Whether you are a recruiter or a candidate – and some of you are both – whether you know it or not, you have already experienced recruitment bias.
Let’s dive into unconscious recruitment bias to discover which are the most common hiring biases and how to recognize (and avoid) them as a recruiter or hiring manager.
One of the best psychology books I ever read is Thinking, Fast and Slow written by Daniel Kahneman in 2011, an Israeli psychologist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economy in 2022.
He basically (really basically) states that our brain is split into System 1 and System 2. The first is the intuitive, main, part of our brain, and it’s the one that leads the majority of our everyday activity AND thoughts. System 2 is the rational one, the reflective one – in short, the one we need energy and effort to activate.
Most of the time, System 1 uses some tricks to be rapid and efficient and, most of the time, they work brilliantly.
But sometimes, the laziness of our brain, which should activate System 2 but prefers to proceed with System 1 alone, leads us directly to biases.
Due to being operated by the intuitive System 1, biases are always unconscious.
Does the fact that they are unconscious mean we can’t overcome them? Not really. But we need to learn to recognize them and unlearn the automatic behaviour of applying them before reflecting.
Well, that ain’t easy, but given the research about diversity in teams (which we will summarize below) and the impact of biases on efficient recruiting, we feel it’s a worthy endeavour.
Biased recruiting refers to the process of making employment decisions based on a biased representation of the candidate rather than solely qualifications, skills, and merits.
Biases appear as early as the recruitment process starts, in the resume screening phase.
A familiar name, a particular University, a hometown, or a picture can rapidly lead to the first biases. Like a snowball, the biases become stronger and stronger while progressing through the hiring process.
The next critical milestone is the actual interview.
Clothes don’t make the man (or the woman) but come on, the first impression is important. Research by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, Princeton psychologists, found long ago (in 2006) that we form the first impression of something in a tenth of a second. We’ve written right, a tenth, 0.1 seconds. How could we possibly not be biased?
As we will see, biases keep us from promoting diversity: they keep preserving the status quo, make us feel confident and at peace by choosing something that in some ways is familiar.
All good, but – surprise! – Forbes’ research on 600 companies found that diverse/inclusive teams make better decisions in 87% of the cases. Not only, these decisions drove 60% better results! And we can tell why: non-diverse teams are internally biased on a limited deck of solutions based on their uniform backend, CV, life path, culture.
The damages of a biased recruitment process are clearer now, aren’t they?
Well, let’s discover the MOST common hiring biases based on prejudices, stereotypes and basically human brain function.
You are biased. And me too. These biases don’t apply only to hiring processes, but to almost every choice we make in life. Not joking.
Note: we won’t talk about basic stereotypes or prejudices (like religion, gender, skin colour, body modifications) because we all know these are – incredibly – still a problem. But here we talk about unconscious bias, not conscious personal belief-related discrimination. Period.
This is when we favour a candidate because we (recruiters) share characteristics with them. Like, if you love football and wanna make friends to share your hobby with you don’t go to a golf club, right? We love people that are similar to us. We find an almost instant connection with them.
But are we looking for friends or a hiring a professional for a company? Think about that in your next recruitment process.
Pay attention: when talking about affinity bias, we are NOT talking about the workplace! The affinity TO the workplace they are going to fit in is important. But it’s not about if we also enjoy the candidate’s hobbies or if we happen to be alumni of the same college – that’s personal.
0.1 seconds, and we form a judgment about whom we have face to face. And then? Well, no one likes to be wrong, much less our brain. This recruitment bias makes us (recruiters) focus on information that supports our first impression. Sometimes this bias leads to the so-called overconfidence bias: we believe too much in ourselves and in our intuition to let go of that conviction.
Like, are you really telling me I need to change my opinion and to admit I made an evaluation mistake? Come on boy, I know my value – *offensive side eyes*
Wow, you’ve been working at *insert a market leader with thousands of employees*? This guy should be great.
This recruitment bias is one of the most frequent. To give a little shout-out to us recruiters, sometimes it’s really true that candidates who worked in big companies or come from leading universities are better than others.
Not because they have been in a prestigious reality, but because they have lived some situations, rules, workloads, etc. and based on the role we are recruiting, sometimes these things make a critical difference.
But being only a number in a small office in a 20k+ employee company, it’s not always add value. The focus should be on the work they’ve done, and not where they’ve done it.
Or not? Is really one single habit, characteristic, enough to represent the whole value of our candidate? No, but for our brain it’s more than enough. That’s exactly what the anchoring bias does: it takes a single, specific aspect of the candidate’s profile, and anchors all your perception on this alone.
Besides these four unconscious biases that can occur in every moment of our life, we identified two, very specific, biases which are strictly recruitment-related. Let’s go!
How many times do we change our opinion on something just because we see something better? Your fridge doesn’t seem so messy until you watch that fridge organizing video on TikTok, right? Well, the same thing unfortunately happens when screening resumes or – worse – when interviewing candidates.
It works this way: a second candidate seems worse because we just interviewed a first candidate which seemed better. However that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t compare candidates. How are you supposed to choose between dozens, hundreds, of candidates without comparing them?
It means that your specific opinion about a specific candidate can be worse than it should be, just because you interviewed someone that felt better before. And that also means that the same candidate would feel better if, before him, you talked with someone less skilled.
That’s called contrast bias – and it’s more common than you’d like to admit.
The second specific hiring bias is the status quo bias. Our brain is always trying to save energy. And changes require a lot of energy. This means it’s likely that you tend to favour a candidate similar to the person that’s already covering the role you are hiring for.
Do you remember the diversity research?.Yeah, exactly.
Is hiring without bias a thing? Yes, it’s hard, but we can make it happen. Given we can’t (damn) change how that thing in our skull works, we can structure a series of procedures to help us prevent and avoid biases. At headcount we use each one of these and a few more we can’t tell you about. After all, we are a science-based recruitment firm.
We can’t unveil all of our methods but you betcha these strategies will help you remove recruitment biases from your hiring process.
Objective criteria fixed in stone for each role
Are your criteria really objective? Or is there a little too much space for individual opinions?
Are you hiring out of sympathy or out of merit? Do you really (really) know what’s non-negotiable for the role?
Try to fix objective criteria and you will be covered.
On point hiring plan
We discussed this in our article on hiring efficiently. Having a structured hiring plan makes your recruitment process efficient, valuable, and rapid + makes sure you attract and hire the right talent.
Structured hiring process
We don’t need a two-months-obstacle-run hiring process. But we want an adequate set of instruments to help us be objective. A simple example is running the same interview for each candidate (and being sure that your panel is extremely well aligned).
Here at headcount we are not superheroes, but we know damn well how our brain works – we are scientists, don’t forget that. As long as you hire with us, you hire effectively, attracting the right missing piece to make your company better.
Are you struggling with finding the right person for your medtech, biotech, pharma, life science company?
Contact us and let’s dive into your search with high skilled science-based professionals – aka, us.