3 ways to reduce unconscious bias in your recruitment process

By Matt Weston 2nd March 2018

Sometimes even the most open-minded person can be guilty of prejudice. We’re not talking about racism, sexism or homophobia. We mean another form of bias: a subtle, subconscious form of bias which can severely prejudice the hiring process.

This is confirmation bias – the brain’s tendency to look for evidence that supports what we already think. It affects pretty much everybody, and even those who have been trained to recognise it can sometimes be caught out.

Understanding unconscious hiring biases

So, what is an unconscious bias? Far from being limited to race, gender, age or other demographical characteristics, psychologists agree unconscious that ‘automatic/implicit stereotyping’ is something we are all doing, without even realising it.

Yale psychology professor, Mahzarin Banaji, says, "our ability to categorise and evaluate is an important part of human intelligence. Without it, we couldn't survive."

This mentality is an inherent part of being human, as—like other species—we have a desire to belong to a tribe, group or clan. This is referred to as in-group/out-group dynamics by social psychologists.

Experts agree that although it is unescapable, the best defence against these hidden hiring biases is to be aware of them and to alter hiring processes accordingly.

Tackling unconscious bias in hiring practices

If you turn this lens to recruitment, it’s far too easy for unconscious bias in hiring decisions to eliminate qualified candidates from joining your ranks. Recruiters and hiring managers are often far too aware on how confirmation bias can lead to bad decisions in the interview process. Something as minor as the way someone dresses, their accent or their choice of words can bring out unconscious bias in the interviewer’s mind, which in turn can skew the rest of the interview process, damaging the chance that the candidate will get a fair attempt at showing off the value that they can bring to the organisation.

The consequences of confirmation bias can be significant. Not only do you risk losing out on talented new hires for all the wrong reasons, but any complaint from the unsuccessful applicant could lead to legal implications and damage to company reputation.

Research for the Robert Half 2018 Salary Guide has shown that qualified professionals are currently in short supply and their availability will remain scarce for the foreseeable future. With this in mind, securing the perfect candidate may mean stepping outside of your standard process and introducing processes which eliminate any hiring biases.

At Robert Half we can advise on several practices to eliminate unconscious hiring biases which might prevent your business from securing the best talent. These include:

1) Blind CV reviews

To stay focused on hiring the right fit for the role, many hiring managers find it useful to implement software which allows them to review CVs ‘blind’. After all non-essential demographical information is stripped out of the CV, it’s easier to narrow down which candidates are the most qualified for the position and who represents a better cultural fit.

2) A direct start

Meeting your candidate face-to-face and seeing the candidate in immediate action can help to dissolve unconscious bias in interviewing very quickly. Opting to hire though blind one-day working interview, can give candidates the opportunity to showcase their skills and allows teams to establish whether the cultural fit is right. This approach can be done through recruitment experts, like Robert Half, who select the most appropriate candidate from their network of qualified professionals.

3) Structured, hosted interviews

Interviews are often based around a free-flowing conversation, but this provides fertile ground for bias to take root and grow. Consider preparing a set of interview questions that are the same for each interviewee, levelling the playing field for all candidates and making it easier to evaluate each one on their answers alone.

Another option is to have a hosted interview, offsite so that both the hiring manager and potential candidates are on neutral ground, so to speak. At Robert Half we provide our Company In process where our hiring managers into their offices to interview a selection of specially chosen candidates back to back.

Don’t let confirmation bias ruin your recruitment goals. It’s simple enough to create a structured recruitment process that eliminates the possibility of bias creeping in, and giving every candidate a chance to shine.

Matt Weston, Managing Director, Robert Half UK

Matt has worked for Robert Half for more than 18 years; he began his career as a recruitment consultant for Robert Half Finance and Accounting in 1999. Matt quickly excelled as a top consultant and earned a number of prestigious awards including being recognised four times as Robert Half’s worldwide number one consultant. With extensive experience in financial recruitment in the UK, Matt is a familiar industry figure and a valuable spokesperson on current trends affecting the market. 

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