finding a liking to someone because they may have a similar background as yourself. We all love someone who can be our “mini-me” and we tend to gravitate towards what and who is comfortable for us. However, hiring someone just because their background is similar to ours, or they may have been in the same fraternity or sorority as you is not focusing on the candidate’s skills and experience.

  2. Expectation anchor: You could be making bad hires when you narrow your judgment on a candidate to just a few areas on the resume and form your entire opinion about them.

  3. Confirmation bias: I am a firm believer that first impressions are everything. However, we should not judge a candidate solely based on first impressions especially if it’s a negative opinion. One should not look for evidence to support your first impression of a person. Instead, focus on the skills and experience of the candidate.

  4. Affect heuristics: As a recruiter, at times, our job can be repetitive. Reviewing resumes and interviewing back-to-back. And speed is everything. Affect heuristics is rushing to a conclusion about a candidate to quickly review resumes or interview candidates. In doing so, you could potentially make a poor decision based on discriminatory prejudices such as name or background.

  5. Halo effect: If a candidate is strong in one aspect of the position, it doesn’t mean that they are strong in all areas.

  6. Horn effect: On the contrary, if a candidate lacks skill in one aspect, it doesn’t mean that they are a bad candidate and you should think negatively about them.

  7. Overconfidence bias: Great recruiters sometimes believe that they have great “recruiter intuition”. While that may be true some of the time, don’t be so overconfident in your ability as a recruiter that you don’t fully focus on the skills and experience of a candidate.

  8. Negative emphasis bias: Judging someone based on personal preferences is never a good thing. The American Psychological Association, “Suggests that someone who is 6 feet tall earns, on average, nearly $166,000 more during a 30-year career than someone who is 5 feet 5 inches”. This is irrelevant and holds no bearing on skills and experience to do the job.

  9. Beauty bias: We all know the saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Unless you are applying for a beauty pageant, beauty should not be a relevant factor during an interview. Studies have shown that attractive people are usually hired sooner, get promotions more quickly, and are paid more than their less-attractive coworkers.

  10. Conformity bias: Peer pressure during a panel interview is the main cause of conformity bias. Hearing the opinion of your peers can sometimes sway your opinion of a candidate.

  11. Contrast bias: You may have a candidate that set the bar high and you may be compelled to compare every candidate you meet based on the first candidate that you interviewed. Judging someone based on the candidate that came before them is not a fair hiring practice.

  12. Non-verbal bias: This is judging a book by its cover when you use a candidate’s body language to build a story and jump to the wrong conclusion about them.

  13. First impression bias: Deciding on a candidate within the first few seconds of meeting them will never give them a fair chance because you have already made your mind up.

Now that you have an idea of the unconscious bias that can happen during the interview process, stay tuned as we discuss solutions on how to prevent it in a future issue of the newsletter. As recruiters and hiring leaders, it’s important to focus on a candidate's skills and experience. The tricky part is relying on human judgment to make the initial decision between successful and unsuccessful candidates can create a risk of unconscious bias. It’s important to remember that when reviewing resumes and interviews the focus should always be on the candidate's skills and experience.

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