7 Ways to Break Common Hiring Biases for More Equitable Recruiting
All talent acquisition practitioners are prone to some form of hiring bias—the tendency to favor some candidates due to characteristics or factors rather than their skills, qualifications or experience. These may include a candidate’s race, gender, age, ethnicity, family status, disability or other aspects that have nothing to do with how well they could perform the job.
Even things like the format of an applicant’s résumé or seeing that they attended a rival university can introduce bias. When bias impacts hiring decisions, organizations risk choosing the wrong candidate, encountering legal issues around discrimination, undermining their DEI initiatives and more.
Unfortunately, bias is just a part of human nature. Our brains are programmed to prefer people with certain attributes instinctually—though sometimes our preferences are more conscious. In fact, research suggests there are more than 180 types of cognitive biases, and some are more likely to manifest in the hiring process.
For example, similarity bias may lead a hiring manager to select candidates who have something in common with them, like having attended the same school. Heuristic bias—or stereotyping—may make a recruiter believe an older candidate is less tech savvy or that a woman with a new baby may miss a lot of work.
Recognizing and eliminating conscious or unconscious biases ensures you treat all job applicants equitably and fairly.
7 Tips For Preventing Hiring Biases
With the right tactics and tools, hiring practitioners can break their habits of making decisions rooted in bias and enable more equitable recruiting. Here’s how.
1. Provide unconscious bias training.
Anyone involved in hiring within your organization can benefit from unconscious bias training. By heightening hiring practitioners’ awareness of common biases, these individuals will make more rational, evidence-based decisions throughout the process.
2. Remove bias-based language from job postings.
Write job descriptions with more inclusive language. Use gender-neutral career titles (e.g., “salesperson” versus “salesman”) and avoid phrases that may deter certain demographics from applying (words like “competitive” and “ambitious” can turn away women applicants).
Hiring should be a team effort, so bring in multiple stakeholders to provide input, like during the résumé review process or in a panel interview setting (or both). This can be one of the best ways to eliminate bias because you’ll get numerous opinions from team members with varying interests and backgrounds. Collaborative hiring is especially effective in mitigating the possibility of similarity biases.
4. Avoid social media prescreening.
At iHire, our 2023 State of Online Recruiting Report found that 27% of employers said they checked a candidate’s social media presence over the past year. While reviewing candidates’ social media accounts can provide valuable insights, stumbling onto those accounts and personal profiles early in the recruitment process can create bias.
Here’s an example. You look up an applicant online and see they're a die-hard fan of your favorite sports team’s rival. On a subconscious level, your immediate distaste for that team may convince you the candidate isn't the right person for the job before they have a chance to interview.
If you must conduct social media screenings, save them for when your talent pool is down to your front-runners to maintain objectivity when interviewing. Then, ensure you're focusing on useful insights, like whether the candidate's online presence matches your company's values or if they regularly engage with industry professionals.
5. Try 'blind' hiring tools.
Some applicant tracking systems, job boards and other recruitment technologies allow you to remove personal information from résumés, such as names, addresses, educational institutions, dates of employment and other details that could influence your opinion of an applicant. Redacting these details allows you to focus on the person's skills and experience rather than on factors that can trigger unconscious bias. For example, removing a candidate’s graduation dates from their résumé may prevent age bias.
6. Standardize candidate evaluations.
Before interviewing applicants, establish standard evaluation criteria. Consider creating an interview evaluation form with your questions and the strengths you hope to glean from each topic. Then, rate candidates’ responses (for example, on a scale of 1 to 4). This allows you to evaluate candidates more objectively with the same measurements of success.
Using standard evaluation forms can reduce the likelihood of comparison (or contrast) bias. This is the tendency to evaluate or perceive something differently depending upon the presence of a comparison or external reference point. For example, relative comparison bias means you might unfairly compare a candidate to an outstanding applicant you previously interviewed. Sequential bias means the order you interview candidates in may affect your judgment; you might prefer a candidate who interviews after an unqualified candidate, even if this new person isn't the perfect fit either.
7. Rely on assessments.
Obtain a clear understanding of how candidates stack up from a skills perspective by having them take task-based assessments or work sample tests after interviewing. Use assessments to measure their ability to perform on the job, but only test based on skills critical to the role. The results can help ensure you’re making hiring decisions based on a candidate’s skills and not surface characteristics or preconceived notions.
Embrace Anti-Bias Hiring Practices
When you address hiring biases, you can uncover benefits beyond simply reducing risks and simplifying compliance with legal and ethical standards. You’ll further your DEI initiatives and increase your workforce’s diversity, thereby boosting innovation and improving decision-making. With inclusive hiring practices, you can more easily attract and retain talent by demonstrating your commitment to fairness, equity and social responsibility.
Ultimately, you’ll grow your reputation, strengthen your employer brand and foster a positive work environment where associates feel a sense of belonging. When employees feel valued and respected, they are more productive, engaged and likely to stay at your company long-term.