Types of Bias and How to Avoid Them in the Recruitment Process

"...chances are good that recruiting
and retaining talent end up in the top three challenges
an organizations face.– Sachin Gupta, HackerEarth CEO and co-founder

Making the right decision when hiring is essential to any company, as it will determine if the new hire will be a perfect match for the required skills, the team attitude, and the company culture. Today, technology and data have been of great help to humans while making decisions related to recruitment. We have more information and we are able to combine this information in order to make the best possible decision for any occasion. Nevertheless, as you can understand, the ones who will make the decision, in the end, are people; and as humans, our decisions sometimes are not only based on facts and logic but on emotions and personal experiences as well. We sometimes are vulnerable to bias decisions. Simply stated by an HBR researcher, “bias causes us to make decisions in favor of one person or group to the detriment of others”.

Several studies show that a recruitment process can be very biased. Recruiters often make decisions based on the age, race, ethnicity, beliefs, and gender of their candidates. Such decisions have a direct effect on the quality of the person who will be hired at the end of the process. The reasoning behind that is that when selecting people based on the aforementioned characteristics we miss the opportunity to consider candidates who may better match the required knowledge and the necessary skills and attitude for the position we are hiring for.

 Do’s:

  • Search for talent
  • Match necessary skills
  • Find the knowledge
  • Select for attitude

Don’ts:

  • Check the gender of your candidates
  • Focus on age
  • Stuck on race and ethnicity
  • Look for similar background

The Most Common Types of Bias

  1. Confirmation Bias 

    This type of bias applies when people create a hypothesis in their mind and look for ways to prove it. The best example showing how we use confirmation bias is when we go through a CV and we realize that the candidate attended Harvard Business School. Knowing that HBS is a top-rated school, we expect the candidate to be a top performer as well. We keep our thoughts away from considering other possibilities such as that this particular candidate could be an exception, or that despite the skills he/she may possess, the candidate may be a mismatch for our company culture as well. 

  2. Affinity Bias

    We apply affinity bias when we look for people who went to the same college as we did, or who grew up in the same city as we did. We do not focus our attention on the necessary skills or knowledge but focus on similarities we may have with the candidate concerning our personal, educational, and professional background. That said, finding someone from the same home city or someone who owns the same exact diploma as we do, can lead us to compromise on matching the desired skills and the full job requirements for our own similarities.

  3. Halo and Horns Effect

    Halo Effect is the phenomenon when we assume that because people are good at doing one thing right, they will be good at doing other things right as well. It is highly associated with the first impression. If we create a first good impression for someone, it is difficult for us to change the way we perceive this person later. Exactly the opposite happens under the “Horns Effect”. If we formulate a negative impression about a candidate when we first meet him/her, then we tend to ignore any of his/her positive characteristics and concentrate only on unfavorable ones.

  4. Expectation Anchor

    This particular type of bias occurs when a recruiter does the screening of several CVs and likes one of them more than the others. Thus, the recruiter while interviewing all candidates will expect the candidate with the CV that he/she liked to perform better than the other candidates. Therefore, the recruiter will make decisions which are in favor of this one person whom the CV he/she liked during the prescreening process. Consequently, all other candidates are in disadvantage “compared” to the candidate with the most likable CV (from the recruiter’s perspective).

  5. Intuition

    In other words, it represents judgments we make based on our “sixth sense”. In some cases, recruiters do not have ready all the necessary information about a candidate and they make assumptions based on their feelings and intellect. Of course, sometimes you need to have the “guts” and make decisions based on what you think, feel, or believe; but why make uncontrolled risky decisions when you have the opportunity to take “controlled risks”? (see the last caption of the article).

  6. Beauty Bias

    We are using beauty bias when we consider that because someone is “beautiful”, he/she will be more successful as well; or if someone is tall, then this person has more chances to become a CEO. This actually happens today. Sixty percent of American CEOs are over 6 foot while only 15% of the total population is over 6 foot tall; this shows some kind of bias in terms of how we perceive a CEO should look like. A funny example here is the fact that Nicolas Sarkozy-a former French President, used to wear 2in elevator heels to boost him to 5ft and 8in and look taller than he is because all his colleagues (respective presidents and prime ministers of EU countries) and his wife at the moment looked taller than him.

  7. Effective Heuristic

    We are being effective heuristics when we judge someone’s job suitability based on superficial factors such as the shape of his/her body, the type of his/her haircut, or the several tattoos that this person may have. One very interesting fact related to this type of bias is that German researchers found that:

     

    1. HR professionals who participated in the study use alarming type of bias while making decisions
    2. The ability of obese individuals to achieve supervisory positions was underestimated
    3. “Normal-weight” individuals’ ability to achieve supervisory positions was overestimated

Judging someone’s ability to perform well based on their body weight/shape, their appearance, or their tattoos is the most stupid and non-sense behavior someone can show. Everyone is special in their unique way, and no one has the right to make assumptions based on the aforementioned characteristics. The same here applies to recruiters. Recruiters should avoid making decisions based on the way someone looks, and recruiters should avoid being bias in terms of how the performance of a candidate could be related to his/her superficial characteristics.

Reducing and Avoiding Bias in the Recruitment Process

An article published in the Harvard Business Review supports that bias in the recruitment process could be reduced if we train recruiters to:

  1. Simplify and standardize the process – pre-formulate the questions that you will ask the candidate. Avoid asking bias-based and sensitive questions.
  2. Go blind for the resume review – ensure that you are focused on your candidate's specific qualifications and talents and not surface “demographic characteristics”.
  3. Give a work sample test – put them on a task that they will be doing the job if hired. “It is the best indicator of future job performance”.

The Role of a Talent Assessment Software

Reading and focusing on all the above types of bias that could affect a recruiter’s decision during the recruitment process, someone could spot that most of these bias types are related to the first impression that we formulate at the moment we meet someone, or related to generic assumptions, or past experiences that someone may have had. Otherwise stated, recruiters’ decisions are often vulnerable to their feelings and emotions. In addition, the suggestions from the HBR article all focus on two important things:

  • “Go blind in the prescreening”
  • “Give a work sample test”

Lucky us, there is a solution to satisfy these two points! In the beginning of this article, I mentioned that data and technology can be of great help in a recruiter’s job. Today, we have the option to throw away the stress of making the wrong decision when hiring someone. With the help of a talent assessment software (TAS) we do not have to worry anymore about how much bias unconsciously we can be when assessing someone, leading us to hire the wrong person who does not match all the desired skills and job requirements.

A TAS, such as the Recruit service of HackerEarth provide us with the opportunity to meet with a candidate’s skills prior to meeting the candidate in person or meeting his/her demographic and superficial characteristics. “Recruit” allows companies to conduct tests to screen technical (in this specific case) candidates. It automatically creates challenges, remotely evaluates candidates and gives a detailed and objective insight on technical skills of candidates. Thus, you as a recruiter have avoided any unconsciously bias you could apply during the prescreening process, and now you can select your candidates knowing that they have all the required skills to become a top performer in the position you are going to offer them.

Moreover, there are also opportunities which allow you to test your candidates or even your employees on a “work sample test”. This can take place through a talent assessment software as mentioned above, or it could also take place on platforms such as Sprint - a hackathon management tool used by organizations for developer engagement thrhttps://www.hackerearth.com/sprint/ough various intra-company activities like product development challenges, and branding hackathons. Of course, if you are not hiring for technical/IT positions you can check other platforms which better fit your job description and organization’s needs.

To conclude, by using a talent assessment software, recruiters can avoid or minimize most types of bias during the recruitment process which could negatively affect their final decision and disappoint on performance reviews of the new hire later on.

Why Putting Effort into Avoiding Bias in Recruitment?

There are several reasons why you as a recruiter should be convinced about avoiding bias when hiring for a position. These reasons could be divided into legal-based and performance-based:

Legal-based:

  • Equal Employment Opportunity – Almost all countries require employers to provide candidates with equal employment opportunities and not be biased when hiring someone. Not respecting this law could cause a company a huge amount of money as well as a fatal damage to employer branding.
  • Corporate Ethics Policies – If an organization does not respect these policies, a candidate or an employee can sue the company. A lawsuit has the same consequences as described above.

Performance-based:

  • Increase Diversity – avoiding being bias in a recruitment process allows you to hire based on knowledge and skills, and not based on demographic characteristics. Therefore, your employees’ base at the end could result as very diverse. Diversity, in turn, has been found to have a positive effect on an organization’s overall performance.
  • Efficient Recruitment Process – when recruiters’ decisions are not biased, then the chances to hire the perfect match for the position they look to fill are higher. Thus, they do not have to be afraid of a mismatch between the new hire and the job requirements, and therefore they can ensure the business that re-running the recruitment process from the beginning in order to find a better match is not necessary.

To summarize, being bias while recruiting can cause a company to lose people who may possess all the necessary skills, knowledge, and attitude. In addition, it may cause the need to re-run the recruitment process because of a mismatch, and therefore, the need to re-invest money, time, and effort on finding a new candidate. On the other hand, while bias decisions take place very often, the situation is not only black and white. There are ways to avoid the different types of bias, and help you to make the right decision at the right time. To achieve this, you should re-structure your recruitment process and seriously think of using talent assessment software which simplifies the process for you and provides you with detailed and objective insights on candidates’ skills.

Use HackerEarth to Recruit Unbiased

About the Author

Nikola Tore
Travel Addict • Tech Lover | Talent Acquisition • HRM • CX • LinkedIn • Freelancer | HR Content Writer
Share
58