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Hiring Bias: Choose Data Over Gut Feelings

Indre Ozalinskaite

Indre Ozalinskaite

June 07, 2022

hiring bias

HR professionals and organizations in general often face the issue of hiring bias. Companies always aim to hire the best candidates based on their qualifications. However, the hiring process is more complex than simply searching for people who tick all the boxes of the job descriptions.

Like the hiring processes, avoiding bias isn't only about ticking the right boxes. It's about a continuous commitment, acknowledging specific facts about human behavior, and aiming to control the influence of our biases.

This article will explore common examples of hiring biases and technology-based solutions that help companies avoid them. On top of that, we will share real-life stories about bias in the hiring process from recruiters working in the tech industry.

What are hiring biases?

Hiring biases are subjective perceptions on the side of the recruiting party that play a role in the hiring process. These perceptions can be positive and negative, meaning that the hiring party might favor and support a candidate or feel and act against them.

The simple goal of the recruitment process is to hire a person who has the right skills, relevant work experience, and, sometimes, recruiters also pay attention to culture fit. Culture fit shows that a person relates to the values and work ethics of the organization.

Theoretically, these factors are the base of decisions about the candidate's ability to perform the tasks assigned to their role, confirming if hiring this person would add value to the team. However, when people hire candidates, they make conscious and unconscious subjective assumptions, which also play a role in decision-making.

Research shows that almost 5% of the hiring decisions are made within the first minute of the job interview and 25.5% of hiring decisions are made within the first 5 minutes. Although we strive to be objective, this data reflects that some hiring managers and recruiters make quick decisions, and, naturally, these quick decisions are often influenced by "gut feelings", first impressions, and opinions.

The negative impact of hiring biases

Forming opinions about other people is a part of human nature. However, it becomes an issue when certain biases limit opportunities for people based on their looks, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and other factors. Not providing an equal chance to qualified candidates makes the recruitment process unfair and can also harm the organization.

Small hiring decisions can snowball into much more significant issues. It starts with poor hiring choices, which can negatively affect the internal company culture or staffing costs if the new hire isn't a good fit for the role and has to be replaced. What's more, it stands in the way of hiring a more diverse workforce and makes recruitment less efficient.

Hiring biases are subjective perceptions on the side of the recruiting party that play a role in the hiring process. These perceptions can be positive and negative, meaning that the hiring party might favor and support a candidate or feel and act against them.

When it comes to more significant issues, hiring bias is one of the main challenges in creating diverse and inclusive workplaces. 65% of workers who identify themselves as LGBTQ from the U.S. believe that diversity and inclusion are essential to a supportive company culture, according to research.

One of the ways to avoid bias in hiring decisions, especially in the early stages of recruitment, is to automate the talent sourcing process. Public web data is often used in data-driven recruitment. Coresignal provides always fresh employee data that will allow you to eliminate hiring bias and focus solely on the qualifications and skills of the candidate.

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Conscious and unconscious bias

The challenge with hiring bias is that sometimes we don't know that our prejudice influences our decision. Our opinions and beliefs form throughout our lives through personal experiences, relationships, lifestyles, etc.

We might not think about having bias before interviews with candidates. Still, our reactions to different people are affected by more factors than our work environment and expectations of a candidate's skills.

  • Conscious bias in recruitment refers to perceptions that hiring managers and recruiters are aware of. We can assess our conscious biases and therefore control them.
  • Unconscious bias in recruitment is perceptions hiring managers and recruiters are unaware of, making it difficult to assess and control.

Examples of common hiring biases

What's important to note before exploring examples is that it can be hard to pinpoint which type of bias affects our decisions, and it's essential to understand that multiple factors influence our choices at once.

Unconscious bias in recruitment is perceptions hiring managers and recruiters are unaware of, making it difficult to assess and control.

Affinity bias

Also known as similarity bias, affinity bias occurs when we favor people similar to us. For example, we will likely sympathize with people who attended the same school or had similar hobbies.

similarity

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is connected to prejudice and stereotypes. It explains our way of thinking when we already have an opinion about a person before evaluating them, so we exclusively look for information confirming it.

For example, if a hiring manager would assume that people who take a gap year after school lack or gain specific skills, they would actively look for information that would confirm this assumption during the interview.

people holding hands

Ageism

Ageism is also known as age bias or age discrimination. It means prejudice against people because of their age. A person in any age group can experience ageism. It's connected to many other factors like hiring manager’s or recruiter's personal assumptions about the “right age” for the role, current team setting, or industry stereotypes.

person with laptop

Halo effect

The Halo effect occurs in the hiring process when a positive impression about one thing compromises judgment about the candidate's overall qualifications.

For example, the candidate makes a great first impression while you walk to the meeting room. A sociable person with a bubbly personality. After such a great start, the Halo effect would make it difficult to notice that the person doesn’t actually have the skills and the experience that you were looking for.

halo effect

Horn effect

The Horn effect is the opposite of the Halo effect. It makes us rush into decisions about the overall qualifications of a person based on one negative impression.

horn effect

Beauty bias

Beauty reflects the tendency to favor candidates who fit the beauty norms created by society.

Gender bias

Gender bias is the tendency to favor one gender over another. Stereotypes play an essential role in this. Despite the progress that was made until now, stereotypes about "feminine" and "masculine" jobs still exist, and one of the areas where this stereotype has a negative influence is recruitment, especially in industries like tech.

According to Women in Tech, an international non-profit organization aiming to close the gender gap in the technology sector, only 17% of people working in STEM roles in Europe are female

computers

Advice from recruiters

Before writing this article, we talked about hiring bias with three recruiters working in the tech industry. We have discussed their experiences, the impact of hiring biases on recruiters' work, and what helps avoid them. Here's what they had to say:

Quotation mark

In my opinion, facts and data are the main tools in the evaluation of others. In the recruitment process, the evaluation of the candidate must be based on facts and data that is gathered. The candidate is evaluated based on the goals that were set before the recruitment started and not the likes and dislikes felt in the moment.

Quotation mark

I see it as one of the critical elements in recruitment to try to identify and then avoid biases that appear in very different aspects. Two hacks that I often use to tackle biases:

1. Structured interviews. All candidates are being interviewed in the same way. They are asked the same questions, and the same competencies are checked. Then I can compare candidates more objectively.

2. When the interview with a candidate does not go well, and they seem to fall short of the required personality traits, I try to look for positive signs in their presentation and see that maybe it is the biases, but not actual traits that form my opinion. Or otherwise, when I have interviews where candidates seem flawless, I try to investigate more and spot those areas of imperfection.

Quotation mark

Speaking about hiring bias, I would say that this is something I come across every day. I often notice that I tend to favor candidates like me, my family, or my friends, but I try to stay self-conscious and challenge myself before evaluating the candidate. I understand that my judgment might have been affected, so I ask myself what allows me to draw certain conclusions.

Before I start the candidate's evaluation, I also keep in mind what the team is looking for, what requirements the team has for the role, and the general atmosphere in the team.

It seems like all three recruiters who were interviewed for this blog post have experienced the challenges of avoiding bias in recruitment, but they all have found solutions that help them make better-informed decisions.

Different ways to reduce bias in the hiring process

Being unbiased is more of a continuous goal than the end result, but understanding the concept of conscious and unconscious bias helps us evaluate the candidates more objectively.

Acknowledge that implicit bias exists

The universal rule that works for many hiring managers and recruiters is not to forget to stop for a minute. It's important to make time to reflect on the goals of recruiting for a certain role, look back at the role descriptions and think about the reasons why you leave an interview with positive or negative impressions.

Self-awareness is one of the traits that help recruiters do a better job at finding qualified candidates.

In her speech at TED Conference, award-winning speaker, business, and staffing strategist Gail Miller suggested a two-word question that helps you check your bias. She suggests simply asking yourself the following question: So what?

According to her, this question should help you understand if the things that make you doubt or like the candidate in the interview process are directly related to the work they will be doing.

Consult others 

Talking to other people can increase the accuracy of your evaluation. Don't hesitate to ask other colleagues for help if you have doubts or want to make a more informed decision about a candidate. Consulting with other people can help you notice details that might have been missed in the interview process and give you a different perspective.

Rely on facts and data

First, set expectations for the hiring process and the role. It's good to have criteria to rely on when evaluating if a candidate is a good fit for the job position.

Second, consider automating the early stages of recruitment. Nowadays, various tools can scan CVs based on selected criteria, speed up talent sourcing, and make it more efficient. Moreover, it's possible to anonymize CVs in stages where the person's identity isn't relevant.

All these methods aim to focus on what's important at different stages of the hiring process.

Summary

There are various methods to reduce the influence of hiring bias, but first of all it's essential to understand and acknowledge that the conscious and unconscious bias exists. Knowing that it can influence the hiring process and learning about proven methods to avoid it allows people to identify good candidates without relying on first impressions and snap decisions.

Focusing on the objective parameters and data in the hiring process can help organizations hire more efficiently and avoid people-related risks such as high employee turnover and increased staffing costs.

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