Unconscious Bias

Did you know that out of 700 surveyed tech founders, 92% are familiar with unconscious bias, but only 45% do something about it?

If you are not already among that 45%, it’s probably time you were. Because let’s face it, unconscious bias is likely affecting your ability to hire the best talent.

Unconscious bias in recruitment represents those deep-rooted, and sometimes quite unreasonable prejudices that you, your recruiters, or your hiring managers may hold about certain groups of applicants.

But before you jump to any logical conclusions, this type of bias isn’t only about gender, ethnicity, or even age. Unconscious bias is also based on subtle details such as physical attributes and body language. So if you have a problem with people that blink too much in everyday life, then it’s entirely possible you eliminated a solid candidate based on this physical trait alone. Seriously, we’re not even joking here.

The cold hard truth is that unconscious bias affects the authenticity of your hiring process, while also resulting in a lack of diversity within your company. And as you may have guessed, that is a very bad thing indeed. After all, studies have shown that for every 1% increase in a workforce’s diversity, there was a parallel growth of 3% in sales and 9% in revenue.

Taking these numbers into account, it would be safe to assume that unconscious bias would be top of the to-do list of many a CEO and business owner. But as we mentioned earlier, unfortunately, it’s not.

The 4 Most Common Types of Unconscious Bias and How to Handle Them

The Contrast Effect

What Is It?

The contrast effect takes away your sense of objectivity and makes you pit candidates against each other based on non-meritorious factors.

We know, that’s quite the mouthful so let’s break it down into a real-life example.

Let’s say you have a lot of candidates’ resumes to get through and very little time to do it. You start comparing candidates based on superficial factors that are easy to spot. You then set your standard at this level and as a result, high-quality candidates that could have been an ideal fit start to slip through your net because they lack something in comparison to others.

How to Handle It

There are many ways that you can handle the contrast effect, but the easiest and most effective technique would be to standardize your evaluation of the applicants throughout the hiring process.

Score your candidates based on their skills and experience alone and take advantage of job-specific online tests to determine the candidates’ levels of competence. This is also pretty useful when hiring for jobs you may be unfamiliar with, particularly technical positions.

Confirmation Bias

What Is It?

To avoid cognitive dissonance (the mental discomfort experienced when holding two contradicting beliefs), you tend to embrace your confirmation bias.

We know what you’re thinking; ‘what on earth is confirmation bias?’

Confirmation bias is what makes you prefer some job candidates over others based on pre-existing beliefs you hold about things such as their resume, gender, and educational or professional background among others.

This is the most common unconscious bias and one that is not exclusive to recruiters or hiring managers. Ever feel a little judgmental about someone and then have your opinion of them ‘confirmed’ when you discover their background or job title? That’s confirmation bias in action right there.

In a hiring situation, this bias leads you to look for information and ask questions that would confirm your existing ideas about the candidate, whether positive or negative.

This is particularly true when it comes to what are known as “red flags.” This is when a recruiter has a preconceived notion that a person with a specific attribute is undesirable based on previous interactions with candidates with the same trait. The recruiter then looks to prove their suspicions by looking for negative attributes while ignoring the positive ones.

How to Handle It

Because there are many aspects of the hiring process where confirmation bias might be involved, smart recruiters avoid jumping to conclusions until all the fact-checking is thoroughly complete. Of course, this is far easier said than done especially when the pressure is on, and there’s a deadline looming.

One simple way to handle this though is to reverse your thinking. Instead of confirming those preconceived notions, try to disprove them by looking for positive attributes. If that’s a little too time-consuming, then make a mental note to ignore ‘red flags’ until the actual interview stage when you can simply raise your concerns with the candidate face to face.  

The Halo Effect

What Is It?

The halo effect could be defined as the starting point of confirmation bias. It represents the positive feeling you have about a certain candidate based on your overall impression.

When you see one impressive trait in a person, the halo effect reflects that into your overall impression of the individual and makes you partially or even totally ignore the other steps and factors involved in the hiring process.

A real-life example of this effect would be the impression recruiters have for applicants with Ivy League education. But an education received at a prestigious institution doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll fit in with your work culture, does it?

How to Handle it

To handle the halo effect, make sure that different people get involved in the selection process throughout the various phases of your recruitment funnel.

For every candidate that makes it through your screening process, make sure that at least two people on your team get to speak with them either before or during the interview stage. With a little luck, at least one of your team members will be unaffected by that shiny halo.

The Horn Effect

What Is It?

The horn effect is the opposite of the halo effect. While the halo effect is all about having an overly positive impression of a candidate, the horn effect is when you just can’t shake that negative feeling.

We have all heard stories of how an applicant didn’t get a job because they spilled tea on their suit. Well, that is the perfect illustration of how the horn effect influences you as a recruiter. One small negative aspect and the candidate has no chance to impress at all.

How to Handle It

Watch any of the popular talent shows on TV, and you’ll see a contestant come into an audition and fail miserably. The judges will shake their heads in unison, but one will see a spark in the contestant and give them an opportunity to come back again. Then on stage, they amaze everyone with their ability.

What you have seen here is someone overcoming the horn effect and looking beyond a poor performance and seeing a positive attitude and ability that the others overlooked. This is what you should try to do as a recruiter.

Give each candidate a chance to shine regardless of a single flaw in their resume or initial phone interview. That flaw may not be the red flag you think it is. No one is perfect, right?

The best way to eliminate unconscious bias of any kind from your recruitment and interview process is through constant training. Sure, your recruiters may be the best in the business and feel that there’s very little that a short training course once every six months can teach them. But this type of training isn’t about learning new tricks; it’s all about reminding them about their responsibility to remain completely objective at every step of the hiring process.

Unconscious Bias: A group of people are standing around a computer, excited.

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