How to remove hiring bias in the recruitment process

September 2, 2022

Fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace is becoming a top priority for many companies

However, this intention might be hindered by an existing set of deeply ingrained and unintentional beliefs.

There is ample evidence that tells us that the recruitment process is a biased one. Unconscious racism, sexism, and ageism all come into play when determining which lucky candidate gets to sign the contract.

The good news is that many business leaders are recognising these systems in their workplace and are taking steps to combat them.

So, what is hiring bias?

Hiring bias occurs when different standards are applied to different people during the recruitment process, resulting in prejudice or discriminatory action against an individual or groups of people.

Often, these unconscious biases can cause us to form an opinion or judge a candidate based on stereotypes and beliefs irrelevant to the person’s ability to do a job well.

Hiring biases get in the way of building diverse and inclusive teams

McKinsey’s 2019 analysis on diversity and inclusion found that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity in executive teams were 25% more likely to achieve above-average profitability than those in the fourth quartile. The same report also noted that ethically and racially diverse teams are 35% more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians.

The coming together of individuals with different experiences and backgrounds creates a wellspring of creativity. Companies that recognise and cultivate the cognitive diversity that results from this convergence stand to increase innovation by 20%.

diverse group on people having a workplace discussion

Achieving this, however, isn’t easy, and some of the most significant roadblocks to diversity are the implicit biases that we unconsciously cling to in our daily lives and interactions.

During the hiring process, interviewers make decisions based on learned implicit concepts that have been reinforced over time. Despite many gallant efforts to make rational, evidence-based decisions, unconscious biases can be tricky to navigate as there are usually more than one at play.

Left unaddressed, these biases will hinder diversity efforts within recruitment and get in the way of hiring great employees. They can also seep into a workplace’s culture and lead to feelings of employee alienation and disengagement. Often without us realising it.

Our article looks at some of the most common hiring biases and how businesses can reduce them during recruitment.

Ten common types of hiring bias in the workplace

Confirmation bias

Human beings have a proclivity to seek evidence that supports our existing beliefs and theories. Confirmation bias not only compels us only to interpret or recall information that aligns with our perceived truths, but it also reinforces our personal biases and stereotypes.

During the hiring process, this may occur when a recruiter or hiring manager intentionally poses questions in hopes of eliciting responses that support their perception of a candidate.

Affect heuristics

People take this type of mental shortcut when making decisions by relying exclusively on their emotions instead of seeking out concrete evidence. Something like this can lead to biased and often incorrect conclusions about a candidate.

Examples would include deciding not to hire a candidate with tattoos due to a personal belief that tattooed people are untrustworthy and unprofessional.

Horns effect

When a single negative trait profoundly influences our opinion of someone, it is known as the horns effect. During the recruitment process, this can impact our judgment and lead to a decision not to hire a candidate simply because we cannot move past a perceived character flaw.

Halo effect

An opposite of the horns effect, the halo effect is when a recruiter fixates on a single positive quality displayed by a candidate and allows it to influence their decision heavily. Potentially disregarding any red flags that highlight the fact that the candidate may not be suited to a role.

Expectation anchor

An expectation anchor bias occurs when we anchor ourselves to one identifying factor about a person and base all our decision-making on it. It is similar to both the halo and horns effects but is not tied to a specific negative or positive attribute.

A typical example is when a recruiter is looking for someone to replace an exiting employee but expects the potential candidate to share similar attributes to the role’s predecessor.

These can range from external markers such as work experience and education levels to more implicit characteristics such as sense of humour and social values.

Conformity bias

Our likelihood to cave into peer pressure due to fear of having a belief that differs from the status quo is conformity bias rearing its head.

During the hiring process, this might happen during group or panel interviews where a participant may hesitate to voice a negative opinion about a popular candidate with the rest of the interviewers. Not wanting to disrupt the balance, the participant decides to let their opinion slide and moves forward with the rest of their peers in approving the candidate.

Girl covering her face with her hands while standing in a crowd of identical people
Source: Master1305/Shutterstock

Similar attraction bias

It is a deeply human attribute to be drawn toward people we share things in common with in our everyday lives, which translates just as well to the workplace. We spend an average of 40 hours a week interacting with our colleagues, making it only natural to want to spend these hours with people we have an affinity towards.

A similarity attraction bias during the hiring process results from an interviewer responding positively to a candidate simply because they share similar values, experiences, characteristics, or hobbies even if these have very little to do with the candidate’s ability to do the job well.

Status quo bias

Change can be uncomfortable, and it’s no surprise that many of us prefer that things remain as they are. This desire is what goes on to form the status quo bias. In recruitment, this might look like an aversion to hiring candidates that don’t look, think, or act like everyone else in the company.

So, if, for example, 86% of Fortune 500 CEOs are white and male, the status quo bias is what will compel board leaders and directors to continue to hire white men for leadership roles. This can be especially damaging to workplace diversity as it perpetuates a bias towards the unfamiliar, leading us to reject evidence or opportunities that can benefit us.

Illusory correlation     

The illusory correlation bias occurs when we feel a connection exists (with little to no evidence) between two variables that bear no relation or impact on the other.

Something like this might happen when an interviewer focuses on random questions and answers that have little to no relevance to a candidate’s ability to do a job. Examples of these questions might include “What is your birth sign?” or “If you had to pick an animal to represent you, what would it be?”

Five things you can do to reduce hiring bias in your recruitment process

female candidate speaking in a job interview
Source: George Rudy/Shutterstock

Collaborative hiring

A singular perspective often determines most interview results. By redesigning the interview process to involve a team of people with different backgrounds, values, and positions, collaborative hiring allows the candidate screening process to include valuable input from diverse perspectives.

Increasing the number of interview participants won’t just minimise harmful biases that can occur during traditional one-to-one recruitment; it also allows the candidate to be considered across a broader spectrum of attributes and qualities. This paints a more representative picture of their capacity to succeed in a role.

Additionally, it provides a more well-rounded experience for the candidate by allowing them to interact with people from various departments and positions in the company, giving them an overview of the organisation’s work culture and environment.

Encourage blind applications during the screening process

Resumes are the most practical way to get an overview of a candidate’s qualifications. Still, they risk interviewers being distracted by demographic characteristics that tie into implicit bias. One way to mitigate this is to implement blind applications and request that applicants submit resumes that omit race, education, gender, and age details.

In the music industry, for example, many orchestras began conducting blind auditions in the 1970s following claims of racial discrimination against the New York Philharmonic. Research by Princeton and Harvard soon showed that blind auditions helped increase women's chances of being employed by 25 to 46%.

A software that has proven especially useful in this context is GapJumpers. Founded by Kedar Iyer, GapJumpers was created upon realising how many gifted coders were overlooked simply for not having the name of a prestigious university printed on their resumes.

Today, companies such as Dolby Labs, Adobe, and BBC use the software to make unbiased hiring decisions by creating blind auditions to assess candidates exclusively on their abilities and skillset. Its use has increased the chances of minority and female job applicants being offered first-round job interviews by 40%.

Write inclusive job descriptions

 A well-written job description speaks to diverse applicants while being specific about the required skill sets.

The workplace is evolving and employees want to work for companies that encourage a diverse and inclusive workplace. Yet, finding diverse employees remains a struggle.

This is closely tied to the fact that many companies have neglected to promote these values in their job descriptions. Updating your job description to use thoughtful and inclusive language is the first step toward showing potential applicants that yours is a workplace that welcomes all applicants regardless of gender, sexuality, age, ability, or status.

Here are five tips for writing more inclusive job descriptions.

checkbox Avoid gender-coded language. Words like “ninja” and “rockstar” are masculine-coded and according to research, are likely to discourage female professionals from applying for a role.

Mcheckboxinimise the use of corporate jargon. Not only are these obscure terms distracting, but studies also show that jargon is one of the most common reasons young professionals hesitate to apply for entry-level roles.

checkboxHighlight your commitment to DEI. If your company has already taken steps towards becoming a more diverse and inclusive workplace, consider talking about this in your job description. 

checkboxLimit the number of requirements for the role. Focusing too heavily on a long list of qualifications can alienate potentially great employees who might not fulfil all of the criteria. 

checkboxBe sensitive to cultural and racial bias. The words we use in job descriptions can unintentionally exclude individuals from specific cultural backgrounds, so unless it is entirely necessary to the role; we suggest leaving them out. 

Standardise the interview process

Having some degree of informality during the interview process is a great way to build rapport and get to know your candidate on a more personal level. But when it comes down to their ability to perform in a role, structuring your interviews to include the same set of questions focused on the specifics of the job can help reduce bias.

By referring to a standardised list of questions, interviewers can better focus on the factors that directly correlate to a candidate’s suitability for a role and provide a fairer assessment of all candidates by comparing the answers they provide to the same questions.

Outsource your hiring responsibilities

Outsourcing parts of your recruitment process can help tackle the challenge of unconscious bias in the workplace. By working with an objective third-party service provider with the tools and technology to find the right candidate for your business, you can minimise the potential for any internal biases to creep up during the hiring process.

Hire anywhere around the world with Airswift

If you’re growing your global team, working with a global employment and outsourcing (GEO) company like Airswift can help you hire, onboard and manage a distributed team with ease and efficiency.

As your Employer of Record (EOR), not only can we help you hire international employees without the need to set up a physical entity, we go an additional step further. We support you in overseeing their benefits, taxes, salary, personal time off, and more. And we do this while ensuring that you comply with all the local laws and regulations.

We’re currently active in more than 150 locations worldwide, and our dedicated service teams are ready to help you start employing top international talent. Get in touch with us to find out how you can personalise our full suite of global employment solutions to your needs.


bottom banner

This post was written by: Leanna Seah, Content Manager