At the heart of an organization are its people. Whether you are just starting up, going through a growth period, or dealing with average amounts of turnover, your company spends a lot of time hiring. With hiring, the goal is obvious—get the best people for the position, the company, and the culture.
Many roadblocks come during the interviewing process–between screening dozens of applications and scheduling the interview with the right people, the process can be pretty tricky. However, once we get into a room with the candidate, we feel fully prepared, and it seems like the roadblocks are behind us.
Or that’s what we’d like to think.
Unfortunately, we run into the issue of our unconscious biases. Unconscious biases are not biases we chose to have but accrued from our childhood, education, and even work experience. We often don’t realize we have these biases but still act on them, making them implicit. Implicit Bias “refers to attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious way, making them difficult to control.”
As you can imagine, implicit biases can have a detrimental impact on the interviewing process. An individual, or a hiring team, cannot fairly assess a potential candidate if these biases cloud them. While they are difficult to control, it is not impossible if we are aware of them.
1. Racial Bias:
A company cannot state a commitment to diversity and inclusion without coming to terms with the fact that racial bias is often explicit but damaging. In Devah Pager’s study titled, “The Mark of a Criminal Record,” “testers” or participants of different races provided hiring managers with identical resumes. The research revealed that only 14 percent of black people received callbacks, while 34 percent of white people received callbacks—even with the exact same resume.
To avoid conducting interviews clouded by racial bias, interviewers must do the proper training and research, which should be ongoing and not just a one-time thing. Besides there being hundreds of articles and training on the internet (check out LinkedIn Learning), The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has a web page full of resources dedicated to preventing implicit bias in the workplace. There are many more resources out there. A hiring team must do the work in recognizing and interrupting these biases to conduct fair interviews.
2. Gender Bias:
Gender Bias is also often implicit but damaging. A study published in 2019 by Josė Gonzȧlez, Clara Cortina, and Jorge Rodríguez conducted similarly to Pager’s above study found similar results, but in regards to hiring discrimination for women. Men received callbacks 10.9 percent of the time, and women 7.7 percent of the time.
To avoid gender bias when conducting interviews, interviewers must do proper and consistent training. A company cannot claim to conduct a fair interview if biases cloud it.
3. Primacy Effect:
The primacy effect is “the tendency to remember the first piece of information we encounter better than information presented later on.” Primacy bias can appear very often in the hiring process. Have you ever conducted an interview and the candidate was late, or maybe flubbed on the first few questions? Those early interactions may cause you to form a negative first impression of the candidate and cloud your judgment. To combat the negative effects of primacy bias, take detailed notes of the entire interview so that you can fairly evaluate the candidate on their responses for the entire interview, not just the beginning. Candidates get nervous (that’s a good thing, that means they want the job), and you wouldn’t want someone judging you on one flub in an otherwise fantastic interview. For more on the primacy effect and how it can impact hiring, look into the Anchoring Bias.
Affinity Bias is the tendency to prefer people similar to ourselves or someone we know or like. Ever come across a resume where the candidate went to the same university as you, and instead of thoroughly reviewing the rest of their resume, you immediately threw it into the “interview” pile? Affinity Bias can be harmful in hiring because the organization is not looking to hire someone to be your best friend; they are looking to hire someone who is the best fit for the position. To avoid affinity bias, remember to think objectively—you are looking for someone who meets all or most of the job requirements and who would be the best for the position, not the best to go out to lunch with.
5. Confirmation Bias:
Confirmation Bias is “The tendency to look for information that supports, rather than rejects, one’s preconceptions, typically by interpreting evidence to confirm existing beliefs while rejecting or ignoring any conflicting data.” Essentially, once we have an idea or belief about someone or something, we tend to look for information that confirms that belief. For example, you may have a candidate coming in for an interview that, in your eyes, is a tad bit under-qualified. For the entire interview, you spend time not fairly evaluating the candidate but looking for answers that prove they are under-qualified and not fit for the job. This bias can be seriously dangerous when looking for the right fit for your company. To avoid this, judge the candidate on a clean slate like you would evaluate any other candidate. Be objective, and make sure to really listen to their answers—you may find that while they technically are “under-qualified” for the role, they have the passion and drive to make them an excellent fit for the position.
6. Contrast Effect:
The Contrast Effect is “A cognitive bias that distorts our perception of something when we compare it to something else, by enhancing the differences between them.” The contrast effect can come into play when hiring to replace someone who may have left. Imagine that Jenny left your company, and everyone loved Jenny. When hiring her replacement, you are not looking for an exact carbon copy of her—while you may be looking for someone with the same skills and drive as her, your purpose is to look for someone who can best fit the role, not replace Jenny. To avoid this bias, once again focus on evaluating the candidate objectively against the position’s requirements and the company’s culture, not their likeness to Jenny.
Groupthink, while not technically a bias, is a “psychological phenomenon in which people strive for consensus within a group. In many cases, people will set aside their own personal beliefs or adopt the opinion of the rest of the group”. This may come into play when multiple people are evaluating a candidate. Ever interview a candidate with a group, thinking that they were not the best fit for the role, but once they leave, everyone says how wonderful and awesome they would be? When hiring, it’s essential to work as a team and crucial that everyone gets a chance to evaluate the candidate fairly. One way to avoid “Groupthink” is to have everyone fill out a feedback form anonymously and then return the next day and go over the feedback together. This way, interviewers can take the time to thoroughly think about and evaluate the candidate fairly, without the opinion of others influencing them.
Biases are a big part of our lives, whether we realize it or not. However, we must do the training and acknowledgment of these biases to push past them and hire the best people for the company. Company attrition is costly, and the last thing you want to do is have a not-so-great hire who eventually leaves because your biases clouded you during their interview, or have a “the one that got away” situation. Participating in continuous training and evaluating candidates objectively are the best way to ensure you get the right new hires for your organization.