The contrast effect bias: What it is and how to avoid it while recruiting

Contrast effect bias avoid while recruiting
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How can you hire applicants fairly and based on merit? 

It’s a critical question relating to several complex recruitment issues, such as unconscious bias and contrast bias. Both of these are vital roadblocks on the journey toward bias-free hiring.

HR professionals may not know when their hiring choices are affected by unconscious bias or the contrast effect; these biases occur in the unconscious mind. But the contrast effect has many detrimental effects on a company. 

If you hire an applicant by comparing them to a more recently-interviewed applicant and making an unconscious judgment without looking at all of their skills, you may as well say goodbye to diverse teams, productivity, and company morale.

But what if there was another way? What is contrast effect bias, and how can you avoid it when hiring or training employees?

Learn the answer to these crucial questions in this article.

What is contrast effect bias?

Contrast bias is an unconscious bias when we judge two things while comparing them to each other instead of assessing them individually. The result of contrast effect bias is often an altered perception that can make us judge candidates negatively or positively based on our opinions of other applicants.

Contrast effect bias

Now, what contrast bias can lead to is a homogeneous workforce that lacks diversity, which you may notice in the tech industry – 51% of leaders struggle to recruit diverse tech talent, which means missing out on the chance to increase profitability through diversity. Contrast bias in these cases can also lead to poor team morale.

What is an example of the contrast effect in the workplace?

A top example of the contrast effect in the workplace is during training or development opportunities. 

Suppose you have two employees who are nominated for career development opportunities. The first employee uses a more verbal communicative style to understand the training requirements, while the second employee prefers to communicate through writing or email.

If you compare your employees’ communication methods and decide to favor the first employee just because you also prefer to communicate verbally, your judgment has been influenced by the contrast effect. Even though both employees are proficient and able to advance in their careers, you have failed to consider all of their merits, and bias has skewed your decision.

What is the contrast effect in interviews?

The contrast effect in interviews is a type of unconscious bias you may experience when interviewing several candidates (often in succession) for a role. 

When we fail to consider a candidate’s qualifications, experience, merit, or education when conducting an interview and instead unconsciously compare them to another applicant interviewed before them, our judgment is affected by the contrast effect.

How do you avoid contrast bias?

Contrast bias may be an intrinsic part of all of us. Our minds make snap judgments of people when we first meet them, and it is often unavoidable to mitigate contrast bias entirely.

However, in the world of recruitment and the workplace, a few methods can help. Here’s a list of methods to consider.

Avoid contrast bias

1. Avoid using gender-coded words in the workplace

If you are referring to male employees as “competitive leaders” or “programming ninjas” and female employees as “supportive team members” or “interpersonal and understanding,” you are reinforcing gender stereotypes, and your judgment of those employees is affected by contrast bias. 

The optimum way to reduce contrast bias in the workplace is to avoid using gender-coded words; this method will help you avoid contrasting male and female employees and offer them opportunities based on their experience or skills instead of stereotypes.

2. Use standardized interview methods

Using certain interview styles can introduce the contrast effect into your recruitment process, and you might not even know it

Unstructured interviews can slip into a casual tone, which may lead you to form assumptions about your candidate after comparing their interview style with another candidate. Contrast bias is one outcome of this subjective interview style, but with standardized interview methods, you can avoid it.

Conducting standardized interviews involves:

  • Asking candidates the same interview questions

  • Following the same order when asking your questions

  • Using a structured interview process

  • Focusing on the core competencies of the job

  • Using behavioral or situational questions

With these methods, you can ensure you use an objective interview method that leaves little room for contrast bias. Instead of reviewing a candidate based on an unconscious judgment triggered by comparing your candidate’s interview style, you can hire candidates based on their merits.

3. Confronting systemic bias

By failing to address systemic bias, your organization’s unconscious biases continue to affect hiring, training, and onboarding processes. It’s only by consciously noticing contrast effect bias that organizations can notice the effects of this bias and work towards avoiding it.

Consider taking a few beneficial steps to confront systemic bias and help your team to notice what it is by arranging workshops, diversity and inclusion meetings, and training. 

4. Replace resume screening with skill testing

A resume screening approach can introduce the contrast effect into your recruitment process and organization, especially if you use resumes as the only deciding factor when hiring applicants.

For instance, suppose you have two resumes in front of you. One resume indicates your first candidate has achieved an exceptional grade point average from a top university and the other shows that your second candidate just passed their course. 

The moment you compare these two grades and fail to consider any other factors, you have let contrast bias affect your decision.

Blind resume reviews may mitigate some unconscious bias. This method hides resume details that can evoke contrast biases, such as a candidate’s gender or geographical location. 

But there’s an even better method for assessing candidates. Skills testing. It involves asking candidates to complete a skill test so you can verify their abilities and make an unbiased, data-driven hiring decision.

How does skills testing mitigate contrast effect bias?

Skills testing ensures you hire applicants based on their merits, skills, knowledge, and abilities rather than just one arbitrary factor that may have skewed your decision. The excellent thing about skills testing is that it reduces the contrast bias since the results and data will guide your decision.

Suppose you want to hire a programmer and avoid contrast effect bias. In that case, you may consider asking your candidates to complete a PHP (Coding) skills test or a C++ (Coding): Language-Specific Concepts test, depending on the skills you are looking for.

You can hire a candidate using the results of these tests and avoid contrast effect bias altogether.

Avoid contrast effect bias with TestGorilla

Contrast effect bias can indeed lead to a homogeneous team, and a lack of diversity can stand in the way of productivity and morale. However, there is an easy way to avoid contrast bias. Even though it occurs in the unconscious parts of our minds, skills testing can reduce the chances of succumbing to contrast bias by giving you data-driven information to make a hiring decision.

Head to our test library or sign up to TestGorilla for free to learn more about skills testing. Then, create a skills assessment to find talent, judge candidates on their own merits, and nip the contrast bias in the bud for good.

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