Most people don’t set out to apply bias in a recruitment process, however it is embedded in our unconscious mind. You may have been in a hiring process when someone ‘different’ than you were expecting walks in. Perhaps based on the extensive resume you were expecting someone older or maybe you assumed ‘Alex’ was a man.

If you are able to quickly reframe your thinking and progress to an objective interview then no harm is done; however some recruiters will not give the interview the fair chance it deserves by internal dialogue such as, “someone that young won’t be able to do the job”, or “a man will be a better fit”.

Employers need to be careful that if they don’t take a proactive approach to minimising bias, it can result in discrimination against qualified and suitable applicants, whilst also undermining the ability to find the best talent.

Common types of bias that occurs during interviews

Even when bias has been avoided in forming the shortlist, the interview presents a very high risk for bias to creep back in. Whilst no one enters an interview with the intent to show bias and potentially discriminate, it does happen unconsciously. It is recommended that employers invest in some unconscious bias training to bring awareness and understanding to hiring managers. The most common forms of interview bias include:

Halo effect

The halo effect in interviews is where the interviewer decides very quickly that they ‘like’ the candidate and spend the rest of the interview trying to convince themselves that they were right. The interviewer may favour one qualification, trait, or experience and allow it to influence all other factors, resulting in an unduly high interview rating.

Similarity Effect or ‘Like Me’ bias

Interviewers have an unconscious tendency to favour people who are physically and professionally similar to themselves. This can be enhanced when an interviewer works out that they went to the same school, are in the same sporting club or even barrack for the same football team.  It may also be a recruiter who is a single mum interviewing a candidate who is also a single mum.

Horns effect

Similar to the halo effect, but it is the opposite. This bias allows one disfavoured qualification, trait, or experience to take precedence and result in an unfairly low interview rating. A common issue with the ‘horns’ bias is that an interviewer can decide very quickly that they do not like the candidate and spend the rest of the interview proving that they were right.  Physical appearance, gender and race can also be a strong contributor to the horns effect and discriminatory behaviour.

Appraiser biases

Occurs when an evaluation is based on individual demographic differences. For example, personal beliefs, attitudes, and preferences, which can lead to unfair evaluations of candidates.

Primacy effect

When an interviewers’ first impressions of a candidate plays a powerful role in their subsequent assessment.

Recency effect

This is more relevant when interviewing internal candidates. The recency effect is when the interview is focused on the most recent knowledge of the applicant’s performance in their current position. If this was not strong, it puts the applicant at an unfair disadvantage.

Contrast effect

May occur if an average applicant is rated more highly than they deserve because they are interviewed after several poor applicants. This can be common in interviews where the pool of applicants has not met the standard.  The interviewers can become focused on who was the best on the day as opposed to who met and exceeded the criteria.

3 tips to minimise bias in the recruitment process

1. Look for ‘culture add’, not ‘culture fit’

Without giving it much thought, most organisations actively and unapologetically look to hire new employees that are a good ‘fit’ to their existing culture.

This seems innocent enough as employers seek to essentially replicate people that will fit into the business. Sometimes in an interview, the interviewer may innocently state, “every Friday night we have drinks in the office and we enjoy having a few beers together”. The intention of this statement may be to demonstrate that the workplace is a social one and they will be welcome to join in.

The candidate may have cultural or religious beliefs that prevent them from participating in this. If the interviewer makes a judgement that the candidate won’t ‘fit their culture’, this can be detrimental to the success of the applicant and can be deemed discriminatory.

It is important that interviewers look for skills, experiences and behaviour traits that will be advantageous to the position and the business, rather than looking to see if there are any shared interests, hobbies, or sporting teams.

Interviewers are encouraged to keep each other in check by continuing to ask, “why is it important?” For example, if one interviewer reflects at the end of an interview and says, “I don’t think that they will join the social club”, the other should promptly respond with, “why is that important?”.

Adding to your existing culture can be extremely advantageous but trying to fit everyone into the same cultural mould is limiting and increases bias and discrimination.

2. Reduce bias in the sourcing methods

A key step to reducing bias is in the initial stage when the advertisement is being written. Sometimes, an employer may say, “must be available to work late” as an indicator of the expectation, however this statement may eliminate a single parent or someone with care responsibilities, especially if it is not a requirement of the position. This person may be perfect, but a statement such as this in the advertisement can and does eliminate otherwise suitable candidates.

It is also recommended that employers revisit their essential criteria. Is it really necessary that a candidate has experience in the agriculture industry or can the skills be reasonably acquired? It is also common that employers will over ask on experience.

For example, an advertisement may say “must have ten years banking experience”. This statement is likely to eliminate a younger employee, even if there have five amazing years’ experience. It is recommended that employers write ads and job descriptions with neutral language that focus more on output instead of strict language with competencies and experience. This technique will allow for a broader pool of candidates to identify with the role as an opportunity.

Finally, it is recommended that employers carefully consider their sourcing channels. If an employer sticks to homogenous sourcing methods, they are very likely to continue to have homogenous applicants. Considering a broader sourcing strategy will appeal to a broader audience and will not unintentionally eliminate one ‘category’ of applicant.

3. Use blind resumes

Research has shown that candidates with a culturally diverse name are much less likely to be successful in the initial screening process.

To combat this bias, some employers will provide blind resumes to hiring managers to review that do not have the name, gender, age, or other identifying factors on it. This forces the hiring manager to focus on skill matching, and identifying relevant experience and required qualifications. Many organisations are still completing this task manually, but there are automated tools that can quickly and efficiently support organisations to screen resumes without the risk of bias.

It starts at the top

As bias is embedded into our unconscious mind, it is almost impossible to completely eliminate, but it is certainly possible to take positive steps to minimise it. Whilst many believe that this task sits with the HR team, the commitment to minimising bias starts at the top. The CEO needs to lead the charge on work practices that embrace diversity and inclusion and demonstrate a commitment to a fair and equitable process that sources the ‘best person’ – not the ‘preferred category’.

Further information

For some further handy tips please see our 'How to minimise bias in the recruitment process' resource.

For assistance with your workplace matters, Members of Ai Group can contact us or call our Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77 for further information.

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Georgina Pacor
Georgina is Senior Content Writer and HR Specialist – Publications at Ai Group. She is an accomplished Human Resource professional with over 20 years of generalist and leadership experience in a broad range of industries including financial services, tourism, travel, government and agriculture. She has successfully advised and partnered with senior leaders to implement people and performance initiatives that align to business strategy. Georgina is committed to utilising her experience to create resources that educate and engage and is passionate about supporting members to optimise an inclusive workforce culture that drives performance.