How Unconscious Bias Can Play a Huge Role In Hiring and Recruitment (and How You Can Address It)

thinking woman with question mark on gray wall backgroundMost of us want to think we’re free from bias. We want to believe that the decisions we make in hiring are based solely on a candidate's potential and skills. However, this isn’t always the case.

In the recruiting and hiring process, many managers base their first impression on looks before meeting the candidate. In other words, you might immediately develop bias on a person before they even shake your hand.

This isn’t to say that this bias is present on purpose. You might form these perceptions without even noticing you’re doing it. To increase inclusion and diversity in your workplace, it’s important to recognize and correct this unconscious bias.


Halo and Horn Effects

The halo effect was first used by a psychologist named Edward Thorndike in a 1920 publication. The original idea was about superior officers rating soldiers. In the modern workplace, this would be equivalent to the initial thoughts you have about a candidate. These are the thoughts that are often formed before even talking to the person.

The horn effect is the polar opposite. Once you meet someone, the way they act can lead you to form an unconscious bias toward them. Of course, there are times that behavior is a good gauge of a person’s character, such as when they are particularly rude. However, there are also times when small behavioral cues don’t mean as much as we think. This can include speaking too loudly or softly or giving a handshake that isn’t quite strong enough.


Heuristic Bias

The human brain often associates a negative connotation with certain superficial traits. This can be an opinion we've adopted based on what society commonly believes, such as judging a potential hire with visible tattoos more harshly.

On the extreme end of the spectrum, there can be bias based on factors such as race, sex, gender, and sexuality. For instance, if you’re hiring for a job with a lot of heavy lifting, you might immediately consider a short woman or feminine man to be unfit for the job. This is a particularly dangerous type of bias to fall victim to because it makes your company vulnerable to lawsuits and being talked about negatively in the press.


Expectation Anchors

An expectation anchor occurs when a single piece of information - an “anchor” - is what the hiring manager bases all their decisions on.

The best example of this is when the manager is looking for someone who is exactly like the person who just resigned from the position. This can cause them to look for someone with identical traits as the person before them, ultimately preventing them from bringing new talent into the company. Instead, they are only looking for carbon copies that won’t bring original ideas to the table, and they are limiting their talent pool to a very small amount of people.


Similarity Attraction

Similarity attraction occurs when an interviewer is drawn to a candidate solely because they see themselves in them. While this sounds selfish and arrogant at first, it actually makes sense that this type of bias creeps in.

When hiring someone, you know you’re going to be working alongside them everyday. With that in mind, you'll likely want to hire someone you’re compatible with. This becomes a problem when the personality of a person is the deciding factor in an interview rather than their qualifications for the job.


Beauty Bias

This concept is based on the idea that the more attractive someone is, the better they’ll be at their job. In reality, this theory usually doesn’t hold much water but it’s easy for it to be an unconscious factor. We often assume that a handsome man or beautiful woman is more successful in the workplace instead of someone who isn’t conventionally attractive.


How Can You Avoid Bias?

Now that we’ve covered some of the common types of unconscious bias, it’s important to understand how to avoid them. First, you have to acknowledge them. If you have hiring managers working underneath you, make sure they’re well-trained and give them a standard guide to follow for interviews.

If you’re still worried about internal recruitment performance, you can also look into hiring a recruitment agency like Black Pen Recruitment. These types of agencies are designed to objectively find the base talent without personal or company bias.


About the Author: Richard Joseph is the writer of this article. He is a regular contributor at many sites and mainly focuses on business-related topics. He keeps sharing his ideas and the latest trends in business and Human Resources through his articles.

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