How To Prevent Unconscious Bias In Your Recruitment

Did you know that uınconscious bias during your recruitment process could be affecting your company’s ability to award roles to the best candidates out there. You may have gone through the process of attracting top young talent to apply for your roles but then, at the last minute, your unconscious bias could let them slip through the net, ready for them to be recruited by your competitors.

The problem with unconscious bias is it is exactly that – it’s unconscious. It’s not an intentional or a malicious act towards someone. A person’s unconscious bias is often unknown to them.

So, your difficult task as a recruiter is to identify what your unconscious biases are when it comes to recruiting staff and make changes so that you don’t miss out on that top young talent. 

What Is Unconscious Bias?

We are all individuals who are shaped by our upbringing and the environment we grow up in.Our experiences during this time shape our opinions of others in both positive and negative ways.

In the workplace, sıring the recruitment process, if you allow these thoughts and opinions to go unchecked, your unconscious bias can play a part in the decisions you make as to who you choose to work in your company. You could be unfairly discriminating against certain groups of people without realising.

Ultimately, this can mean a lack of diversity within your company with regards to gender (we have written in depth about gender in the workplace in the past), age, ethnicity, religion, disabilities.

This can be detrimental to the growth and future success of your company. We have addressed the benefits of diversity within the workplace in the past but in short, a diverse workforce is generally happier and more productive. Because people have different backgrounds and experiences to draw upon, more innovative ideas can be generated. This leads to happier customers and therefore a growth in company profits.

Someone’s weight, regional accent or choice of clothing may also trigger unconscious bias. During the application process, a name might trigger unconscious bias.

And within these groups, there could be hugely talented people who are slipping through the net. 

All of us have unconscious bias. It is difficult for our brain to be completely impartial because of the experiences that shape us throughout life. What is important in the workplace is that we acknowledge that unconscious bias, work to understand where our unconscious bias lies and deal with it to make sure the recruitment process is as fair as it can be. 

Types Of Unconscious Bias

As if the task of trying to identify where you might be showing bias towards particular people wasn’t difficult enough, there are also different types of unconscious bias at play.

  • Affinity Bias – This can happen during the interview process. Because we tend to be drawn to people similar to ourselves and want to socialise with them, if you interview someone similar to yourself, you may be more likely to offer them the role.
  • Confirmation Bias – This can lead to flawed decision making – which means you might not necessarily award a role to the best person for the job. If you have a preconceived idea about a candidate, your confirmation bias can take over, leading you to ask questions that will confirm that idea rather than challenge it.
  • Attribution Bias – As human beings, we are naturally quick to judge. Unconscious attribution bias is where you can falsely assume things about people without knowing them. For example, you might assume your candidate isn’t qualified to do the job because of their gender. It’s important to encourage gender diversity in the workplace.
  • Conformity Bias – Most of us feel the need to belong and conformity bias is all about being part of the gang. If you are part of a larger interview panel, you might go against your instincts to fit in with the rest of the panel who have settled on a different candidate to the one you have chosen. 
  • Halo Effect – This is where your unconscious bias decides the candidate you are interviewing is a shining star because they have achieved a respected award or top grades. This takes over everything else and you could lose sight of the bigger picture, allowing more qualified or skilled candidates to slip through the net. The opposite of this is the Horns Effect where we attach negative traits to someone because we might not like the way they speak or dress.

Ways To Prevent Unconscious Bias During your Recruitment Process

Because unconscious bias is something which occurs in all of us, it is mightily difficult to avoid it in the recruitment process. But there are some strategies you can employ to make sure your recruitment process is as fair as possible and the person who is the best person for the role is taken on.

Revise Your Job Ad

We’ve written in the past about the importance of creating a great job ad that attracts the best candidates to apply for your vacant positions. But, take a look at your job ads and do an honest analysis of them. Are they displaying unconscious bias?

Ask other staff in your workplace what they see in the job ad. Your choice of words is important and they may spot something you haven’t. Because of the wording you have used, is a particular group – or groups – of people going to feel they don’t want to apply for your role because they feel excluded in some way by your job ad? 

What you write in your job ad is hugely important – as is what you shouldn’t write. Here are some tips for what not to include in your job ad

Make Use Of Technology

Depending on the nature of your company, one strategy you could consider is using technology during the application stage. Rather than having human beings and their unconscious bias sift through the applications, an algorithm can select candidates based on your job specification.

In this way, a person’s age, how they dress, their accent and so on will not be taken into account and you should end up with a diverse range of applicants from all walks of life. 

This method of preventing unconscious bias in the recruitment process isn’t foolproof, of course. Even if the algorithm pulls out a selection of candidates from all walks of life, at some point, you will still need to choose which one of those candidates is awarded the role. 

This is where your unconscious bias can come into play and quick decisions mean you don’t choose the candidates that could boost the diversity in your workplace.

Make Use Of The Blind Recruitment Strategy

Blind recruitment is where certain parts of an applicant’s CV or application form are hidden. This can include name, age, gender, for example.

When this is done, the selection process is still done by you and your team but you are looking purely at the skills, qualifications and experience of your candidate. 

Again, this is not without flaws. You might have an idea that you are looking at the application form of a school leaver, for example, if there is very little or no previous work experience. 

The way in which questions on the application form are answered can also give clues as to a candidate’s age, gender or ethnicity. 

A school leaver, for example, might draw on leadership examples from school such as being captain of the school team or taking the lead in a school project. Likewise, a graduate might draw on examples from university clubs or responsibilities within the students’ union.

Try To Make Yourself Aware Of Your Unconscious Biases

As we said, we all have unconscious bias and it is nothing to be ashamed of so identifying yours is not about being critical of yourself. 

Rather, if you are aware of them, you can keep them in mind during the application process and therefore consider candidates you might not previously have considered. 

When you are around other people, make yourself aware of what you might be thinking or how you might be feeling around different people and note it. Do you feel positive towards someone because of the way they dress or negative towards someone because of their accent, for example?

Make Other Staff Aware Of Unconscious Bias

This could be done throughout your company or with anyone else who might be part of your recruitment team. Encourage those staff to make themselves aware of their own unconscious biases.

When the time comes to do face to face interviews, if possible, have other people as well as yourself on the interview people. Choose people who you know have a different background or points of view to yourself. 

In this way, you will have a better chance of settling on the most qualified person to fill your vacancy and you might find that person is noıt necessarily the one you might have picked had you been interviewing alone.

This is because, even though you might not be aware of it, we are naturally drawn to people who are like ourselves or who are like someone we know – and who we like. If this is the case in an interview, you might be tempted to offer that person the role without being really aware of the reasoın why. 

Make your Recruitment Process A Successful One

Unconscious bias is in us all as human beings and not something we need to try and deny or be ashamed of. Making ourselves aware of our unconscious biases, however, and acting upon them can make the recruitment process more successful in that we make every effort to ensure the best candidate for the job is awarded the role.