Every day we subconsciously make a multitude of decisions: your most recent one was whether to read this article or not. We make these decisions so frequently; some sources say that we make up to 35,000 decisions every day – most of the time we don’t even realize we are doing it. The way we think is largely shaped by various unconscious biases which ultimately influence the way we perceive reality.

In an ideal world, the decision to hire a candidate would be based solely on their ability to do the job well. The hire would be approached in an objective, pragmatic way, free from subjectivity and unconscious bias. But we don’t live in an ideal world and we let outside factors cloud our judgment. And the thing is, this unconscious bias happens whether we want it to or not, it’s unconscious.

What is unconscious bias?

An unconscious bias is an oversimplified judgment about a specific group of people. Unconscious biases affect people in the real world, some positively and some negatively. Unconscious biases usually take the form of an if/then statement. Some of the examples of unconscious bias are:

  • If they have good grades or came from a top university, then they must be smart.  
  • If they are older, then they must be bad with computers.
  • If they look like me, then they must be competent and trustworthy.
  • If they are female, then they must be caring.
  • If they have multiple tattoos, then they must be rebellious.

How does unconscious bias affect recruitment?

Hiring the wrong person can lead to high employee turnover, costing the company lot of money, and requires high recruiting efforts. As per a recent survey from CareerBuilder.com, 75% of employers said they have hired the wrong person for a position.

  • Contrast effect: As recruiters, we spend a large amount of time sifting through resumes, and rather than allowing each resume to stand out on its own merit, we can have a tendency to compare the latest resume to the one that went before.
  • Overconfidence bias: The overconfidence bias occurs when the recruiter is so confident in their own abilities. The recruiter allows their subjective confidence to cloud their objectiveness.
  • Affinity bias: The affinity bias is just that – when a recruiter feels a natural affinity towards a candidate due to something, we have in common with them – they come from the same town, went to the same school, know the same people.
  • Beauty bias: This is a view that beautiful people are more successful.
  • Halo effect: It occurs when the recruiter forgoes proper investigation of a candidate’s background, choosing instead to focus too heavily on one positive aspect of a candidate, like where they went to school, or their previous MNC.
  • Horn effect: This is when something bad about the candidate negatively grabs our attention and we can’t move beyond it.
  • Intuition: Recruiter trusting on his guts rather than focusing on a candidate’s actual capabilities.
  • Affect heuristics: This is when the recruiter mentally takes shortcuts to reach a conclusion about a candidate’s ability to do the job, without carefully examining all of the evidence first.

Overcoming unconscious bias

So how do we fix unconscious bias? The bad news is that we can’t eliminate our unconscious biases as they’re like ingrained mental habits. Like negative thoughts, we can’t help but think. The good news is that, by becoming aware of them, we can begin to address them. Still, there are few ways we can overcome it:

  • Bring your unconscious biases to the surface.
  • Be consistent and transparent in your hiring process.
  • If possible, use artificial intelligence (AI) like ATS (Applicant Tracking System) to eliminate biases.
  • Design interviews so that all candidates get the same set of questions. Have examples of what constitutes good answers. Do create a standardized interview guide and ensure you ask every candidate the same questions.
  • Try to make the interview panel diverse. Try to get a mix of ages, genders, races, and ethnicities.
  • Properly document interview feedback.
  • Eliminate ‘culture fit’ as a reason to reject candidates. Ask managers to be clear and specific about why they rejected each candidate.

We all have unconscious biases. Acknowledging that unconscious biases exist and working to bring them to the surface is essential. Once you become aware of a bias, pause when this snap judgment comes to mind and find ways to question it before taking action. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

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