Hiring bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Whether conscious or unconscious, these biases can seep into your hiring process.
- Conscious bias (or explicit bias) is a bias often rooted in personal beliefs and prejudices. Conscious bias in hiring takes many forms, including making biased and discriminatory comments during an interview, setting job requirements that unfairly exclude certain groups of people, or showing favoritism toward a candidate because of a personal preference for working with a specific group of individuals.
- Unconscious bias (or implicit bias) refers to the unintentional and subtle preferences, assumptions, or stereotypes that affect an employer’s hiring decisions. These biases are often based on deeply ingrained societal beliefs and preferences which a person may not fully recognize or understand. Unconscious bias can manifest in many ways in hiring such as evaluating candidates based on cultural fit or perceived personality traits or making assumptions about a candidate’s qualifications based on their appearance or other superficial characteristics.
One of the best ways to avoid these biases is to identify and label them so you can recognize them when they surface, especially when reviewing resumes, conducting interviews, and making hiring decisions in the workplace.
1. Similarity Attraction (Affinity) Bias
It is perfectly normal to want to be with others who you like and with whom you have rapport. 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 similarity attraction (affinity) bias lends itself to several classes within the workplace, including gender, generation (or age), and skin color. This is one of the most dangerous biases in the workplace today and a heavy focus of bias-prevention training.
To avoid this bias, consider “blind” resume reviews. Not being able to view introductory information (such as names, home addresses, and so on), may help curb affinity biases when reviewing resumes. Names, for example, can suggest a particular race, gender, or ethnicity. All hiring managers should be able to manage this type of information responsibly, but if you have a concern with one or more members of your hiring team, until those issues are fully resolved, this may be a suitable workaround.
Consider using recruiting software that leverages an algorithm database to filter resumes based on keywords such as skills, job titles, and education levels. Be aware that some software may disadvantage candidates with disabilities, leading to more discrimination in hiring. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) even provided guidance on this topic.
Hiring Bias Example: Similarity Attraction (Affinity) Bias
A hiring manager for an advertising firm has an Ivy League background and a preference for hiring candidates with a similar education, even though educational background has little to do with the job. The manager is looking for a marketing specialist and has narrowed down the candidates to two individuals: one from an Ivy League school and another from a state university. Although the state university candidate has more job-related experience and skills, the manager subconsciously prefers the Ivy League candidate.
2. Social Comparison Bias
In some organizations, team members with high status in the workplace may desire to protect their position by making recommendations that prevent other high performers from being hired. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as by excluding qualified candidates during the interview process or suggesting someone else for the job, even if they are not the most qualified.
This can also occur with team members that don’t have direct hiring responsibility and is likely to occur between men and women. For example, John does not want Beth to join the Large Customer Accounts Team due to Beth’s reputation for expertise and creative thinking. John may go out of his way to discourage the department manager from bringing Beth on since he’s currently the top performer on the team and feels threatened by Beth.
Hiring Bias Example: Social Comparison Bias
A hiring manager at a tech company needs to hire a developer. The manager interviews several candidates and determines they’re all qualified. However, the hiring manager is threatened by the skills and experience of one candidate during the second round of interviews. This candidate has more experience than the hiring manager, so the manager excludes this candidate from moving forward.
3. Intuition Bias
Intuition hiring bias is the tendency for managers to make hiring decisions based on their gut feeling rather than evidence or rational thinking. This bias can lead to managers overlooking qualified candidates in favor of less-qualified ones or basing decisions on irrelevant factors.
While intuition can sometimes be a valuable tool in decision-making, it’s important to be aware of the potential for bias so hiring decisions can be made based on logic and evidence.
When reviewing resumes and interviewing, even HR professionals spend much of their time “trusting their gut.” Most decisions for hiring people have an aspect to them 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.
In addition to using a structured interview process, which we mentioned above, we recommend utilizing a small team of culturally and educationally diverse people to review resumes, conduct interviews, and help the hiring manager with the final hiring decision. This allows for several perspectives to influence the hiring process. These additional weights and measures test the thinking of the hiring manager, which helps ensure that one person’s biases don’t creep into important hiring decisions.
Hiring Bias Example: Intuition Bias
A hiring manager needs to fill an executive assistant position. The first candidate is charismatic, confident, and personable, but lacks several of the required qualifications and has little experience. The manager feels this candidate can learn on the job. The second candidate is shy and reserved, but has a great deal of experience. The manager dismisses this candidate, their gut telling them the candidate’s just not a good fit, despite their qualifications.
4. Contrast Effect (Judgment) Bias
The process of hiring new employees is often thought to be an objective one, where the best candidate is chosen based on their qualifications and experience. However, hiring managers may be unconsciously comparing the last resume reviewed to the one currently being reviewed, which can lead to bias in the selection process. The interviewer’s perception of one candidate can be influenced by candidates who came before, resulting in biased evaluations.
This type of comparison results in targets that are never consistent. It could cause qualified resumes that should make it to a “maybe” or “yes” pile to be discarded due to the elevated skills and experience found in the previous resume.
When you’re hiring for a position, it’s natural to want to compare the resumes of potential candidates. However, avoid doing this too much as it can lead to making unfair comparisons and decisions. Each resume is unique and should be evaluated on its own merits, using objective criteria to evaluate the qualifications and skills of each candidate.
Hiring Bias Example: Contrast Effect (Judgment) Bias
A company needs to hire a software engineer, and the hiring manager is reviewing resumes. Instead of considering each resume on its own merits, the hiring manager discards a potentially great candidate because their resume didn’t stack up to the others. By focusing on comparison, the hiring manager overlooked qualities that might have made the discarded candidate the perfect fit.
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 or the reasons supporting the decision. Instead of risking team discontent, one conforms to what they think everyone else wants.
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 being considered by the hiring team. Each team member should be in the practice of keeping personal notes from each interview to utilize during group discussions. This helps discourage “group thinking” or conformity bias within the hiring team.
Hiring Bias Example: Conformity Bias
A small company is hiring a developer and has two qualified candidates. Although the hiring manager finds one candidate to have more unique and relevant experience, the rest of the hiring team is impressed by the other candidate’s education. Instead of promoting the virtues of their preferred candidate, the hiring manager simply goes along with the rest of the group since that’s “easier.”
6. Beauty Bias
Beauty bias is a term used to describe the phenomenon where people tend to unconsciously believe that the most attractive candidate will be the most successful one. This bias can have a profound impact on people’s lives, as it can cause them to make hiring decisions based on looks rather than qualifications.
Studies have shown that people who are considered to be attractive tend to receive more job offers, earn more money (10%–15% more), and be considered more competent than those who are not.
Using pre-set metrics of qualifications (e.g., minimum education requirements, skill sets, and work experience) can help qualify each candidate against the same set of benchmarks and reduce the possibility of beauty bias.
Hiring Bias Example: Beauty Bias
A company is hiring a marketing manager and receives hundreds of applications, narrowing the list down to two. Both candidates have similar qualifications but the hiring manager views one candidate as more attractive than the other. Even though both applicants could do the job, the hiring manager chooses the more attractive candidate, believing they will be more successful.
7. Illusory Correlation Bias
Illusory correlation bias occurs when people believe a relationship exists between two common subjects, when in fact no relationship exists. This bias can often lead to inaccurate judgments and decisions when hiring top candidates.
A hiring manager might believe that there is a correlation between being hired and being successful when, in reality, there is no link between the two. For example, if a candidate is personable and gets along great with everyone on the interview panel, the assumption may be that they would be a terrific sales manager (even though the candidate may have no sales experience at all).
Hiring Bias Example: Illusory Correlation Bias
A small business is hiring a customer service representative. The hiring manager interviews two candidates, both with similar qualifications and backgrounds. One candidate is a woman and the other is a man. Unconsciously, the hiring manager correlates being female with having better customer service skills, believing that since they’ve seen more successful female customer service representatives this trait will apply to every female job applicant, regardless of qualifications.
8. Confirmation Bias
Since everyone makes biased judgments, you have to be careful to not ask questions or frame questions in ways that solicit responses that support initial judgments or biases of candidates. This can easily take place within the interview process. Without even realizing it, your questions may be setting up a candidate for success or failure just based on your preexisting ideas about the candidate.
Hiring Bias Example: Confirmation Bias
A hiring manager goes into an interview with a candidate thinking they will be a great choice because the candidate was referred by a current company employee. They ask easy questions and avoid trickier topics and then take the candidate’s strong answers as evidence they were right to be so optimistic.
9. Affect Heuristic Bias
According to Psychology Today, heuristics are mental shortcuts that allow people to make decisions, pass judgments, or solve problems, with little to no effort. This bias represents a reliance on emotions. It might be your reaction to a tattoo the candidate has or their weight or even if you are in a great or poor mood the day of the interview.
It’s not necessary for these biases to have anything to do with the job for them to impact the candidate’s ability to be disqualified by a manager exercising their bias. Avoiding this bias can be especially challenging and should be kept in balance by involving other team members in the hiring selection process.
Hiring Bias Example: Affect Heuristic Bias
During small talk before the start of an interview, the hiring manager and candidate discover they share the same favorite hobbies and sense of humor. The hiring manager carries those warm feelings throughout the interview, painting the entire process in a more positive light than it otherwise would have been. As a result, the hiring manager overlooks evidence from the candidate’s answers that they may not be the best choice for the role.
10. Expectation Anchor Bias
Expectation anchor bias is a cognitive bias that 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” to 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 the role.
This bias can have a significant impact on the evaluation of a candidate’s resume during applicant screening, interview performance, or decision to hire. The most qualified candidates may be passed over if they do not possess the single desired trait or skill set, while less qualified candidates may be hired based on their possession of that trait. When you become anchored to one trait or skill set, you lose the ability to see the potential in the candidate’s other attributes. This could cause you to lose out on high-quality candidates.
Hiring Bias Example: Expectation Anchor Bias
A company is hiring an office manager. They’re convinced that the perfect candidate needs to have a bachelor’s in a related field. Because of this, they pass over two candidates without a degree but who each have over a decade of experience in similar positions.
11. Halo Effect Bias
The halo effect is a cognitive bias that occurs when the hiring manager makes judgments about others based on a single, favorable attribute and chooses to focus too heavily on that one positive aspect of a candidate. For example, if a hiring manager only sees the fact that a candidate has a college degree, they may be more likely to hire them without looking at any other qualifications.
In the workplace, individuals may be experts in one particular field. This bias can often lead to an unfounded assumption that if someone is good in one area, they must be good in all areas. However, this is not always the case. Just because someone is a great accountant, for example, does not mean they will be a great salesperson. This bias can be harmful to both the individual and the company, as it can lead to poor decision-making and missed opportunities.
Hiring Bias Example: Halo Effect Bias
A business is hiring an engineer and interviews a candidate fresh out of college. They have exceptional grades but no prior engineering experience. Despite this, the hiring manager may be swayed by the positive trait of having a degree and high grades and overlook other important skills like problem-solving and technical knowledge.
12. Horn Effect Bias
The Horn effect bias is the tendency to focus on a single bad behavior or recent poor performance. It is the opposite of the halo effect bias, which is the tendency to focus on a person’s good qualities. The Horn effect bias can cause people to overestimate the negative consequences of a single mistake and underestimate a person’s overall competence. It can also lead to a distorted perception of an otherwise qualified candidate.
When recruiting and speaking with candidates, this bias can occur when a candidate says something you did not like, so 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.
The Horn effect is named after Jim Horn, a former defensive back for the Dallas Cowboys. He was known for his aggressive and physical contact on the field, which oftentimes led to penalties and turnovers. Because of this, he was the target of criticism from fans and the media.
Hiring Bias Example: Horn Effect Bias
Consider the same company above that’s hiring an engineer. This time, the candidate has low grades in college, but has excellent problem solving-skills and technical knowledge. The hiring manager focuses on the low grades and overlooks the candidate’s other qualities, choosing to hire a different applicant.
13. Overconfidence Bias
Overconfidence bias describes the tendency for people to be overly confident in their abilities. In the context of hiring, this means that the recruiter is overly confident in their ability to select the right candidate. They believe that they can look at a person’s resume and determine if they are the best fit for the job. However, this is not always the case, as a person’s qualifications may not be evident from their resume, and the hiring manager may not have the necessary skills to properly assess them.
The pressure to promptly make the right decision often leads hiring managers to become overconfident in their abilities—which can lead to bad decisions that cost the company money, time, and resources. Hiring the wrong person for a position can be damaging to the team dynamic and create a hostile work environment. Additionally, the company may have to go through the entire process again, which wastes additional time and money.
Hiring Bias Example: Overconfidence Bias
A small business is hiring an office administrator and interviews a candidate with great organizational skills, a strong work ethic, and several years of relevant experience. Despite this, the hiring manager may be overly confident in their own assessment of the applicant and disregard these traits, instead choosing a candidate with less experience and qualifications based on their resume alone.
Avoiding & Overcoming Bias During the Hiring Process
There are a few processes you can follow that will help reduce your chance of biases as you consider which new team members to bring on board. Learn more by expanding the sections below.
Did You Know?:
Hiring bias itself is not illegal, but it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an applicant because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability, or genetic information. Therefore, the results of a company’s bias or the biases of the people involved in the hiring process could rise to the level of illegality. This makes it crucial for every employer to follow a structured interview process and do other things to eliminate bias in hiring as much as possible.
- To maintain a successful hiring process, it is important to have a detailed job description for every position that outlines its essential duties, responsibilities, and requirements. By having a clear and concise job description, you can ensure that you are attracting the best candidates for the position and setting expectations for new employees.
- A job description can help to prevent confusion and misunderstandings about the role. Not only is a job description helpful for when the position is filled, but the hiring team can also refer to it after each interview to see if the essential functions of the position can best be met by their candidate.
- Using an interview evaluation and scoring system can help eliminate bias by comparing candidates fairly and requiring interviewers to score candidates individually. Ensure that there is a visible metric system that can be used (a set value for minimum education and work experience, for example). The metrics can also include a set of pre-qualified responses to binary questions (e.g., “right or wrong,” “yes or no” responses).
- Then, make round two of the interviews an assessment that all candidates take to further qualify them for the role. This assessment is an exam or project that tests the applicant’s skills and responses to certain work-related situations.
- Involving your HR team in the hiring process is a good way to ensure that you make the best possible hire. Not only will they be able to help you write a job ad and develop a job description that attracts the best candidates, but they can also help you review resumes and conduct interviews. This will ensure that you find the most qualified candidate for the job.
- By being aware of the different types of hiring biases and taking steps to counteract them, HR professionals can help ensure that the best candidates are selected for open positions. By working together, you can create a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable workplace for all.
- To ensure that your organization’s hiring managers are conducting unbiased interviews, it is important to provide them with suitable training. This training should cover common hiring biases as well as the questions that can and cannot be asked during the interview process. By providing your managers with this training, you can help to ensure that all candidates are given a fair chance.
- By providing employees with the tools to identify their own biases and understand how these biases may impact their decision-making, organizations can create a more equitable and inclusive workplace. Leadership training can help to ensure that all candidates are given an equal opportunity to be considered for a position, regardless of their background or identity.
It’s important to be aware of the different hiring biases that can impact your decision-making when it comes to bringing on new employees. By understanding and being mindful of these biases, you can work to eliminate them from your process and make more objective decisions. Remember—the best candidate for the job may not always be the most obvious choice, so it’s important to take the time to assess each candidate thoroughly.