a pair of glasses in front of four job candidates

How to Remove Unconscious Bias in Recruitment

Unconscious bias is our brains’ natural response to the influx of information we receive each moment. Our minds organize and filter the information so that we can quickly process and respond to what’s going on around us. While it’s a useful tool, it can be problematic if we don’t pay attention.

Unconscious bias in recruitment can sometimes reinforce stereotypes and lead to unfair hiring decisions. So how can you evaluate your own biases and make sure they’re not coming into play when deciding on the best candidate for the job? Here’s how to remove unconscious bias in recruitment – from sourcing to final evaluations.


Recruiter reviewing resume


How to remove unconscious bias when you’re sourcing candidates.

Start with your job description. Make sure you only include criteria that are truly needed for the job. For example, is a bachelor’s degree negotiable if the applicant has related experience instead? Do they really need to have mastered a certain software, or can they learn it on the job? Eliminating nice-to-haves can open up your candidate pool to people who may be a great fit for the job but didn’t have the same opportunities as others. For instance, a person who grew up in a low-income family may not have been able to earn a college degree, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the skills or experience to do the job well.

You’ll also want to scan your job ad for gender-biased language. Words like “competitive” and “salesman” can turn women away from applying, and words like “committed” and “understanding” can keep men from applying to your job. There are plenty of resources out there to help you neutralize your job description language, so do some research before you post. You may also choose to share your ad with both men and women on your team and ask them to highlight any language that doesn’t seem neutral.

Once you start collecting resumes, pay attention to your screening process. What makes you toss a resume? Do you not consider people who have had gaps in employment? Are you less likely to choose candidates who went to a school you never heard of? Or maybe you’re more likely to choose candidates who have had a traditional career trajectory.

There are many ways unconscious bias can creep in, especially when you’re moving fast through a pile of applicants. If you find that you’re evaluating candidates in ways that aren’t directly related to their ability to do the job, take a different approach next time. Open your mind to non-traditional backgrounds and challenge yourself to consider candidates you usually wouldn’t.

Some hiring managers implement a “blind” hiring process to help eliminate some of the factors that can create bias – in this case, elements like names, years of work experience, and education are removed from the resumes.


two people interviewing job candidate


How to remove unconscious bias while you’re interviewing.

Before you begin interviews, meet with your team to establish concrete criteria for the job. What does the candidate need to have (e.g., customer service skills, ability to work on a team, problem-solving skills, etc.) to perform the job well? Once you’ve determined the criteria, pick situational (i.e., What would you do on the job if…) or behavioral questions (i.e., Tell me about a time when you demonstrated…) that evaluate each competency you’re looking for.

The best way to start removing unconscious bias from your interview process is to rate each candidate’s response on a numeric scale (for example, 0 to 5). How well did their response demonstrate the specific skill? By using a numeric system for each question, you can evaluate candidates more objectively.


Hiring manager taking notes on a job candidate after an interview


How to remove unconscious bias after the interview.

Immediately after the interview, write down your initial thoughts about the candidate. What did and didn’t impress you? You will probably find that your feelings aren’t solely based on the applicant’s ability to perform the job. For example, you may not have liked them at first because they were a couple of minutes late. Or, maybe you really hit it off from the get-go because you found out you’re into the same hobby.

Believe it or not, those impressions can color the rest of the interview and affect the decision you make about their fit for the job. This is called the halo or horns effect – an interviewee does one thing right or wrong, and you perceive the rest of their interview accordingly. Recognizing when the halo or horns effect comes into play will help you move past the bias and assess the candidate solely on their ability to perform the job duties.

You’ll also want to make sure you’re not basing your hiring decision on intuition or candidate likeability. Many recruiters and hiring managers pride themselves on just being able to “tell” if a candidate will be a good fit, but that kind of hiring leaves room for unconscious bias. And, a lot of the time, when basing a hiring decision on intuition, hiring managers will go with the candidate that they felt they clicked with the most or who was most similar to them. That’s why many hiring managers will involve multiple stakeholders in the hiring process, whether during resume reviews or in a panel interview setting.

Another method for removing unconscious bias is to have candidates take task-based assessments after the interview. Use the assessments to measure their ability to perform the job, such as a simulation for a sales associate or an Excel skills assessment for an accountant. Be careful to use only highly validated assessments (those that have been evaluated for bias) and only test candidates on skills that are critical to the job. For instance, you wouldn’t give a writing exercise to someone who will work in your call center.


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Removing unconscious bias in recruitment takes time, but educating your team and taking steps to improve each piece of the hiring process is the best way to ensure you’re on the path to a more diverse and inclusive workforce. To learn more about diversity and inclusion, check out our resource center.

by: Sarah Ballow
August 18, 2020