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Published: Jun 27, 2023 16 min read
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Whether intentional or not, many companies and recruiters engage in some form of hiring bias. It's easy to hire someone who looks like you or fits your pre-formed opinion of what the role should look like — but is that costing your business?

Biases in the hiring process can make you hire employees less qualified than others, regardless of your great job description you posted on a job search site (such as ZipRecruiter, which lets you post on more than a 100 boards with one click). There are several types of hiring biases. Being aware of and actively working to eliminate them from your organization will improve your hiring practices and strengthen your team.

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What is hiring bias?

Hiring bias is when a business or recruiter shows preference towards certain candidates based on characteristics unrelated to the job requirements. Hiring bias takes many forms, including racial, gender, age and beauty bias.

For example, unconscious biases can cause a recruiter to prefer candidates who look, think or act like them. Similarly, stereotyping can lead to assumptions about a candidate's abilities based on gender, race, or age.

Hiring bias gets reinforced by organizational culture. If a company favors candidates from certain educational institutions or with specific credentials, it may overlook those candidates' negative aspects which set them as less qualified than other applicants.

This is a serious issue that can have negative consequences, both for the organization and the individual. Bias leads to a lack of diversity in the workplace, limits innovation and even causes legal problems. Whether conscious or unconscious, your hiring team needs to be aware of their biases and do their best to eliminate them.

Using job recruiting websites like ZipRecruiter can help eliminate bias because they provide the first step toward evaluating someone on merit alone. Working to eliminate your own bias, even if it's unintentional, will also help you learn how to become a better manager.

Why is it important to remove bias from the hiring process?

There are three important reasons to remove hiring bias:

  1. Excluding qualified candidates: When your hiring decisions are unrelated to a person's ability, you may end up not hiring the person who would fit the role best.
  2. Perpetuating systemic inequalities: Biases, whether intentional or not, can lead to poor hiring practices regarding certain groups of people.
  3. Avoiding lawsuits: Biases also put you at risk of being sued for discrimination. If the court finds you liable, it could hurt your company's finances and reputation.

Removing bias from the hiring process will also improve your company's efficiency and performance. Hiring the best candidates for the job, regardless of background or identity, can build a stronger team, increase productivity and revenue, and build better relationships with customers and clients.

Getting rid of hiring bias is also the right thing to do. Everyone deserves an equal opportunity to succeed, regardless of background or identity.

7 practical ways to reduce bias in your hiring process

The most basic first step you can take to reduce hiring biases is to look at your entire team. Is there a certain group of people lacking representation in your organization? If so, you may have an unintentional hiring bias. Here are some concrete suggestions for reducing that bias.

1. Educate your hiring team on hiring biases

Educating your hiring team on biases is essential. Many people may not even be aware they have a bias. Education will allow your recruiters to see why hiring biases can be so harmful, both for potential candidates and your organization.

This will result in a more fair and inclusive process, where candidates are evaluated based on qualifications, skills and experiences rather than personal characteristics.

2. Make data-driven hiring decisions with AI

Making data-driven hiring decisions using the best recruiting software can reduce bias because these tools rely on objective criteria rather than subjective opinions or personal biases. AI-powered tools can help you identify the best candidates for the job, no matter their background, characteristics, or personal connections. Some of the best job posting sites for employers can automatically analyze candidates' information and use that data to recommend them if it thinks they're a great fit.

With data-driven decisions, you can also ensure a fair and consistent hiring process, which assists you in finding great candidates for your workforce. If you are using an application tracking system (ATS), follow the best practices for using an ATS.

Be careful, though. An ATS can have its own biases if a candidate's resume doesn't contain the right keywords. The system could remove well-qualified candidates from the hiring pool before ever getting the chance to prove themselves to you. [https://www.jobscan.co/blog/8-things-you-need-to-know-about-applicant-tracking-systems/]

3. Conduct structured interviews

Structured interviews use standardized questions and evaluation criteria to assess candidate qualifications, skills and experiences. This ensures all candidates are evaluated based on objective criteria.

It's important to have questions and criteria relevant to each job's requirements. Try to build an interview process that doesn't highlight less salient background characteristics but instead uses behavioral interview questions to gauge how a potential employee would handle the job on a day-to-day basis. It's also important to train interviewers to conduct structured interviews.

You can also use a diverse panel of interviewers. With multiple people involved in the process, you can minimize the impact of individual biases and provide a more comprehensive evaluation of each candidate.

4. Avoid stereotypically gendered language in job descriptions

Using gendered language can create a subconscious bias towards a particular gender, discouraging qualified candidates of another gender from applying. For example, if you consistently use "he" when referring to a hypothetical employee, women who read the job description may feel excluded and discouraged from applying, even if they are qualified.

Using gender-neutral language in your job descriptions can help you attract a more diverse pool of candidates, leading to better business outcomes. Plus, when you use gender-neutral language, you communicate that your company is inclusive and values diversity.

If you need help with the job descriptions on your company's website, check out this guide on how to create a better career page.

5. Set diversity goals

Setting specific, measurable goals is a great way to track your progress and hold your business accountable for creating a more diverse workforce. For example, you might set a goal to increase the number of women on your team by 50% within the next year. This applies to any group of under-represented people. With diversity goals, you have a clear roadmap for achieving a more diverse and inclusive team.

In addition, take a good, hard look at your hiring process. Look for areas where bias exists. You set a goal to increase the number of women on your team, yet consistently struggle to find qualified female candidates. However unintentional, it's possible there's gender bias somewhere in your sourcing or screening process. Don't be afraid to audit your hiring process and look at each aspect with cold objectivity.

6. Have interview panels

Interview panels mean that a group of people assess candidates during the hiring process, not just one individual. With more people involved in the interview process, you can reduce the impact of individual biases and ensure that hiring decisions are based on merit and qualifications. Just make sure your panel is also as diverse as possible. It's good to include people from different departments, but it may be even better for those people to have different backgrounds and life experiences.

It's also a good idea to involve people from multiple departments in the hiring decision as opposed to relying solely on HR. Have top candidates chat with people they'll be working with closely to ensure team synergy.

7. Evaluate your company culture

Company culture defines your organization's shared values, beliefs and behaviors. It's not just a few sentences in a presentation but the actual values exhibited in day-to-day actions. Company culture can influence how you attract and hire candidates and is also a vital component of retaining employees. Your company culture almost certainly affects the diversity of candidates interested in working for you.

People want to feel like the company they work for aligns with their values. If your company has a pro-diversity culture, people are more likely to accept full-time jobs and stay in them, helping you to improve employee retention.

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The most common types of hiring bias

People have a wide variety of biases. Though some are conscious decisions, most are unconsciously acted upon. The biases listed below commonly appear in the hiring process. Eliminating them and being more objective is essential to finding and retaining the best team members possible.

Affinity bias

Affinity bias happens when you prefer candidates with similar backgrounds, experiences, or interests to your own. This bias can be subtle, as you may not even be aware that you prefer candidates similar to you. However, it can have a significant impact on your hiring decisions.

One reason affinity bias can be so pervasive is that people often feel more comfortable around others similar to them. Your affinity for a person could make you more likely to think they possess the qualifications for a job, even if they may not.

Additionally, consistently hiring candidates with similar backgrounds or experiences will likely lead to a homogenous workforce. Without this essential diversity, your team will miss out on unique perspectives, to the detriment of your efficiency and decision-making.

Confirmation bias

Managers also tend to favor information that confirms their preexisting beliefs or assumptions. In other words, you may seek out or interpret information in a way that supports your initial impressions or judgments about a candidate.

One common example is when a recruiter forms a positive or negative first impression of a candidate based on their appearance, demeanor, or initial responses to interview questions. Once they have developed an initial impression, they may unconsciously seek out or interpret information that reinforces that impression while ignoring or dismissing any evidence to the contrary.

Confirmation bias can be damaging in several ways. You could overlook essential skills, experiences or accomplishments. You may also find yourself exaggerating flaws or weaknesses.

Beauty bias

Another common bias is favoring the physically attractive. You might have more trust in people that you find attractive without even realizing it.

You could also make assumptions about a candidate's competence, intelligence, or work ethic based on their appearance alone. It's an unfortunate reality, but people tend to associate good qualities with good looks, even if there's no objective evidence to support this.

Some recruiters actively participate in beauty bias for roles that are customer-facing, but this is also very damaging. Superficial practices like these can negatively affect a business's capability when unqualified but good-looking people are in charge of maintaining its reputation.

Gender bias

One of the most common biases is gender bias. Many people believe that certain jobs are more suited to a particular gender. Unfortunately, this is often a conscious bias.

Biases often have their roots in common misconceptions and stereotypes in the larger society. You may not even be aware of the gender bias in your organization, but through education and a better hiring process, you can become more conscious of it and strive to eliminate it.

Racial bias

While modern society has made significant strides in favor of diversity, many recruiters still have an unconscious or conscious bias against people of other skin tones.

You may be missing out on great talent due to possible racism somewhere in your organization. Racial bias can play a role in making assumptions that people of one background are likely to be more suited for particular roles in an organization. These assumptions are harmful to the people you're making those assumptions about, but also to your business as a whole.

Age bias

People also misjudge others based on their age. One common misconception about age and the workplace is that young people don't have enough experience to perform a particular job. The opposite is also common, where older employees may not be familiar with new technologies. Age should not be part of the qualification process because a person's age does not represent their ability to do business tasks.

Halo and horn effect

The halo and horn effect is a form of bias where, because your team members may be extremely competent or incompetent at one facet of the job, it affects how you rate the rest of their performance. A salesperson, for example, could be extremely charismatic with new clients. You could rate them highly at their job as a whole, even if they are lacking in other areas such as organization or time management.

Letting the halo and horn effect influence your hiring practices can result in hiring the wrong candidate. Don't allow one particularly good or bad trait distract you from the whole picture.

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Summary of Money's how to reduce bias in the hiring process

Hiring bias is a serious problem that many businesses overlook. It can happen consciously or unconsciously and comes in many forms.

Some significant biases to be aware of are affinity bias, confirmation bias, beauty bias, gender bias, race bias and age bias. This problem can limit diversity in the workplace, stifle innovation and even lead to legal issues.

Removing bias from the hiring process leads to a more productive and inclusive workplace. It can also improve your company's culture and atmosphere, whether your team is in the office or working from home. A few ways to remove bias from your hiring process include educating your recruiting team, using AI tools, conducting structured interviews, avoiding gendered language in job descriptions and setting specific diversity goals.