How to Reduce Bias in the Hiring Process

A young Black woman leads her team in a project meeting


INTOO Staff Writer


Every company has its own version of who the ideal candidate is for a job. Perhaps employers are looking for someone with relevant work experience or an applicant who has certain soft skills. However, it’s important to separate professional qualifications and experience from personal characteristics that are irrelevant to the position. Understanding and recognizing hiring bias can help employers reduce it when interacting with job seekers, contributing to a higher quality of candidate experience at all times.

What Is Hiring Bias?

Hiring bias occurs when an employer judges applicants based on their own assumptions rather than fairly evaluating the candidates on their abilities or experience. These assumptions are often based on metrics outside the job seeker’s control, like their age or gender. Thinking about candidates in this manner can lead to false conclusions about their capabilities or background and give employers an incorrect first impression of the applicant.

It’s vital for business owners to provide equal opportunities to all job seekers, or else they might overlook the perfect addition to their team in favor of someone who might not be as qualified. Being fair in your hiring decisions will also improve your candidate experience and have a positive impact on your reputation as an employer.

Types of Bias in Hiring

Below we take a look at five of the most common types of hiring bias. 

Gender bias

Gender bias is shown when applicants are unfairly evaluated based on their sex. For example, if the employer prefers working with men over women, then they have a conscious gender bias for applicants who are men. This type of bias can also be seen in those who believe in gender stereotypes, such as the claim that women are more emotional thinkers than men or that men are more mechanically inclined than women.

Age bias

Age bias refers to the false assumptions an employer makes about a candidate based on how old they are or appear to be. A younger applicant may be seen as inexperienced or less mature when compared to an older professional. Employers might also assume that an elderly job seeker is unfamiliar with current technology, while younger candidates are more tech-savvy. The physical capabilities of an older candidate can be unfairly judged by an interviewer who thinks they aren’t in their prime.

Hiring managers look for ways to reduce bias in hiring, as they interview a woman in her 60s.Beauty bias

Beauty bias occurs when an employer uses physical appearance to judge the applicant’s potential. Individuals with features considered conventionally attractive may be considered more sociable or successful than those who aren’t. This line of thought may lead to someone getting picked for a promotion or position based on their beauty rather than their accomplishments or experience. Applicants who aren’t considered beautiful by the employer may end up overlooked or discredited due to their appearance.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias happens when employers think something about an applicant and then try to prove that thought right. The bias results in people intentionally warping information to fit their opinions instead of looking at things objectively. Examples of this bias include asking leading questions during the candidate’s interview or ignoring evidence that contradicts your assumptions. These assumptions can be positive or negative, though they still cloud the employer’s judgment and prevent them from accurately evaluating the applicant.

Affinity bias

Affinity bias is shown when an employer favors an applicant because they share something in common. This bias makes people feel more connected with a candidate because of a shared experience, such as attending the same university or coming from the same town. Employers may also display this bias if the job seeker shares their interests, like enjoying the same sports team or having the same hobbies. An affinity bias unfairly differentiates applicants from other professionals who don’t have the same background.

How to Avoid Bias When Hiring

1. Get educated—and educate others—about affinity and unconscious bias

There’s a reason people often find a lot in common with their friends, such as the level of education, ethnicity, or economic status. The tendency for humans to like people who are like themselves is a well-documented phenomenon called affinity bias. 

Affinity bias affects hiring decisions too. If a female manager who grew up middle-class in the Midwest conducts final interviews with three equally-qualified candidates, she may be more likely to select the female candidate from Indiana because of the honest sense that this candidate would be the best “culture fit.”

The problem is that when affinity bias affects hiring decisions, the result is a continuation of the status quo. Companies that don’t address affinity bias are more likely to homogenize than diversify their workforce.

Affinity bias is just one type of unconscious bias which can reinforce other biases. Other types of unconscious biases can include internalized stereotypes about specific ethnic groups or unconscious beliefs about the character traits of people in certain age groups. 

To combat such biases, Ruchika Tulshyan, author of “The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace,” recommends accepting we all have biases—then taking steps to educate ourselves and asking tough questions about the hiring process to see where biases could enter into the decision making.

2. Write more inclusive job descriptions

Bias can surface in the hiring process even before a candidate applies to a job. Many words commonly used in job descriptions have gendered connotations that can attract or repel potential candidates. Words like “competitive” can discourage women from applying, while words like “collaborative” can encourage them, according to the Harvard Business Review

Glassdoor offers 10 helpful tips for reducing gender bias in your job descriptions. Suggestions include everything from using the free Gender Decoder online tool to highlighting family-friendly job benefits.

Removing information from a resume that might elicit bias, as shown with this resume, can help reduce bias in hiring.

3. Try judging blind

When resumes start coming in response to your job ads, make sure that these documents are evaluated fairly. Research has shown, for example, that decision makers tend to have a negative bias against names that sound African-American or Asian. Gender biases can enter into the resume evaluation process too.

To combat these biases, consider taking the names off the resumes before decision makers look at them, whether manually or through the use of software. This can ensure that candidates are selected for an interview by their qualifications alone.

Another way hiring decision makers can be influenced is through the opinions of their peers. If one person who has looked at a resume or interviewed a candidate shares their opinion in person or through collaboration software with other decision makers who have not yet had the chance to form their own opinions, bias can occur. Consider making it a policy not to discuss candidates until everyone has had a chance to make their own judgements, and use tools that require all decision makers to share their opinion before reading or hearing those of others.

4. Systematize the process

Since unconscious biases can filter into the types of questions asked in an interview, consider asking the same questions, in the same wording, to all interviewees for a position. This will help keep the interview process as consistent as possible while keeping the content of the interview focused on the primary skills and qualifications needed for the role.

Similarly, if tests are required as part of the application process, make sure that all candidates receive the same test. You may even be able to replace some interviews, which can be more subject to bias, with less subjective tests.

And of course, remember to review the interview questions and tests for biased verbiage or phrasing before standardizing them in your process. 

5. Measure your progress

Unless an organization sets goals related to diversity and inclusion—and tracks its progress—it can be hard to see which way the company is heading. If diversity and inclusion is part of your organization’s mission or ethos, have measurable goals by which you can evaluate your efforts.

Having a goal can also serve as a reminder for the members of your organization to continue working toward greater diversity and inclusion, as well as an impetus to get involved toward these efforts. INTOO offers scalable, cost-effective candidate experience solutions that establish your reputation as an employer of choice. Our easy-to-set-up platform demonstrates your brand’s focus on career development by offering job search tools to improve your applicants’ candidacy. Contact us to learn how INTOO’s Candidate Care can enhance your candidate experience.

INTOO Staff Writer

INTOO staff writers come from diverse backgrounds and have extensive experience writing about topics that matter to the HR and business communities, including outplacement, layoffs, career development, internal mobility, candidate experience, succession planning, talent acquisition, and more.

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