Hiring Bias: A dangerous trap In The Hiring Process

The hidden danger of hiring bias limits you from selecting the best candidate during the hiring process.


Sudha is a qualified engineer with a B-school degree. Sudha worked for several MNCs before she went for a sabbatical after she had her first child. When her child grew up, she considered going back to work. She started applying to different organizations, but unfortunately, her applications were rejected by every recruiter. She was subjected to hiring mistake or bias because the recruiters assumed she was not fit for the job because of age and career gap. 

Miten, a fresh graduate from a tier 2 B-school, failed to impress the recruiters who were biased towards only Ivy League colleges. Another common hiring bias that we get to see frequently. 

 Ruben’s application was rejected because the recruiter was not impressed with his picture attached to his resume. It may sound ridiculous, but beauty bias is common where it is perceived that the most beautiful person is the most successful person. Based on this assumption, recruiters may make hiring mistakes. We then ask irrelevant questions to support our assumptions. 

Yes, hiring biases are a reality. Often, we are quick to make decisions without even realizing it. Decisions are made just by seeing the resume without giving fair chances to the job applicant. Such external factors often cloud the thoughts of the recruiters while making a hiring decision. 

Hiring biases occur based on gender, religion, disability, and the candidates’ past background, although these factors have no impact on the person’s ability to perform the job. On the contrary, research has shown that organizations with a diverse workforce (for example, high on gender, racial, or ethnic diversity perform better than their competitors. 

What are the common hiring biases?

There are as many as 13 different hiring biases. Let’s look at the most common biases. 

Halo or Horn bias

This is one of the most common biases that allow a particular trait to influence our decision making. In the above-discussed scenarios, Ruben’s case is a typical example of Halo or Horn bias, where a candidate is subjected to hiring bias because of the appearance. A halo hiring mistake can also happen due to a particular habit trait or even a person with a name, say “X”! Here are some more examples of Halo or Horn bias:

  1. Jon fixed the scanner – “John can fix anything.”
  2. Martha made a mistake – “Martha is not serious about her work.”
  3. Sid graduated from a particular college – The hiring manager thinks, “I don’t hire from that college; they are too snob.”

Recency bias

A recent event can influence our judging and thus creates a bias. We don’t remember from our past learning, and remember only the last thing that happened and think that will happen every time. Let us explain with an example. 

“The last time we hired from XYZ college, it didn’t go well. Let’s not hire from that college again.” 

“The last time we hired A and B from the competitor company worked well. Let’s do it again.”

Anchoring bias

The next common hiring mistake is anchoring bias. When we need to decide, we tend to rely more on and choose based on the first piece of information. And any deviation from it causes a bias. 

“We will never find another employee like Rita.” Rita is the anchor here. Every new applicant gets compared with Rita. 

Confirmation bias

When we already have a belief, and it gets confirmed by a new piece of information, it is a case of confirmation bias. The information has a selective representation of the candidate; thus, any judgment based on it is a hiring mistake. 

Commitment bias

We tend to remain committed to a decision based on a prior investment made, although that can mean more expenses than gains. It is seen among hiring managers, too, when they refuse to correct a hiring mistake. 

“We have spent a lot of time and money on this candidate for evaluations, background checks, interviews, hotel and airfare for attending interviews, and other recruiting expenses. Make him an offer. We can’t do this again and again!”

“The candidate coming for an interview today has to lead a fundraising project last year. She has good leadership skills.” Here we are assuming the candidate’s skill based on a piece of information, which is a partial representation of the candidate. 

‘‘

One competent go-getter is worth One Hundred incompetent do-nothings.

-Kailin Gow, Author of 'On Hiring a Winning Team'

So, what creates hiring bias?

There could be many reasons for hiring mistakes — some are conscious discriminations, but most are unconscious biases.

  1. According to similarity-attraction hypotheses, we are attracted to people who we find similar to us. And this is not unnatural. Human beings have evolved this way to like and trust people who act and look like themselves. The trait persists even today. Thus, we feel attracted to people who share the same religion, gender, nationality, political views, similar lifestyle, etc. That’s also because most people are satisfied with their personalities, and hence they get attracted to people who share similar qualities.

For example, many hiring managers tend to recruit candidates who they think would be a better fit for the organizational culture or are attracted to candidates like them or most team members. Even worse, many hiring managers tend to benchmark the qualities they want to see in their next candidate, thus allowing room for biases to creep in.

2. The second type of discrimination occurs because we tend to fall for stereotypes. This can be conscious or unconscious bias. It is not unlikely to see candidates getting discriminated against based on their cultural differences. For example, hiring managers often fall to recruit and hire candidates who are young, extrovert, and energetic. You may even come across job advertisements that say “looking for young and energetic candidates.” And there you go. Without even realizing you are biased towards young candidates.

3. Are you picking the most experienced candidates? Often hiring managers tend to choose more experienced candidates who need little or no training. Although there is no harm in it, you overlook potential candidates who might not have the necessary experience but maybe a better fit for the job. With some training, they can even outperform experienced candidates. This happens partly when hiring is reactive. You are in a hurry to fill up a vacant position and do not want to invest time training a less experienced candidate. But when your hiring is proactive, you train your candidates and make them future-ready. So, you don’t end up filling the open position in haste but have enough time to pick the right candidate.

4. And it doesn’t end there. Hiring biases are not just done by humans but by machines too. With the growing popularity of technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence, it is no secret that recruiters often turn to such computer programs to sort resumes. While many programs remove the demographic data or names of candidates, such learning algorithms are trained to pick up candidates as they are trained to do. Thus, a new type of recruitment bias has crept in hidden under these data sets.

Should I worry about hiring bias?

As a young company, you’re tempted to follow the industry protocol for hiring candidates. But is biasness taking over your hiring decisions? If yes, do you need to worry and do something about it? Well, yes. Remember, 

Hiring bias = Wrong hire

 

 

 

Hiring bias can lead to too many wrong hires, which can impact the company’s bottom line in the long run. Let’s take a deep dive and understand what wrong hires can lead to

Hiring Biases can lead to

 Early employee turnover

If you’re noticing too many early employee turnover rates, it is time to check if your hiring process is right. Whether employees are leaving on their own or you’re forced to ask them to leave, employee turnover means a complete waste of money and time. Bias hiring can lead to hiring the wrong employees who may be a misfit for the organization. High employee turnover means you need to revisit and check any biases in your hiring process. 

Prevent diversity in the workforce

McKinsey published a report called Diversity Matters, which looked across 366 companies in different US, UK, Canada, and Latin American industries. Their findings stated that companies with racial and ethnic diversity were 35 percent more likely to have financial returns over the national industry median. Their results also clearly showed that companies with gender diversity were 15 percent more likely to have financial returns over the national industry median. Bias stops from having a diverse workforce. On the other hand, a diverse workforce allows you to bring different perspectives and fresh approaches to the table. 

Potential legal consequences

Biased interview questions and hiring decisions based on biases can expose your business to expensive lawsuits. 

Top talents refrain from applying

If you have already earned the reputation for biased hiring, you will probably discourage top talents from applying for any future jobs.

Loss of reputation

Eventually, you lose your reputation not just in the job market but to your prospective clients too.

What can you do to avoid hiring bias?

Good news! Hiring biases can be avoided if you’re mindful of it. Let’s take a deep dive into your existing recruitment process to understand how you can remove the scope of hiring biases.

Begin with awareness training among hiring managers and recruiters. Many times, they are not aware of their biases and make hiring mistakes unconsciously. Once they are aware of their personal biases, they are better prepared to tackle the situation. Recruit candidates based on skill tests. Skill tests are a direct approach to shortlist candidates purely based on their skill sets. Instead of leaving the hiring decision to a single person, involve multiple people in the recruitment process. Doing so will eliminate the chances of hiring mistakes. Create a standardized set of questions to remain fair to all the candidates during the interview process. 

‘‘

Hiring should always be part of your long-term strategy, not a quick fix to an immediate problem.

- Steven J. Bowen, Author of Total Value Optimization: Transforming Your Global Supply Chain Into a Competitive Weapon

Remember, recruitment biases are common. Recruitment biases always lead to poor decisions and poor hiring which can be costly to the organization. However, the good news is you can refrain from hiring biases and do fair hiring. Hiring biases can be easily avoided when you carefully look at your hiring process, identify the problem areas, and work towards rectifying it. Having a supportive people culture is the first step towards removing biased hiring. Want to know more about it? We will talk about it in detail in our next article. 

Chayanika Sen
Chayanika Sen
Over a decade of experience in Corporate Communication Chayanika writes on Human Resources, Recruitment, Marketing, Employer Branding and Thought Leadership.

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