Avoiding Unconscious Bias in Hiring

Many hiring managers like to treat an interview as a casual conversation between the manager and a potential employee. They want to get to know candidates as more than just their resumes and think that this is the best way to determine if they will fit well with the rest of their teams. But this type of unstructured conversation doesn’t always provide an accurate assessment of a person’s skills, experience, or even personality. And thanks in large part to unconscious bias, it is seen as one of the least valid approaches to accurate hiring decisions.

Unconscious biases can be best described as “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness.” Everyone has unconscious biases, because they arise from humankind’s natural tendency to categorize other people as either “us” or “them” and as members of different social groups.

The problem, though, is that because we usually aren’t aware of our unconscious biases, they can affect our behavior and decisions in ways we might not consciously intend. For that reason, it’s important to find ways to reduce or eliminate them—particularly when it comes to hiring.

Blind Resume Review

Certain types of information about a candidate can influence how others view him or her—and possibly even make it more (or less) likely that he or she will be invited in for an interview. A hiring manager who sees a resume from someone who attended the same university or belonged to the same sorority, for example, might be more favorably disposed toward that person right from the start, regardless of her actual qualifications for the position.

One way to mitigate these biases is to remove such information from a resume before a hiring manager reviews it. Perhaps someone else in the organization (such as an administrative assistant, a hiring manager in another department, or someone from the HR office) could handle the resumes that come in and create copies of them that don’t include educational backgrounds, personal addresses, hobbies, volunteer activities, etc. With these stripped-down versions of the resumes in hand, a hiring manager can more easily zero in on what’s essential for the job: the candidate’s skills, work experience, and work accomplishments.

Structured Interviews

If all candidates are asked the same job-related questions and given the same job-related tests, hiring managers have a much better chance of getting useful information about each person’s skills, and will support their own accountability in the decision-making process. Emphasizing “objective” data (such as “Does she know how to do X?” or “Has he ever managed a project?”) over the kind of “personal” data that dominates a casual conversation makes it easier to hire the person who is actually the most qualified for the job.

 Job Fit Assessment

The true measure of a hire’s success is how well that person does the job he or she was hired to do. So why not assess each candidate for the situational judgement skills and performance behaviors that are most crucial for the role? Again, it’s important to make sure that all candidates for a particular position are given the same  approach—and that the assessment used focuses on the skills that are actually required for that position. This step provides another piece of “objective” data that can help offset any unconscious biases that might creep into the evaluation process.

It’s very common for humans to be drawn to other people with whom we feel a personal connection. But when it comes to doing a specific job and adding value within a company, these connections aren’t nearly as important as a person’s ability to fulfill work commitments and to be a reliable and valuable contributor to the team. When unconscious biases cloud a hiring manager’s objectivity, they can lead to poor hiring decisions (and even legal action, if discrimination can be proven). Sure, it’s okay for hiring managers to have friendly chats with each candidate—but  it’s important to keep focus on the objective data that should form the basis of each hiring decision.

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