Bias in Hiring: The Different Types and How To Avoid Them
Updated on September 29, 2023
Bias in Hiring: The Different Types and How To Avoid Them
Hiring decisions are critical to the health of an organization, and most people try their best to make fair and unbiased decisions.
Unfortunately, unconscious bias affects everyone, as we make decisions that we might think are objective but are influenced by our past experiences or preconceptions about certain groups of people.
Because it’s unconscious, it’s difficult to be confident of ever making a truly objective decision. However, it helps to know the different ways bias can present itself and to be on the lookout for these tendencies.
Types of Bias
Bias in hiring refers to the presence of prejudiced or unfair factors that influence the selection process, leading to unequal opportunities for candidates. Various types of bias can occur in hiring.
1. Halo/Horn Effect
This bias occurs when an interviewer forms an overall positive or negative impression of a candidate based on a single prominent trait or impression. If the impression is positive, this is known as the “halo effect,” and if it is negative, it is known as the “horn effect.”
An example of this bias might be selecting someone because they have a prestigious degree and overlooking their lack of experience.
2. Confirmation Bias
This bias involves seeking information or interpreting data in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs or assumptions. Interviewers may unconsciously focus on aspects that align with their initial impressions of candidates, leading to a biased evaluation.
For example, if a candidate comes highly recommended, the interviewer may filter their perception through that recommendation and only see the positive traits that align with it.
Stereotypes based on gender, race, age, or other characteristics can influence hiring decisions, whether the interviewer is aware of it or not.
Assumptions about a candidate’s abilities, qualifications, or fit within the organization may be made based on these stereotypes, resulting in discriminatory practices.
4. Affect Heuristics
Put simply, a heuristic is a mental shortcut that helps simplify problem-solving. Though heuristics are a normal and beneficial part of the human brain, they can become a problem when trying to make unbiased hiring decisions.
For example, if the candidate has a similar name as someone who mistreated you in the past, you may subconsciously decide that this person is untrustworthy and not be objective in your decision process.
5. Expectation Anchor
An expectation anchor, also known as an anchoring bias, is a cognitive bias that occurs when individuals rely too heavily on an initial piece of information or reference point (the “anchor”) when making judgments or decisions.
In the context of hiring, an expectation anchor can occur during candidate evaluations or salary negotiations. For example, if an employer receives a candidate’s application mentioning a high salary expectation, that initial anchor can shape their perception of the candidate’s value and influence subsequent salary discussions.
6. Overconfidence Bias
Overconfidence bias is a cognitive bias in which individuals tend to have an inflated sense of their abilities, knowledge, or judgments. It is the tendency to overestimate one’s own skills, expertise, or the accuracy of one’s beliefs or predictions.
People affected by overconfidence bias often exhibit unwarranted confidence in their decision-making abilities, making them overly optimistic about outcomes or underestimating risks and uncertainties. They may believe they are more knowledgeable or competent than they are, leading to potential errors in judgment or decision-making.
In the context of hiring, overconfidence bias can manifest in various ways. Hiring managers or interviewers who are overconfident may believe they can accurately assess a candidate’s abilities or fit within the organization, even without complete or objective information.
This can result in biased evaluations, overestimating a candidate’s potential, or overlooking critical shortcomings.
7. Similarity Attraction Bias
Similarity attraction bias, also known as the similarity-attraction effect or the similarity bias, is a cognitive bias that influences people to be more attracted to and prefer individuals similar to themselves. It is the tendency to favor people who share similar characteristics, beliefs, attitudes, values, backgrounds, or interests.
The similarity attraction bias can influence hiring decisions as well as interpersonal relationships. In the context of hiring, it may lead to a preference for candidates who have similar educational backgrounds, work experiences, or personality traits to those of the hiring manager or interviewers.
This bias can result in a lack of diversity within the organization, as candidates who do not closely align with the existing employees’ characteristics or viewpoints may be overlooked.
8. Illusory Correlation
Illusory correlation refers to a cognitive bias where individuals perceive a relationship or correlation between two variables even when there is no actual statistical association or evidence to support it.
It occurs when people mistakenly believe that two events or characteristics are related, often based on limited or anecdotal evidence, personal experiences, stereotypes, or preconceived notions.
For example, if the interviewer believes that a period of unemployment means the applicant is unmotivated, they may make negative assumptions about them without asking for additional context or information.
9. Affinity Bias
Affinity bias, also known as similarity bias or in-group bias, refers to the tendency for individuals to favor and be more positively inclined toward others with similar backgrounds, interests, beliefs, or characteristics.
Affinity bias can manifest in hiring when individuals unconsciously or consciously gravitate toward candidates who share similar experiences or qualities to their own.
This bias can result in a lack of diversity within the workforce, as candidates who do not fit the established mold may face disadvantages in the selection process. Affinity bias can limit opportunities for individuals from underrepresented groups and perpetuate organizational inequalities.
10. Beauty Bias
Beauty bias (or attractiveness bias) is simple, but that doesn’t make it less dangerous. The majority of people have a subconscious bias toward beauty and its correlation to success.
This leads to candidates being selected based on their physical traits rather than their demonstrated abilities. Though it affects everyone, women are subjected to this bias more frequently in professional settings.
11. Conformity Bias
Conformity bias, also known as the bandwagon effect or groupthink, refers to the tendency of individuals to adopt the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors of a majority or influential group, even if those beliefs or behaviors may be contrary to their own personal judgment or values.
A cognitive bias arises from the desire to fit in, gain acceptance, or avoid social disapproval. In hiring, conformity bias can influence interviewers or hiring committees to align their evaluations and decisions with the group’s majority opinion or prevailing views.
This bias can lead to the suppression of diverse perspectives and ideas, resulting in missed opportunities to identify and select qualified candidates who may bring unique insights or abilities to the organization.
Intuition bias, also known as the availability heuristic or the representativeness heuristic, refers to the cognitive bias where individuals rely heavily on their intuitive judgments or subjective feelings when making decisions rather than considering objective data or evidence.
Intuition bias leads you to rely on immediate and easily accessible information that comes to mind, even if it may not accurately represent the overall situation or probabilities.
Intuition bias can influence decision-making in various contexts, including hiring. When faced with evaluating candidates, individuals may rely on their gut feelings or initial impressions rather than systematically assessing relevant qualifications or skills.
This bias can lead to subjective evaluations, overlooking important factors, or favoring candidates based on personal preferences or biases.
13. Contrast Effect/Judgement Bias
The contrast effect, also known as the judgment bias, is a cognitive bias that occurs when you evaluate or perceive something based on a previous or nearby comparison rather than evaluating it on its own.
In the context of hiring, a contrast effect can occur when an interviewer evaluates a candidate compared to the previous candidate they interviewed rather than independently assessing the candidate’s qualifications and suitability.
If the previous candidate had exceptional qualifications, the current candidate might appear comparatively weaker, even if they are highly qualified in their own right.
This can also work in the opposite direction: if the previous candidate was significantly underqualified, anyone who comes after them will seem great in comparison.
How To Avoid Bias
Many types of unconscious bias can negatively affect the hiring process. It may not be possible to ever completely eradicate bias, but there are steps you can take to mitigate its effects.
1. Awareness and Training
The first step toward fixing a bias problem is simply to recognize that it’s there. Educate hiring managers and interviewers about unconscious bias, its impact on decision-making, and strategies to mitigate bias.
Training programs can help individuals recognize their own biases and develop techniques to make more fair and objective evaluations.
2. Structured Interviews and Evaluation Criteria
Implement structured interviews that have consistent questions and evaluation criteria for all candidates to ensure that each candidate is assessed based on the same factors.
Using the same questions to interview candidates is crucial for maintaining consistency, fairness, and validity in the hiring process. By employing a standardized set of questions, all candidates are evaluated equally, minimizing the potential for bias or discrimination.
However, it is important to supplement these questions with follow-up inquiries to delve deeper into candidates’ responses and gain a deeper understanding of their suitability for the role.
3. Diverse Interview Panels
When creating a hiring panel, include diverse interviewers who represent different backgrounds and perspectives. This can help reduce bias by incorporating a range of viewpoints in the decision-making process.
Even if forms of bias are still present, a diverse interview panel can work similarly to a checks and balances system in which members can recognize and call out forms of bias as they present themselves.
4. Blind Hiring
Blind hiring is the practice of concealing personally identifiable information, such as a candidate’s name, gender, or age, during the initial screening or evaluation stages.
If resume screeners don’t have access to a candidate’s name and other demographic information, they aren’t able to form any subconscious biases about that person. Instead, they must focus solely on the qualifications and skills of candidates, creating a more level playing field.
5. Data-Driven Selection
Using data and metrics to guide hiring decisions is another way to reduce the role of bias in hiring decisions.
Establish clear job-related criteria and qualifications, and use objective measures and assessments to evaluate candidates. This can help reduce subjective biases and focus on candidates’ abilities and potential and make your hiring process faster and more accurate.
6. Regular Audits and Monitoring
The hiring process can always be improved, so be sure to continuously assess the hiring process to identify and address potential biases. Analyzing candidate demographics, selection outcomes, and feedback data can help ensure fairness and equal opportunities.
Even if you have taken steps to reduce bias in the past, maintaining an equitable hiring process is an ongoing task and will likely need frequent reevaluation.
7. Promote Diversity and Inclusion
Finally, cultivate a diverse and inclusive work environment by actively seeking candidates from underrepresented groups and creating inclusive policies and practices. Encouraging diversity in the workplace can help combat biases and foster a more equitable hiring process.
By implementing these strategies to improve diversity hiring tactics, organizations can mitigate bias in the hiring process and promote fair and inclusive practices, ultimately leading to a more diverse and talented workforce.
Even though most employers strive to create an equitable hiring process, unconscious biases can facilitate discrimination, negatively impacting candidates and your organization as a whole.
To mitigate bias in hiring, it’s important to recognize the various forms it can take and have systems in place to reduce its effects. Though it can be challenging to address a force most people are unconscious of, implementing a more fair and inclusive hiring process will ultimately benefit your business.
Bias in hiring can have significant negative consequences. It can result in the exclusion of qualified candidates from underrepresented groups, perpetuate inequalities in the workforce, hinder diversity and inclusion efforts, and contribute to a lack of varied perspectives within an organization.
Common types of bias in hiring include unconscious bias (based on ingrained stereotypes or preconceptions), halo/horn effect (forming an overall positive or negative impression based on a single trait), confirmation bias (seeking information that confirms existing beliefs), and stereotyping (making assumptions based on characteristics like gender, race, or age).
Organizations can take several steps to mitigate bias in hiring, including providing awareness training to hiring managers, implementing structured interviews and evaluation criteria, ensuring diverse interview panels, adopting blind hiring practices, using data-driven selection methods, regularly auditing the hiring process, and promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Addressing bias in hiring is crucial for creating a fair and inclusive workplace. It enhances diversity, fosters innovation and creativity, improves employee morale and engagement, helps organizations tap into a broader talent pool, and aligns with ethical and legal obligations to provide equal opportunities to all candidates.
Individuals can challenge their biases by increasing self-awareness, examining their own assumptions and stereotypes, actively seeking diverse perspectives, questioning their initial judgments, utilizing structured evaluation methods, and continuously educating themselves about unconscious bias and its impact on decision-making.
Technology can play a role in mitigating bias in hiring. For example, applicant tracking systems can anonymize candidate information during initial screening, ensuring a focus on qualifications rather than demographic factors. However, it is important to carefully design and monitor the use of technology to ensure it does not inadvertently perpetuate bias or create new challenges.
Organizations can promote diversity and inclusion by creating inclusive policies and practices, providing diversity training to employees, fostering a culture of respect and belonging, establishing diverse mentorship and sponsorship programs, ensuring equitable career development opportunities, and regularly evaluating and addressing biases at all levels of the organization.