Unconscious bias is a collective term for the implicit assumptions and prejudiced attitudes that operate when we examine information and make decisions. Unconscious bias therefore weakens our ability to make informed, rational decisions – and what is even worse is that it happens completely automatically, without us being aware of it.
Unconscious bias is therefore one of the biggest sources of error in the recruitment process. Not only does it reduce the likelihood of finding the right match and choosing the right candidate for the position, it might also harm the company’s diversity strategy, as (unconscious) prejudices and stereotypes about e.g., gender or age – rather than the candidate’s suitability for the job – come to decide who the company ultimately chooses to hire.
In this article, we present the most common types of unconscious bias and provide some advice on how to avoid them by integrating psychometric tests and other measures into your recruitment strategy.
Affinity and similarity biases
Affinity and similarity bias occurs when you subconsciously favour a candidate because the person either evokes something that you can relate to – or simply because the person is just like you. In a recruitment context, these biases will typically be at stake if the candidate resembles the hiring manager or reminds you of a colleague you like to work with.
To address these biases, it is important that all candidates are asked the same questions and are assessed on a uniform basis – and this can be achieved in an effective and systematic way by using a psychometric test. However, this does not in itself guarantee that no bias will occur. Avoiding bias requires test results be evaluated systematically based on predefined, job-relevant criteria, so that the candidate is selected on the basis of the match between personal attributes and requirements of the job – not on which personal attributes we value or possess ourselves.
Confirmation bias is an unconscious tendency to search for information that confirms our existing beliefs – and ignore information disconfirming them. In a recruitment process, this can mean that certain expectations about a candidate (positive as well as negative) will influence how the candidate is treated and what questions are asked. For example, you might ask fewer critical questions when expecting a lot from a candidate or ignore personal strengths with a candidate, for whom you have low expectations.
By using psychometric tests, you illuminate candidates’ strengths and weaknesses in a way that is consistent and fair to everyone. This gives you the opportunity to be actively confronted with whether the candidate is actually how you expected – or fits into the position as well as you might think.
The Halo and Horn effects
The Halo and Horn effects are two closely related biases that can mislead our perception of a person. The Halo effect occurs when our overall impression ends up affecting the assessment of a person in specific areas. Conversely, the Horn effect is when minor details bias our overall impression of a person.
Both biases can be avoided by comparing each of the candidates’ characteristics with predefined criteria by means of a job profile. This gives you detailed insights into how well individual candidates match the position, regardless of your immediate, overall impression of them (although the choice of candidate should of course depend on an overall assessment of the candidate’s personality, education, experience, and other qualifications).
A final type of bias is the so-called Contrast effect, which occurs when candidates are compared “vertically”, i.e., one at a time – as you typically do in job interviews and when reading resumes and applications. This comparison method has the disadvantage that you often unknowingly compare the current candidate with the previous one, and thereby compare the candidates to each other rather than to the job requirements that were selected in the first place.
This bias can be avoided by doing a “horizontal” comparison of the candidates instead, examining one job criterion at a time and comparing the candidates’ profiles with just this criterion. This allows you to determine which candidates best match key criteria and find the most suitable candidate.
Avoiding bias at all stages of the recruitment process
It is also important to avoid bias that may arise at other stages of the recruitment process – from advertising a job to testing and interviewing for it. So here are five recommendations to minimise bias at all stages of the recruitment process:
- Use neutral language in the job ad
Make sure you describe the job and job requirements in a neutral way so that you avoid unwillingly discriminating against certain genders, age groups, etc.
- Use an application form
Research shows that bias is also at stake when reading the traditional motivated application. Instead, use a consistent application form where candidates can fill in the information that is relevant to the position.
- Anonymise candidates’ resumes
Bias can also occur when reading through candidates’ resumes. By making them anonymous, you eliminate inappropriate bias in this part of the recruitment process.
- Avoid using irrelevant criteria in the screening process
If you use screening as part of your recruitment process, make sure the criteria selected are relevant and evidence-based, e.g., driven by job performance data or corporate culture.
- Use psychometric tests and job profiles
By using valid psychometric tests along with job profiles based on predefined and job-relevant criteria, you can mitigate unconscious bias and increase the likelihood of finding the right match and choosing the right candidate for the position.
Do you want to offer women a fair chance at management positions? Then follow these recommendations!