What is Unconscious Bias in Hiring?


Philip Spain


min read


30 May 2024

Illustration of unconcious bias
Illustration of unconcious bias

You're committed to building a diverse, inclusive workplace. But have you ever stopped to wonder how unconscious bias in hiring might be undermining that goal? Every organisation aims to recruit the best talent. However, unconscious attitudes and stereotypes can slip into decision-making, leading to unfair hiring processes.

Understanding how these biases manifest and their impact on recruitment is crucial for reducing their impact, especially when trying to improve diversity and inclusivity within your team or business. This article will explore what unconscious bias is, how it affects your hiring process, and practical ways to reduce it.

Understanding Unconscious Bias in Hiring

What Is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious bias refers to the associations and judgements that operate below the level of conscious awareness. These biases are subtle, but they heavily influence decisions and interactions. In the context of hiring and talent acquisition, these biases might shape your opinions about candidates based on irrelevant factors, such as their name, appearance, or background.

These types of biases are usually a result of societal stereotypes and personal experiences. For example, you may unknowingly favour candidates who attended the same university as you. It’s critical to uncover these biases to make fair, merit-based decisions. Recognising they exist is the first step toward addressing them.

Pro-tip: Regularly participate in bias training workshops to become more aware of your unconscious beliefs.

How Does It Affect the Hiring Process?

Unconscious bias can distort every phase of the hiring process, from framing job descriptions to conducting interviews. An inclusive job description ensures you aren’t unintentionally promoting a biased view of who might be the ‘ideal candidate’. For example, preferring 'assertive' traits can unknowingly favour male candidates.

During interviews, unconscious bias might lead to giving more weight to candidates who 'feel' like a cultural fit, often those resembling the existing team. This mindset can stymie diversity and innovation. Evaluations based on gut feeling without structured criteria often result in inconsistent and unfair hiring decisions.

Pro-tip: Use structured interviews and standardised evaluation forms to keep the focus on job-related criteria.

Examples of Unconscious Bias in Hiring

At the application review stage, you might find yourself rating a resume that contains an ethnic-sounding name lower than a more familiar one. This could be a result of name bias. Even before the interview starts, the candidate's photo on LinkedIn might cause you to form an opinion, demonstrating appearance bias.

Affinity bias happens when you favour candidates who share similar interests or backgrounds. For instance, if you both play tennis, you might subconsciously rate them higher during the interview. Meanwhile, halo effect occurs if a candidate excels in one area, you might overlook their weaknesses in other areas.

Here’s a summary of the different types of unconscious bias to look out for:

  • Name bias: Favouring certain names over others.

  • Appearance bias: Judgement based on looks or dress.

  • Affinity bias: Preferring candidates similar to yourself.

  • Halo effect: Letting one positive trait overshadow the rest.

Pro-tip: Mask names and photos on applications to focus solely on skills and experience.

By recognising and understanding these biases, you can take steps to mitigate their impact, ensuring a fairer and more equitable hiring process.

Addressing and Reducing Unconscious Bias

Strategies to Minimise Bias in Recruitment

To minimise unconscious bias in recruitment, you can implement several strategies to ensure a fairer and more inclusive process. One effective approach is to anonymise candidate information during the initial screening stages. Removing identifiers such as names, ages, genders, and even educational backgrounds can help the focus remain on skills and experience alone.

Training programs are crucial in raising awareness and educating hiring managers about unconscious bias. Incorporate bias training into your regular training sessions, ensuring that everyone involved in recruitment understands how to recognise and mitigate their biases. Tools and services like Evidenced's structured interview builder can help create a consistent, unbiased interview framework. Our system enables you to sync templates from your ATS or use our pre-built question library, maintaining a standardised approach across all interviews.

Evidenced: Increasing Fairness in Interviews

Structured interviews and consistent evaluation frameworks are essential in promoting fairness during the hiring process. Implement structured interviews where each candidate is asked the same set of questions. Design these questions around job-related criteria to generate comparable answers that clearly highlight each candidate’s qualifications. This reduces the chance of bias creeping in through unstructured, informal chats that might favour those with similar backgrounds to the interviewer.

To increase fairness, consider using technology to assist in the interview process to support interviewers with making data-driven, merit-based hiring decisions. Evidenced's scorecards and auto question detection allow for a systematic evaluation based on predetermined criteria, ensuring each candidate is assessed in the same way.

The Role of Structured Interviews and Technology

Structured interviews are a powerful tool in the fight against unconscious bias. They help ensure consistency by providing a consistent, repeatable process for each interview, which can be critically important for fairness and accuracy. Standardising questions helps evaluate candidates objectively, based on their responses rather than impressions or gut-feel. This process ensures that all candidates, regardless of their background, are given an equal opportunity to demonstrate their ability.

Evidenced offers a robust platform that captures interviews through video recording and provides tools like automatic question detection and live transcription. This means you can spend more time engaging with candidates and less time note-taking. With our shareable interview recaps and bookmarks for key moments, you enhance the interview review process, ensuring you and your team can revisit important points to make well-informed decisions.

Using these strategies and tools helps to create a more equitable and inclusive hiring process. Structured interviews and technology not only minimise bias but also streamline the recruitment workflow, making it more efficient and effective.

In conclusion, taking deliberate steps to identify and mitigate unconscious bias is essential in creating a fair and inclusive hiring process. Conducting structured interviews and leveraging modern tools and technologies like those offered by Evidenced can significantly reduce the impact of unconscious biases and support more equitable hiring decisions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is an example of bias in recruitment?

An example of bias in recruitment is favouring candidates from certain universities over others, irrespective of their actual skills and qualifications.

What is an example of unconscious bias?

An example of unconscious bias is assuming that a candidate's gender influences their suitability for a role, such as believing men are better suited for tech jobs.

What is an example of unconscious bias in an interview?

Unconscious bias in an interview can occur when an interviewer’s personal preference for outgoing personalities leads them to overlook the skills and experience of more introverted candidates.

How to deal with unconscious bias in recruitment?

To deal with unconscious bias in recruitment, implement blind hiring practices, use structured interviews, provide bias training, and utilise technology such as video recording and automatic transcriptions to ensure objectivity.