The idea of bias has become relatively mainstream in recent years. Articles directed at day-to-day decision-making are common, and it is not unlikely you have heard phrases like “check your bias,” in your everyday life. It is unsurprising, then, that the concept of biases has been studied within the recruitment process. However, it is possible that as a hiring manager, you are stuck in an interview blind spot that can prevent you from hiring the best person for a position.
There is no doubt that hiring the right talent for your company is absolutely essential. Having talented, driven, creative individuals managing the ins and outs of an organization is what drives a business forward. But often times it can feel like you are looking through the proverbial haystack for that single needle – or more like you are looking through a stack of needles for one very specific needle.
So what is the trick? How do you make sure that you are setting up your hiring managers, HR department, and your company for success? Unfortunately, there is no magic spell or algorithm that will ensure you get the perfect hire every time. Hiring is a human process, and humans come with unique abilities, perspectives, complexities, and biases, that you simply cannot predict.
There is no trick, but chances are you are already doing the work required – the first place a great interviewer looks is at themselves! You know that in order to analyze and appraise a potential candidate you need to be able to look at them holistically with as little of your personal preference as possible. The only way to do this is to learn to identify the places you may be biased, to learn what those biases are saying, and how to notice them without giving them undue preference.
So first, we will discuss bias, what it is and how it impacts interviewers, and then we will look at some ways to become more aware and to reflect on your role in the interview process.
What is bias?
Simply stated, bias is a prejudice, either for or against, a particular idea, person, or group. The word “bias” often has a negative connotation because it can lead to inconsistent advantages for a certain person or group of people.
Biases can look like preferring a certain type of person over another – for example, studies have shown that physically-attractive individuals tend to do better in job interviews, get promoted more, and are considered for higher wages more consistently. Biases can also look like being overconfident in one’s ability to make correct predictions (confidence bias), being overly optimistic about certain outcomes (optimism bias), and sometimes turning a blind eye to glaringly obvious red flags (the “ostrich” effect).
Bias comes in all shapes and sizes, and everyone is susceptible to them.
The Bias Blind Spot
At this point in the article, you may be thinking to yourself, “self, I understand that I have some biases, but I’ve gone to trainings, and I’m pretty sure I have this handled.” We all do it. This is called the “bias blind spot.” It is the tendency of individuals to be able to spot biases in others, but unable to identify the same biases in themselves. This can be a dangerous situation because it can lead someone to make decisions on the assumption that their decision-making process is completely neutral and fair while in fact it is riddled with personal preferences and opinions.
It is crucial that we learn to recognize our own biases, but it is especially important for those of us who are responsible for hiring talent within organizations. The current job marketplace is competitive – for candidates and employers alike. Candidates are vying for the (same) best positions while employers are often vying for the (same) best candidates. In this current market, it is quite possible that unconscious biases are preventing you from recognizing the talent of certain candidates and the value they could add to your company. This could be catastrophic for your company.
It is important that you admit you may be a victim of the bias blind spot, and embark on the work to be aware of these biases and control them when you can. As the common axiom goes, the first step is recognition.
So first, let’s take a look at some biases that occur frequently in the hiring process, and then we will present some suggestions for confronting our unconscious biases during the interview process.
7 Common Biases Interviewers Should Be Aware Of
Confirmation Bias - Confirmation bias is defined as a tendency to look for information that confirms one’s initial ideas or opinions. In an interview process, confirmation bias can look like viewing one applicant more favorably because they fit your preconceived notion of what a good employee looks like. Studies have shown that hiring managers often view applicants with foreign-sounding names or accents less positively than those applicants the interviewer perceives to have familiar names and accents. This could mean that the interviewer has an unconscious belief that only those who speak similarly to him or herself make good employees. They will then search for ways to confirm this assumption and only hire those who fit their predetermined picture of a good employee.
Halo Effect - The Halo Effect is the tendency to overrate a single characteristic of a person and project it onto all other aspects of their personality and character. Often, physical appearance can produce a halo effect. As mentioned above, people tend to attribute positive qualities to those who are perceived as good-looking. This is the halo effect at work. The positive quality, namely the physical appearance of an individual, is projected into the totality of the individual. They are viewed as more trustworthy, more punctual, more competent, and more desirable as an employee, simply because they are attractive. This can happen with more than physical appearance. An interviewer could rate certain characteristics more highly than others, and overrate the competencies of candidates who rank highly in these preferred categories.
Stereotyping Bias - This may be the type of bias you are most familiar with. Stereotyping occurs when certain characteristics are applied to a certain group of people as if all people in the group behave that way. Stereotyping occurs across race, gender, class, marital status, age, and so much more. Studies have been done in which researchers applied to job postings but manipulated their names to be either African-American-sounding names or white-sounding names - like Emily and Greg vs. Lakisha and Jamal. They found that their applications with white-sounding names got called back 50% more than their applications under African-American-sounding names. This can also look like men being selected for managerial positions over women of equal (or higher) qualifications, younger candidates being perceived as having more potential, and so on.
In-Group Bias - In-group bias is the tendency to approve of those who are “in” your group and to disapprove of those who are “out” of your group. We like to ascribe positive qualities to the groups we are a part of and negative qualities to the groups adjacent to or oppositional to us. While interviewing a candidate, a hiring manager may feel more positively towards a candidate who is similar to them. This might look like sharing a hometown, liking the same sports team, or having similar tastes in style. Essentially, we are prone to like those who are like us.
Status-Quo Bias - A status-quo bias occurs when people choose to go with “the way it's always been,” instead of going with a better decision that requires a change to occur. This bias is often driven by fear of loss, and in a hiring decision, it can lead to missing out on stellar talent. In hiring decisions, the status-quo bias is present when a hiring manager chooses to hire someone who is similar to successful hires in the past. While this may sound innocuous at first, it can lead to stagnation within a company. Sometimes change is a good and necessary thing, and the status-quo bias can prevent companies from moving in directions that would be beneficial to everyone.
Order Effects Bias - The order effects bias simply means that people tend to be biased by the order in which information is presented to them. This can take place in two ways: the primacy effect and the recency effect. The primacy effect occurs when someone is influenced by information that is presented first. The recency effect occurs when someone is influenced by later information more than the information that was presented first. This impacts hiring decisions as there is a necessary order to an interview process. It is important to be aware that the order in which candidates interview can have an impact on how you feel about them.
Peak-End Rule - This bias states that people tend to only remember the peak of an event or the end of an event. For example, after particularly painful events, research shows that we tend to disproportionately remember the moment the pain felt the worst or the end of the event, not the totality of the event. In the interview process, interviewers tend to remember the high points and conclusions of interviews and struggle to remember the totality of the interview.
These seven biases are incredibly common in the interview process. We may find ourselves nodding along and saying, “Yes, yes, these biases are incredibly important to be aware of.” And then moving along our day assuming that we are not susceptible to them. We are rational people who have been to HR training on diversity and inclusion, and we are aware of our biases.
Beware the Bias Blind Spot
It is here that many hiring managers get in trouble. In an important study by Oliver Thomas and Olivier Reimann, the researchers studied blind spot bias in HR employees and found a tendency for HR individuals to spot biases in their colleagues but not in themselves. This means that you, yes you, are likely susceptible to the biases listed above, and potentially more! We all are! And as hiring managers and recruitment it is vital that we begin the hard work of recognizing our own biases before calling them out in our colleagues. Here are three ways to begin to 1) become aware of your own biases and 2) how to begin to manage these biases in the interview process.
Begin to examine your foundational beliefs – Every human has beliefs that are core to who they are. These are a kaleidoscope of cultural values, personal opinions, nuclear family practices, and learned characteristics. These are unavoidable. However, some of these beliefs can negatively impact how we view others, and this can impact an interview! Before you even step into the interview, it is essential that you confront your beliefs about certain language styles, non-verbal queues, fashion, physical size, and so on. As we have said, the first step is acknowledging the traits you tend to favor, but you cannot do this if you are not aware of what these traits are.
Become aware of your inner dialogue concerning a candidate – While you are interviewing a potential candidate, it is vital that you become aware of your inner thoughts. Do you find yourself thinking, “I really like this person?” Or, “I really don’t like this person?” Don’t stop at that thought. Ask yourself why you feel this way. Your initial feelings about a person are often indicative of a bias that you hold. Learn to spot the internal dialogues that could lead to improperly labeling and interpreting an individual. When you begin thinking things like, “This person would be a great fit,” or “this person is incredibly articulate,” stop yourself and search for the underlying assumption. Why would they be a good fit? Is it because they are hard working and qualified, or is it because of their appearance or a shared trait?
Establish a “bias checklist” to ask yourself –
What assumptions am I making?
How might I be stereotyping this person?
What old messages are influencing my opinion of this person?
How true are the assumptions I am making about this person?
What do these assumptions and messages mean to me? How does confronting them make me feel?
Do I like this person because they are like me? What makes them similar? Why do I like that?
Do I dislike this person because they are unlike me? What differences are making me uncomfortable? What potential strengths could I be missing because of my dislike?
All of these require a deep level of self awareness, and can be incredibly uncomfortable to face. However, it is essential that we, as those responsible for hiring talent for our companies become experts at spotting our own biases. When we continue to turn a blind eye on our own biases we risk missing out on top talent for our company! If you find yourself struggling to recognize any of these, or to answer any of the questions posed above it may be helpful to ask a trusted colleague or mentor to help you identify the places where you may be biased.
The Perfect Interview… does not exist
We know, we know. It would be incredible to say that we have spotted and eradicated all of our biases and we are able to evaluate potential candidates as neutral slates. Unfortunately, this is impossible. We are human and those we are interviewing are human. This means that there are going to be blind spots during the process. All we can do is be as aware as possible during the interview process so that we don’t miss out on an incredible candidate simply because they weren’t what we were expecting.
This is where a recruitment agency can help. While your passion for hiring the perfect person for your company is admirable and helpful, it may get in the way of hiring the perfect candidate. You may be hunting too hard to find someone who will fit your company culture rather than looking for someone who will be able to perform the tasks required of them in their position. A recruitment agency is an outside eye that can help you navigate the places where you may be blind. Because they are not actively participating in your company’s day to day happenings, they will be more able to set aside certain biases and find someone who will thrive in the position you need to fill.
Let Cygnet Help
As a healthcare recruiting agency, we are perfectly positioned to help you find the perfect candidate! We have a vast network of diverse talent to pull from and we have extensive training in the best recruitment strategies. Let us at Cygnet Health Recruiters help you bear the burden of recruiting, and ensure that you are not missing out on the perfect candidate.