5 Biases in Hiring and How Technology Can Help Fight Them

Collaborative workplace using technology to fight biases in hiring

Biases in the hiring process, and the negative impacts they can have, can be an intimidating problem to tackle. It can be uncomfortable for hiring managers to identify their own biases or for them to identify potential problems with their current hiring practices. However, it’s an essential thing to take a look at if you want to recruit top talent.

Identifying and eliminating biases in the hiring process that hamper the pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives is no small task. Fortunately, there are plenty of tech tools at your disposal. Here are some common types of biases in hiring as well as some technologies you can actually use to address them.

Why Is Overcoming Biases in Hiring Important?

Identifying and eliminating biases in hiring isn’t just the right thing to do, but it’s important to an organization’s success. Biases in hiring work against the goal of securing top talent by making it harder for hiring teams to recognize the candidates who are most qualified for the job.

Diverse group of candidates fighting biases in hiring

Failure to hire and retain a diverse workforce has a significant impact. An interesting report from McKinsey found that:

  • Companies in the top quartile for diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians
  • Companies in the bottom quartile both for gender and for ethnicity and race are statistically less likely to achieve above-average financial returns than the average companies in the data set
  • For every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes rise 0.8 percent.

Simply put, the ability to manage biases in hiring is a way to be competitive.

Common Biases in Hiring

Similarity Bias

Perhaps the most easily recognizable of all types of hiring bias, similarity bias refers to our natural tendency to want to associate with people who are like us. Left unaddressed, this unconscious bias leads to managers “hiring in their own image” and the formation of organizations filled with employees who all look, sound, and act the same.

Affinity Bias

A close cousin of the similarity bias, affinity bias occurs when a hiring manager is drawn to a candidate with whom they share something in common (e.g., they studied at the same university, they have a mutual connection, or they share the same professional qualifications, etc.).

The affinity bias is particularly evident in small communities where connections through social or professional lines are easily drawn, and can feel like a good way to build rapport. However, this often comes at the expense of qualified candidates without connections, who are brushed aside.

Conformity Bias

Also known as “groupthink,” conformity bias is based on a series of experiments conducted by renowned psychologist Solomon Asch in the 1950s. The study demonstrated the tendency for people to be swayed by the opinions of others, even in scenarios where a clear right or wrong answer is present.

A desire to avoid being ridiculed or ostracized fuels the conformity bias, leading people to overestimate the capabilities of a candidate who they might believe to be the majority’s favourite.

Halo Effect

This refers to a disproportionate focus on a very positive aspect of a candidate at the expense of all their other features. It assumes that if they’re good at one thing, they must be good at all things.

The halo effect is so-called because the single positive attribute might outshine other candidates and ascribe credit where it may not be due. Even worse, recruiters might allow it to overshadow obvious red flags in a candidate’s application that prove they’re not right for the job.

Expedience Bias

This bias, and its substantial effect on hiring practices, has its roots in our tendency to make fast decisions at the expense of their quality. We tend to overvalue things that we remember quickly and clearly using the information readily available to us at that moment. This can be an especially difficult form of bias to counteract, given that many hiring managers contend with significant time pressure when filling new positions.

Expedience bias rears its head when we use a single data point for decision-making, when we use stereotypes to compare candidates, or when we go with an unsubstantiated gut feeling because we believe that our first assumption must be true.

How to Eliminate Bias in Recruiting and Selecting Applicants

It’s important to understand that unconscious biases in hiring practices could be lurking anywhere, and that they can affect many different parts of the hiring process. Fortunately, there are many technologies and ways of working with these tools that can actually help you take action when recruiting and selecting applicants.

Post-It notes representing biases in hiring

Evaluate Your Implicit and Unconscious Bias

In order for your efforts to have a meaningful impact, it’s important to first take the time to determine what unconscious associations you might be making. Awareness and encouraging team members to think more consciously about their hiring decisions is a good first step, but the right tools can help take these efforts even further. This is one area where technology can be especially helpful because it can provide more objectivity and rigour to the process.

Online psychological tools like the Implicit Association Test developed by researchers at Harvard University help measure which implicit or unconscious associations you may carry. The Implicit test aims to reveal implicit biases by measuring the strength of your automatic associations between different concepts (e.g., race, gender, age) and evaluative attributes (i.e., good, bad).

The test typically involves a computer-based task where participants are asked to categorize words or images into different categories as quickly as possible. The test measures response times and errors, assuming that faster response times indicate stronger associations. By examining patterns of responses, researchers can infer the presence and strength of implicit biases or associations.

The Implicit Association Test doesn’t provide a definitive diagnosis of someone’s biases, but it can provide insight into unconscious associations that you may hold.

Use Your ATS to Manage Bias in Hiring

It’s a true mantra of the digital age, but it’s one that’s worth repeating: you need to look at the data. Data is a great tool when evaluating your current practices and where there’s room for improvement. Using the full tools and features of your applicant tracking system (ATS) can be a valuable way to help mitigate biases in the hiring process. While an ATS alone cannot completely eliminate bias, its tools and features can help streamline the process and introduce more objectivity. Here are some tips for using an ATS to fight biases in hiring:

  1. Standardize the Application Process: Design a consistent application process that treats all applicants fairly. Ensure that each candidate is asked the same set of questions and evaluated against the same criteria. This helps reduce subjective judgments and promotes fairness.
  2. Create Bias-Free Job Descriptions: Use gender-neutral language and focus on essential job requirements and qualifications. Avoid using language that may appeal to a specific gender or perpetuate stereotypes.
  3. Implement Blind Screening: With some ATS platforms, you can anonymize applications by removing personally identifiable information such as names, gender, and photos. This helps prevent unconscious biases associated with gender, ethnicity, or other demographic factors during the initial screening stage.
  4. Use Structured Interview Questions: Develop a set of standardized interview questions that are relevant to the job requirements. Structured interviews help ensure that all candidates are assessed using the same criteria and reduce the influence of personal biases.
  5. Implement Diverse Panels for Interviews: Include a diverse set of interviewers who can provide different perspectives and minimize bias. This can help in evaluating candidates from various backgrounds more objectively.
  6. Leverage Data and Analytics: ATS platforms often provide data and analytics on the hiring process. Monitor and analyze the data to identify any patterns of bias or disparities in the selection process. This information can help you make data-driven decisions and identify areas for improvement.
  7. Train Recruiters and Hiring Managers: Educate your recruiting team and hiring managers about unconscious biases in the hiring process and their potential impact on decision-making. Provide training on recognizing and mitigating biases to ensure fair and equitable evaluations.
  8. Regularly Review and Update your Processes: Continuously assess and refine your hiring processes to minimize bias. Stay informed about the latest research and best practices related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in recruitment.

Remember, an ATS is a tool that supports your efforts to fight bias, but it’s essential to approach the hiring process holistically and consider other factors beyond the ATS itself. It’s crucial to create an inclusive and diverse work environment by addressing bias at every stage of the hiring process and fostering a culture of equality.

Write Inclusive Job Postings

Writing inclusive job postings is an important step in attracting a diverse pool of candidates and promoting an inclusive work environment. Text editors can assist in this process by providing suggestions, identifying biased language, and offering alternatives. Here are some tips for writing inclusive job postings with the help of text editors:

  1. Use Gender-Neutral Language: Text editors can help identify gender-specific language and suggest more inclusive alternatives. For example, instead of using “salesman” or “waitress,” opt for gender-neutral terms like “sales representative” or “server.”
  2. Avoid Biased Language: Text editors can highlight biased or exclusive terms that may discourage certain candidates. Be mindful of language that may inadvertently favour a particular gender, ethnicity, or background. For instance, replace words like “strong” or “aggressive” with terms like “assertive” or “results-oriented” to avoid gender stereotypes.
  3. Focus on Essential Qualifications: Use text editors to ensure your job postings prioritize the necessary qualifications and skills required for the position. Avoid listing unnecessary preferences or requirements that could deter qualified candidates.
  4. Check for Readability and Clarity: Text editors can help you assess the readability and clarity of your job postings. Aim for simplicity and avoid jargon or complex language that may create barriers for some candidates. Ensure the job requirements and responsibilities are communicated effectively.
  5. Highlight Your Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion: If you’ve established a DEI policy or other diversity and inclusion targets, incorporate statements that emphasize your organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Text editors can assist in ensuring these statements are clear, impactful, and inclusive. Examples include affirming equal opportunity, promoting diversity, and encouraging applicants from underrepresented groups.
  6. Seek Alternative Perspectives: Consider having multiple team members review and provide input on the job posting. They may catch biases or language that you may have missed. Collaborating with others can help ensure a more inclusive job description.
  7. Use Inclusive Terminology: Text editors can suggest alternative terms that promote inclusivity. For instance, instead of using “disabled” or “handicapped,” consider using “person with a disability.” Be aware of using appropriate terminology for diverse groups and consult relevant resources or style guides for guidance.
  8. Avoid Age-Related bias: Text editors can help identify any language that may inadvertently imply age-related bias. Ensure your job postings are inclusive and do not discourage candidates from any age group.

Remember, while text editors can be helpful tools, they’re not foolproof. It’s important to review and edit your job postings manually as well, as context and nuances may not be accurately captured by automated suggestions. Additionally, consider seeking input from diverse perspectives within your organization to ensure inclusivity throughout the hiring process.

In addition to the tactics described above, to make postings more inclusive it can also be a good idea to use words that are easier for non-native English speakers to understand and translate. To do this, you can evaluate your job postings and remove the following if you can:

  • Words that have more than one meaning or words that are used for their secondary meaning rather than their primary one (e.g. “Uses the key to lock the door” vs. “This person will be key to achieving our goals”)
  • Idioms and colloquialisms (e.g. “We’re a one-stop shop”)
  • Multi-word verbs (e.g. “You’ll need to carry out the following responsibilities”)
  • Complex language (e.g. “Facetious” rather than “funny”)

Text editors such as Text Inspector and Readable can help you with these efforts. They can evaluate the level of English you’re using and offer suggestions to improve readability.

Consider Testing Software

Work sample testing can be one of the best ways to determine if a particular candidate will do well within a certain role. Depending on the role, the results of work sample testing can be some of the best indicators of future performance. Work sample testing allows prospective employees to demonstrate their suitability for a job and adds another crucial data point for recruiters to consider.

If you don’t have the resources to design your tests in-house, this is another area where technology can provide useful solutions in the form of testing software. The best will have smart features like cheating prevention, pace and quality monitoring, and analytical tools that filter the results on your behalf and present you with the top candidates.

Use Blind Hiring

If you’re wondering how to avoid biases in hiring, then employing blind hiring practices (or improving the ones you already use) can be another great step to take.

Blind Hiring

Blind or “anonymous” hiring is the process of removing any identifying factors from an application that could trigger conscious or unconscious bias in recruitment practices. This includes information such as a candidate’s:

  • Name
  • Contact Details (including their address)
  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Academic Qualifications
  • Personal Interests

A study by Harvard Business School found that these details can significantly sway a hiring manager’s decision. In fact, candidates who “whiten” their applications and hide their ethnicity are more than twice as likely to be called for interviews. What’s more, another study found that blind screening increases the probability that a woman will be advanced to the final round of a hiring process by 50%.

Removing Identifying Information with Technology

This is another area where a good ATS can be especially useful. For example, Pinpoint has an “Anonymized Screening” feature that removes all identifying details about a candidate while keeping the information recruiters need to make fact-based hiring decisions. Along with blind hiring, hiring managers can also use its customizable candidate scorecards to ensure they choose the best candidates to interview based on standard and fair criteria, not bias.

Blind Interviewing

Once a candidate is in the interview process, it becomes harder to mitigate implicit bias, especially if you involve video interviews from the start. Fortunately, there are ways to use technology to your advantage here as well. For example, you could keep cameras turned off during video interviews in order to remove visual cues that could affect your decision making.

Asynchronous phone interviews can also allow you to avoid having the physical appearance of a candidate affect hiring decisions. They can also make the process more accessible. Candidates with autism report having difficulty making eye contact and may find asynchronous interviews and interviews without cameras easier to manage. To this end, Qualifi provides an asynchronous phone interview process that allows recruiters to set up their interview questions and send them to candidates to complete on their own time. With Qualifi, recruiters can set up pre-recorded questions and invite hundreds of candidates to participate in an interview whenever it’s most convenient — allowing recruiters to listen and focus on the experience and answers of the candidates instead of their appearance.

Removing Biases in Hiring

Most of us come to work with good intentions, but the problem with biases in hiring are that they’re often deeply ingrained and unconscious. Addressing bias in recruitment is an exercise in constant introspection and self-improvement at both the individual and organizational level. The good news is that there are a lot of tech-based solutions out there to support recruitment professionals in addressing bias across their processes.

To recap, here are some of the ways you can remove biases from your hiring process:

  • Use reputable online assessments to uncover your unconscious biases;
  • Use your ATS to evaluate your current practices and identify areas of improvement;
  • Remove biased language from job postings with the help of text editors;
  • Use a standardized test to assess candidate abilities as appropriate; and
  • Consider conducting blind or asynchronous interviews.

Many of our ATS partners offer ways to remove hiring from your hiring process using the suggestions mentioned above. If you’re looking for an ATS, or want to know whether we’re integrated with your favourite hiring platform, we encourage you to explore our Partner Marketplace.