TL;DR

How: Be aware of your biases and have measures in place to get around them

How to Avoid Cognitive Bias When Recruiting

Cognitive biases get in the way of companies’ aspirations of building a diverse workplace.

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Bias in recruiting is more common than we think, and it is not usually malicious. It is subconsciously perpetrated by even the most well-meaning professionals who enthusiastically champion the importance of diversity in organisations.

[Diversity] leads to better business performance, drives innovation and helps bring about a better understanding of a business’s consumers.

There are numerous studies that prove diversity in a workplace makes tremendous business sense: it leads to better business performance, drives innovation and helps bring about a better understanding of a business’s consumers.

Despite this, most companies continue to struggle with both gender and cultural diversity with women occupying 18%, men of colour occupying 12% and women of colour occupying only 3% of C-suite roles according to McKinsey’s 2017 Women in the Workplace study.

This is because all of us bring unconscious bias to the workplace. Our bias stems from our tendency as human beings to categorise our social environment, thereby creating social stereotypes about certain groups of people in our unconscious awareness. Such general beliefs about people around us are incredibly difficult to let go of as they usually take root subconsciously and trigger our minds to make a quick judgement. However, being aware that we may be prone to a certain bias is the first step towards reducing its effect.

Such general beliefs about people around us are incredibly difficult to let go of as they usually take root subconsciously and trigger our minds to make a quick judgement.

1. Gender Bias

Gender bias stems from the perceived mismatch between the “typical woman” and the requirements of jobs that were historically held by men. This bias tends to be stronger when recruiting for jobs where males make up the majority of the workforce.

How to counter it

Use valid and reliable selection methods that measure the applicants’ qualifications and predict future job performance. This will bring the applicant’s suitability for the role rather than gender to the forefront.

2. Similarity Bias

Companies often prefer hiring candidates who’ve worked at specific companies or schools and may base their hiring on profiles of other successful employees. This carries the risk of restricting your talent pool to candidates with similar experiences, leaving the company susceptible to groupthink and curbing innovation.

How to counter it

Open your search to a wider number of sources and focus on the candidate and their suitability for the role rather than their background while shortlisting.

3. Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias, also known as confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for and interpret information in a way that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. 

How to counter it

Involve multiple stakeholders in the interview process.

4. Halo effect

According to Very Well Mind, the halo effect “is a type of cognitive bias in which our overall impression of a person influences how we feel and think about his or her character.” It stems from “habitual tendency of people to rate attractive individuals more favourably for their personality traits or characteristics than those who are less attractive.”

How to counter it

Conduct multiple rounds of interviews or a short ‘trial’ where you can assess the candidate in the role before you hire.

Get past biases, because diversity matters

Reducing unconscious bias in a recruitment process can attract a much wider group of candidates and improve hiring outcomes. However, hiring diverse candidates is only the first step towards effecting positive change. Creating a culture of inclusiveness where each individual feels valued for their uniqueness is likely to create a more diverse workforce and keep it engaged, bringing about much better business outcomes for the company.

Tulika is the founder of Snaphunt, a specialist hiring platform that matches talent to roles for a skill and culture fit. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

This article first appeared on Snaphunt’s blog.

Featured image by Markus Spiske temporausch.com from Pexels


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I am a senior leader with 20 years of international experience predominantly in the recruitment industry. I am passionate about taking the pain out of hiring and hence founded Snaphunt.com. I am also the author of 'Alice inCorporateland', a personal development book on achieving career success. When I am not at work you will find me catching up on the latest movies and TV shows, enjoying a good glass of wine and spending quality time with my family.
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