We all harbor biases in this life, whether we are aware of them or not. Dictionary.com defines bias as prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Hiring biases are just biases that seep over into the hiring process. Before we explore the most common 13 hiring biases, it’s important to understand conscious vs unconscious biases first.
Conscious vs Unconscious Biases
Conscious bias (also referred to as “explicit bias”) are biases that we are cognitively aware of and know we have. An example of conscious bias would be if a person knowingly prefers working with men more than women and their hiring decisions or practices reflect that bias. If you hire men disproportionately to women, then your conscious bias is factoring into your workplace.
Unconscious bias (also referred to as “implicit bias”) is an unconscious form of stereotyping of people or groups that we aren’t aware of we have. An example of unconscious bias is a hiring manager using her “gut feeling” to make the hiring decision. Chances are, since one’s gut feelings are not itemized by each emotion, thought, and decision, there are unfair biases at play that lead the manager to prefer one candidate or the other.
13 Types of Hiring Biases & Combating Them Effectively
One of the best ways to combat biases we carry with us is to identify and label them so we can see and feel them when they surface in our lives, like when interviewing and hiring candidates in the workplace. Together, let’s review some of the most common biases that impact decision making when reviewing resumes, conducting interviews, and making hiring decisions.
1. Similarity Attraction (Affinity) Bias
It is perfectly normal to want to be with others who we feel we have a rapport with and like. While at the workplace, this desire does not deactivate on its own. Recruitment and hiring decisions are impacted when the hiring manager only chooses candidates with the predominant characteristics or behaviors they possess or personally deem superior.
Note that this bias tends to lend itself to several classes within the workplace including gender, generational (or age), and skin color. This is one of the most dangerous biases in the workplace today and an area that many bias-prevention training spends a lot of time focusing on.
2. Social Comparison Bias
Team members (including executives, supervisors, lead workers) who have a high status in the workplace may desire to protect their position by making recommendations that prevent other high performers from being hired into the company.
This can also occur with current team members, for example, John does not want Beth to join the Large Customer Accounts Team due to her reputation for expertise and creative thinking. John may go out of his way to discourage the department manager from bringing Beth on to the team since he’s currently the top performer on the team.
Did You Know?
Biases also relate directly to reviewing performance of employees. Performance evaluations are another big area that biases can infiltrate our efforts and presence in the workplace as a leader.
3. Intuition Bias
When filling positions, including reviewing resumes and interviewing, even HR professionals spend much of their time “trusting their gut.” In fact, most decisions for hiring people have an aspect to it that is “gut” related, however utilizing metrics that have been identified ahead of time will help ensure fairness, equality, and consistency in the hiring process.
4. Contrast Effect (or Judgment) Bias
Hiring teams move through hundreds of resumes and, at times, applications for employment, and our brains tend to develop patterns when comparing and contrasting without even knowing it.
Instead of scrutinizing candidates’ resumes individually, hiring managers have the potential to unconsciously compare the latest resume reviewed to the one currently being reviewed. This results in targets that are never consistent. It could cause qualified candidates that should make it to a “maybe” or “yes” pile to be discarded–due to the elevated skills and experience found in the last resume that was reviewed.
5. Conformity Bias
This is a very common bias that is heavily influenced by group (or team) peer pressure. Managers are concerned about what others may think of their decision, and/or the reasons supporting the decision. Instead of taking the risk of team discontent, one conforms to what everyone else desires to do.
In the hiring process, this can be one of the few drawbacks of having a team of interviewers. It is important to carefully qualify your own decision and then confidently share what you think and how you feel about a candidate who is being considered by the hiring team.
6. Beauty Bias
The beauty bias can be irresistible to combat, which makes it one of the more important biases on our list. Beauty bias tends to cause people to unconsciously believe that the most beautiful candidate will be the most successful one (or, perhaps, is the most qualified candidate). This stems from our human nature and the laws of attraction mostly, but it too needs to be a bias that is identified and cautioned against during the hiring process.
Using pre-set metrics of qualifications (e.g., minimum education requirements, skill sets, and work experience) help qualify each candidate against the same set of benchmarks.
Did You Know?
Unconscious bias is more common in people than conscious biases. Much of the time, unconscious biases do not even line up with one’s values, and it is not until one is under a lot of stress or forced to work on multiple things at once that these unconscious biases surface.
Source: UCSF, Diversity & Outreach
7. Illusory Correlation Bias:
The illusory correlation bias occurs when a person believes a relationship exists between two common subjects when in fact no relationship actually exists. For example, if a person is really personable and gets along great with everyone on the interview panel, the assumption may be that the candidate would be a terrific sales manager (even though the candidate may have no sales experience at all).
8. Confirmation Bias:
Since we all make bias judgements, we have to be careful to not ask questions or frame our questions, in ways that solicit responses that support our initial judgments or biases of candidates. This can easily take place within the interview process. We may ask questions that result in needed information but in a manner that either enhances or reduces the value of the candidate in our eyes, without even realizing it.
9. Affect Heuristic Bias
This bias represents a troublesome reliance on good or bad feelings relating to a stimulus of some sort. In general, affect-based evaluations are, “…quick, automatic, and rooted in experiential thought that is activated before reflective judgments.” An example of this is if an interviewer sees a tattoo that they don’t like, or if a candidate is not an ideal weight in the interviewer’s mind, a female candidate who has a shaved head, and so on.
These biases do not need to have anything to do with the job, necessarily, to impact the candidate’s ability to be disqualified by a manager exercising their bias. Checking this bias can be especially challenging and should be kept in balance by involving other team members in the hiring selection process.
10. Expectation Anchor Bias
This bias comes into play when the resume reviewer, interviewer, or decision maker permits themselves to believe that a single trait or skill set is all that matters, and the decision maker “anchors” onto that single attribute. This commonly occurs when a terrific employee just vacated a position, and the interviewer looks for a carbon copy of that employee to fill it.
11. Halo Effect Bias
This hiring bias occurs when the hiring manager chooses to focus too heavily on one positive aspect of a candidate. This aspect can be anything from where the candidate went to school, their former employers, or a board of directors they sit on.
12. Horn Effect Bias:
As you might expect, the Horn Effect Bias is the exact opposite of the Halo Effect Bias. When managing employees, it is the relentless focus on a single bad behavior or recent poor performance.
When recruiting and speaking with candidates, it is mostly commonly regarding a statement by a candidate that you did not like and, thus, you are ready to boot them out the door. Of course, just because they phrased a response in a way that differs from how you would have, or how you wished the candidate would have responded, does not mean that the candidate is not qualified for the position you are looking to fill.
13. Overconfidence Bias
The dangers of overconfidence in one’s self to always make the right, or best, decision, can be dangerous. Again, we recommend gathering a team of people working together to identify the best, most qualified candidate. Overconfidence Bias happens when the recruiter is overly confident in their abilities to select the right candidate (or eliminate the candidates who do not qualify). Much of the time, decision makers allow Confirmation Bias, which of course justifies the overconfidence, to take hold, which further justifies their decisions.
Note that there are several other biases that are not included on this list. We have listed what we feel are the most commonly encountered biases in the workplace and when reviewing resumes, conducting interviews and making final hiring decisions.
How To Combat Biases During the Hiring Process
Now that we know many of the pitfalls to watch out for, how do we identify and destroy biases that could infiltrate our hiring process? The following steps will help you greatly reduce or mitigate your chance of biases running ramped and unidentified as you consider which new team members to bring on board.
Consider “Blind” Resume Reviews
If we are not able to view introductory information on a resume (such as names, home addresses, and so on), it may help curb unconscious biases when reviewing resumes. Names, for example, can at times suggest a particular race, gender, or ethnicity. We truly feel that all hiring managers should be able to manage this type of information responsibly, but if you suspect that you have a concern with one or more members of your hiring team(s), until those issues are fully resolved, this may be a pliable workaround.
Create Diverse Interviewing Teams
We recommend utilizing a small team of culturally and educationally diverse people to do applicant screening—such as reviewing resumes, conducting interviews, and helping the hiring manager with the final hiring decision. This allows for several perspectives to weigh in on the hiring process. These additional weights and measures test the thinking of the hiring manager, which helps ensure that any one person’s biases do creep in to important hiring decisions.
Take Interview Notes
Each team member should be in the practice of keeping personal notes from each interview to utilize during group discussion. This helps discourage “group thinking” or conformity bias within the hiring team.
Use Qualification Metrics and Assessments
One great equalizer that we like is to utilize a base qualification metric that candidates must pass (again, minimum education and relevant years of experience requirement). Then, have round No. 2 be an assessment that all candidates take to further qualify them for the role. This assessment is an “exam” of sorts that tests skills and responses to certain work related situations.
Create a Solid Job Description
Develop a job description for every position in your company. Not only is this document helpful for when the position is filled and the incumbent can review it as needed, the hiring team can refer to it after each interview to see if the essential functions of the position can best be met by their candidate. Job descriptions should be reviewed annually.
Establish a Metric System & Standardize Interviewing
Before beginning any recruitment, ensure that there is a visible metric system that can be used (which means, a set value for minimum education and work experience). The metrics can also include a set of prequalified responses to binary questions (e.g., “right or wrong,” “yes or no” responses).
In addition, create a standardized interview guide and ensure you ask every candidate the same questions. Also, include the job description in this review process; have it available for interviewees and panel interviewers alike.
Using HR When Possible
If you have an HR team, always involve them in the process from writing the ad, developing the job description, reviewing resumes, co-conducting interviews, and making the final hiring decision.
Ensuring your hiring managers have received suitable interview training that covers common hiring biases as well as what questions that can and cannot be asked during the interview process is probably the best money you can spend on supervisory training.
There are different types of bias-awareness training for leaders, but they are not all created equal. Although we do not endorse one resource over another, we can help direct you accordingly. There are certain features to look for in training providers who offer unconscious bias-awareness training. ESX for Business has done a nice job of laying out the process and the attributes of a solid training resource that you can reference.
Biases are held by all and successfully managed by few. Our reason for focusing on this topic is to highlight the importance of acquiring the skills to identify one’s own biases and then learn how to change them or to work around them to reach smart, wise, equitable hiring decisions for the organization.
Utilizing this article as a resource for better understanding common biases will help you become a better team member in seeking out, vetting and hiring the best, most qualified person for your organization. It can also help you assist others in overcoming their hiring biases.