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Perspective: 13 Types of Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process

November 02, 2021 3:00 AM | Administrative Manager (Administrator)

By Eustacia A. English –  NRWA DEI Columnist

By day I’m a recruiter, and I enjoy what I do. I get much satisfaction when I can offer a candidate gainful employment and their dream career. In this profession, we face challenges such as a lack of qualified candidates, a lack of diversity in the candidate pool, candidates and/or hiring managers missing interviews, or candidates accepting competing offers (after completing the entire interview process). While these challenges make our jobs as recruiters difficult, I want to discuss an often-overlooked challenge – unconscious bias – in this month’s Perspective.

Unconscious bias can and does occur during the hiring process. It happens when you form an opinion about a candidate based solely on your first impressions or personal opinions without regard for the candidate's skills or ability. Recruiters and/or hiring managers may make hiring decisions based on subconscious emotion, perception, and stereotypes.

Did you know there are up to 18 common types of bias in the hiring process? Let’s dig a little deeper on 13 of them.

  1. Affinity bias: Also known as similarity bias, affinity bias can occur when a recruiter chooses a candidate because they share a similar background. We all tend to gravitate toward what and who is comfortable for us. However, hiring someone because they have a similar background or were in the same fraternity or sorority does not focus on the candidate’s skills and experience.
  2. Expectation anchor: You could be making bad hires when you narrow your judgment on a candidate to just a few areas on the resume to form your entire opinion about them.
  3. Confirmation bias: I am a firm believer that first impressions are everything. However, we should not judge a candidate solely based on first impressions, especially if it’s a negative opinion. One should not look for evidence to support your first impression of a person. Instead, focus on the skills and experience of the candidate.
  4. Affect heuristics: At times, our jobs can be repetitive with reviewing resumes and interviewing back-to-back candidates. In this industry, speed is everything. Affect heuristics is rushing to a conclusion about a candidate to narrow down resumes or interview candidates quickly. In doing so, you could potentially make a poor decision based on discriminatory prejudices such as name or background.
  5. Halo effect: If a candidate is strong in one qualification for the position, it doesn’t mean that they are strong in all areas.
  6. Horn effect: In contrast to the halo effect, if a candidate lacks skill in one area, it doesn’t mean that they are a bad candidate.
  7. Overconfidence bias: Great recruiters sometimes believe that they have great “recruiter intuition.” While that may be true some of the time, don’t be so overconfident in your ability that you don’t fully focus on the skills and experience of a candidate.
  8. Negative emphasis bias: Judging someone based on personal attributes is never a good thing. The American Psychological Association suggests that “someone who is 6 feet tall earns, on average, nearly $166,000 more during a 30-year career than someone who is 5 feet 5 inches.” This is irrelevant and holds no bearing on skills and experience to do the job.
  9. Beauty bias: We all know the saying; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Unless you are applying for a beauty pageant, beauty should not be a relevant factor during an interview. Studies have shown that attractive people are usually hired sooner, get promotions more quickly, and are paid more than their less-attractive coworkers.
  10. Conformity bias: Peer pressure during a panel interview is the main cause of conformity bias. Hearing the opinion of your peers can sometimes sway your opinion of a candidate.
  11. Contrast bias: You may have an early candidate that sets the bar high, and you may be compelled to compare every candidate you meet to that candidate. Judging someone based on the candidate that came before them is not a fair hiring practice.
  12. Nonverbal bias: This is judging a book by its cover. Nonverbal bias occurs when you use a candidate’s body language to build a story and jump to the wrong conclusion about them.
  13. First impression bias: Deciding on a candidate within the first few seconds of meeting them will never give them a fair chance because you have already made your mind up.

Now that you have an idea of the unconscious bias that can happen during the interview process, stay tuned as we discuss prevention solutions in a future newsletter issue. As recruiters and hiring leaders, it’s important to focus on a candidate's skills and experience. The tricky part is that we risk unconscious bias when making decisions between successful and unsuccessful candidates. It’s important to remember that when we’re reviewing resumes and interviewing, we should always focus on the candidate’s skills and experience.

Eustacia English is a new volunteer for the NRWA and writes the Perspective column, which examines Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) in resume writing and career strategy. She is a 20-year veteran of HR and talent acquisition and started Resumes on Demand last year. She also writes on DEI for The Black in HR e-zine. She lives with her new husband and two children in Cherry Hill, NJ. Find her online at LinkedIn.com/in/ecampbell05.

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