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Is Your Job Search Affected By Unconscious Bias?

Published: Monday 29th June 2015

Recruiter searching for his ideal candidate


While we might believe we recruit based on merit and take steps to prevent discrimination or bias to shape our opinion of candidates, ‘unconscious’ bias could still be occurring within your recruitment processes without HR personnel or decision-makers being aware. Unconscious bias can affect the way we respond to certain situations every day of our lives, but because we’re not aware of it, we’re don’t see the impact they have on the decisions we make or the actions taken as a result of those decisions.

How unconscious bias is formed

Whether we realise it or not, unconscious feelings play a big role in influencing our judgement of certain people, resulting in unbalanced and poor decision-making. The workplace is one of the most prominent areas of life where this bias can occur. From the moment you advertise your job to the point at which you hire, unconscious bias can affect the recruitment process.

Because our feelings about gender and other stereotypes develop throughout our entire lives, it becomes difficult to recognise bias when it enters the decision-making process of recruitment. Yet, how we’ve been brought up, how and where we socialise and the ways in which we are exposed to different social groups all affect how we think about specific groups of people. That doesn’t necessarily mean that comes from bad intentions; it’s just deep-seated stereotyping that has been wired into our brains over the course of our lifetime experiences. For a recruiter, this can affect how you view candidates in a job search.

How Bias Can Affect The Decision-Making Process?

There are a number of ways bias can creep into the decision-making process without us noticing:

Attitude – how we react towards people

Behaviour – how friendly we are

Listen – how well we listen

Attention – what we notice most when interacting with someone

Affirmation – how much empathy and comfort we show in certain situations

All of these factors can affect who we select for interview, how we interview them and, ultimately, who we hire.

Forms of Bias

The route to preventing bias from affecting the recruitment process begins by recognising bias when it occurs:

Conformity bias – Occurs when the rest of the group side with one member of a recruitment panel in order to conform rather than give their own opinion of a candidate.

Beauty bias – There is a social perception that the most attractive people are also the most successful or talented.

Affinity bias – Sometimes known as the ‘old boy’s club’ (a biased term in itself), this type of bias comes into play when applicants are someone we know, went to school with, or come from the same region.

‘Halo’ bias – This is what happens when someone has one quality in a candidate overrides everything else. That person is surrounded by the glow of a single achievement – hence the term ‘halo’. This can also work in reverse when there is a negative quality about a candidate that clouds our ability to see their positives.

Contrast bias – If recruiters have to sift through a lot of CVs, they often find themselves comparing candidates not on their actual abilities, but against other CVs they’ve seen earlier – when, in fact, we should be comparing the person’s skills against the skills required for the job.

Confirmation bias – This systematic error of inductive reasoning occurs when a decision maker looks for evidence that backs up their opinion of the candidate simply because they want to be right in their decision.

Dealing With Bias

In order to hire the best person for the job, the challenge for recruiters is to not let any form of bias interfere with the selection process. Easier said than done, but from advertising for a job to final selection, there are many opportunities for bias to creep in. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce the effect of unconscious bias.

Talk to diversity organisations that can help you identify where bias is occurring.

Examine employee surveys closely to see where workers see possible bias.

Focus on respecting and treating all candidates equally.

Use training to make decision-makers self-aware when it comes to bias.

Reinforce positive images in corporate materials of groups that may experience bias throughout the organisation The best way to beat bias is to acknowledge its existence and then actively work on ways to eliminate it from your job search. As a recruiter it’s your job to hire the best candidate for the role and that means doing everything you can to remove discrimination and bias in all its forms.

Find out more ways to improve your recruitment processes at the Zoek website. If you are a recruiter, download the Zoek app to connect with new candidates. The app can be downloaded on iOS or Android. 


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