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How to reduce bias in your hiring process


What are you looking to achieve each time you set out to recruit a new hire? Most recruiters’ answers will be similar. They’ll settle around something like “to hire a great person” or “to find the best person for the job.” Would you say one of your primary goals is to reduce bias in the hiring process?

Despite widespread agreement on the general aims of a recruitment strategy and process, many businesses allow shortcomings to compromise these goals, sometimes without even realizing it. One of the most significant flaws that could be holding your company back is hiring bias.

What is hiring bias, and where might it show in my recruitment process?

Hiring bias occurs when individuals or collaborators on the hiring team make decisions on candidates because of biases they may hold. Hiring bias usually happens unconsciously but can profoundly affect the quality of your recruitment and the diversity of your workplace.

Below are some examples of hiring bias:

  • Progressing or declining a candidate because of their appearance.

  • Only progressing candidates from a particular educational background.

  • Choosing candidates because you have things in common with them, such as hobbies or mutual friends.

  • These factors have no impact on a candidates’ ability to perform the job role you are trying to fill! You can already see why hiring bias can be dangerous, regardless of whether it happens consciously or unconsciously. It is also evident that hiring bias can manifest itself within your recruitment at any stage of the process.

  • You might discard a candidate’s resume because of where they went to college, or even whether they went to college. This is known as the paper ceiling.

  • You might decide on a candidate’s application during an interview if you find them attractive or otherwise.

  • You might, unconsciously or otherwise, favor candidates you find yourself building a rapport with throughout the process.

A 2019 Agency Central study found 96% of recruiters believe unconscious bias is a problem. Many studies also highlight gender and racial bias is widespread in recruitment processes.

Fortunately, many businesses are beginning to do work to reduce the impact of hiring bias.

Why should you look to reduce hiring bias?

One vital point of note concerning diversification is the impact it can have across your business. Most people recognize that improving the diversity of your workforce can be excellent from a reputational perspective. What is lesser appreciated is that it can also have a tangible influence on business performance.

McKinsey’s 2020 Diversity Wins report highlights businesses pursuing gender and racial diversity within their workforce were, on average, 25% more likely to achieve “above average profitability” against similar companies. The same study also found the likelihood of financial overperformance correlates strongly to the level of diversity.

A 2019 Harvard Business Review study also found that the most diverse workforces were happier and more productive than those that were not.

However, to address a potential diversity problem, you do not necessarily need to proactively go out and aim to hire more women or people from minority backgrounds. Eliminating (or at least reducing the impact of) hiring bias could take care of the problem for you.

So how can you go about eliminating hiring bias from your recruitment processes?

How can HR reduce the impact of unconscious bias?

There are many tools and techniques available to help you reduce or even eliminate the impact of unconscious bias. Here are three that you can begin implementing today.

Anonymize candidate data

Whether you use pre-employment tests, sourcing tools or applicant tracking systems (ATS) you can reduce the influence of bias on your hiring process by anonymizing candidate data.

If your current hiring process includes reviewing candidates’ resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and biases may already be in play. In contrast, by using an ATS, you can begin to filter candidates by the qualifications, skills, and experience you are looking for. Platforms like Lever, for example, actively promote the removal of hiring bias as a feature of their tool. TestGorilla allows users to hide identifying data when reviewing results, so that this doesn’t influence the hiring team’s decision making.

Use skills assessments

Using skills assessments within your recruitment process helps you further reduce hiring bias. Skills assessments can help turn your initial longlist of potential hires down to a shortlist of candidates to progress to the next stage of your process. You’ll have done all this without looking at a candidate’s image or looking at where they went to college!

Instead, you’ll have a list of candidates that is ranked based on each candidate’s score on an assessment that tests relevant skills.

Review your interview process

It’s possible to get candidates to the interview stage with a fully automated recruitment process. However, getting this far without hiring bias creeping in doesn’t mean you can take your eye off the ball.

Job interviews are always dangerous when it comes to potential bias. You should audit your internal interview process to ensure you are minimizing the chances of bias playing a part.

The most significant danger is that all your company’s interviews happen on a one-to-one basis and that the same person always conducts them. Even if the interviewer is acutely aware of managing bias, unconscious bias may still be a factor. Not sticking to a structured interview and debrief process can also cause problems. An unstructured interview can quickly turn into a conversation between interviewer and candidate, with few notes taken. The interviewer progresses or hires the person they had the most fun talking to.

Imagine doing the work to manage bias in sourcing and tracking, and using skills assessments to shortlist suitable candidates, only for a sloppy interview process to let you down. It happens!

In reviewing your interview process, think about:

Whether you conduct one-on-one interviews, and who conducts them. You might be able to improve your process by:

  • Having different interviewers conducting specific sections of interviews.

  •  Interviewing with a panel. Remember, hiring bias may still happen if each panelist comes from the same background, so ensure it’s diverse!

  • Panel members individually scoring candidates before making a collaborative decision.

Conducting unstructured interviews as part of your process but aligning their use with a consistent and structured interview, too. Such an approach may help you learn more about candidates. Some might find it easy to prepare for a structured interview!

Reducing bias in your hiring process

Putting a focus on reducing hiring bias will not just improve your business’ profitability because you reduce the risk of bad hires; you will also unlock the evidenced benefits of a more diverse workforce.

“Recruiting blind” might feel strange at first. But, in the long-term, you will improve productivity by automating many elements of your recruitment process and simultaneously reduce the impact of hiring bias. Change your recruitment outlook today to counter hiring bias, build a more diverse workforce, and have the confidence that you are always hiring the best candidates for the job.


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