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How To Reduce Bias In the Hiring Process

It is common knowledge that hiring the wrong candidate can have debilitating and negative impacts on an organization’s growth. Bad hires lead to delayed product launches, lost spend or negative ROI on projects, employee turnover, and missed sales targets. It is costly for an organization to pay for a candidate’s salary while they ramp up, especially when they have to rehire for the same role in 6 months because the first hire was a poor fit. Add in the cost of negative returns from a hire that did not contribute or achieve desired outcomes for their role, and companies can easily lose hundreds of thousands of dollars - millions of dollars in annual revenue are lost when the wrong executive is hired. 

So how can companies avoid such costly errors? 

Start by tackling unconscious bias in hiring practices. Companies taking the time to understand what is unconscious bias and how to reduce bias in hiring processes typically see positive growth and retention stats across the board. There are several types of bias in hiring - halo/horn bias, stereotyping bias, and especially affinity bias are common examples. Affinity bias in hiring often shows up in interviews and in candidate feedback cycles. Two affinity bias examples are:

1.) An interviewer asks about things they have in common with the candidate (i.e. mutual friends, a sports team, etc) instead of questions about their skills and qualifications.
2.) An interviewer gives “feeling-based” feedback on a candidate, like “they seem cool”.

The latter example usually occurs when too much time has passed between an interview and leaving feedback, so the interviewer is unable to recall specific objective feedback; only feelings.

Uncovering unconscious bias in recruiting and interviewing is a difficult task. This is why hiring teams use Interview Intelligence solutions like Pillar to identify what types of bias in hiring occur within their organizations and course correct in real time, often seeing results like this company that saw a decrease in failed hires by 50%

Tracking objective recruitment metrics is another way organizations can see if bias is potentially leading to bad hiring decisions and understand how their hiring teams stack up with affinity bias statistics specifically. To learn more about best practice recruiting metrics, check out Pillar’s guide to the ABCs of Recruiting Metrics.

7 Practical Ways To Reduce Bias In Your Hiring Process

Companies wishing to scale sustainably and reduce the risk of hiring the wrong people can follow these 7 practical ways to reduce bias in your hiring process:

*Learn - before you fix anything, learn what’s broken! Take time to dig in, understand recruitment bias in research and how bias in interview processes may be showing up in your organization. Use tools like Pillar Interview Intelligence to identify unconscious bias interview examples in your actual hiring conversations.

*Revamp Job Descriptions - now that you understand bias in your interview process, start by removing it from the first step in your process: the job description. Is the language discouraging to women or people with non-traditional career paths, for example? Does the language focus on clear outcomes and expectations on skills or is it leaving room for subjective interpretation by your interviewers? You can run job descriptions through free analyzers online to see how biased language may be discouraging the right candidates from applying to your company.

*Implement Equitable Resume Screening - blind resume reading is one way to remove unconscious biases from influencing a decision on whether or not to consider a candidate for interviewing. By focusing on a person’s skill, not their hometown or age (all too common examples of unconscious bias that occur in resume screening), you are more likely to interview and select a better candidate. 

*Standardize Interviews - ensure each candidate participates in the same types of interviews with the same questions. By asking every candidate the same standard set of questions focused on skills and outcomes for the desired role(s), your hiring teams are more likely to judge candidates based on unbiased skill comparison.

*Train Interviewers - most hiring teams are not trained in appropriate interviewing conduct. Without ongoing interviewer training, your interviewers may be putting the company at risk by asking illegal or bias-driven questions. 

*Standardize Feedback Cycles- hold hiring teams accountable for delivering feedback within a certain time frame post-interview. Ensure you are getting feedback on the same set of requirements for each candidate (typically the set of skills the interviewer is meant to focus on in that interview). Finally, set clear expectations with interviewers to not discuss a candidate amongst each other before everyone has left their individual feedback (so there is no room for group bias).

*Upgrade Your Recruiting Tech Stack - there’s a reason teams struggle to remove bias from the hiring process! It takes work, and without the right tools in place to continuously reinforce the above processes, you may be risking all that hard work going to waste and allowing bias to re-enter into your hiring process. This article on Screening Candidates More Efficiently includes several tips for tools to look into.

How Can Bias Affect A Job Interview?

If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering how can bias affect a job interview?

Part of unpacking interview bias psychology and interview bias sociology includes taking a closer look at specific examples of bias interview questions. Three examples of biased, yet commonly asked interview questions are:

1.) How many children do you have?
2.) When did you graduate college?
3.) What do you like to do on the weekends?

While they may seem innocent at first glance, questions like these open the doors to bias and discrimination (sexism, age discrimination, and affinity bias for the above examples specifically).

These questions usually do not pertain to a candidate’s relevant job experience for a given role, and some of them are actually illegal to ask in job interviews - potentially putting your business at risk of a lawsuit. For further information on what is interview bias, here’s a quick guide on What NOT to Ask in an Interview.

You can reduce bias in an interview by understanding how it shows up and taking consistent actions to address it - remember: reducing bias in interviews is never a “one and done” task. 

Even before interviewing a candidate, bias may be entering your hiring process in the candidate sourcing and research phases of recruitment. To understand what is interviewer bias in research, think about the types of information hiring teams and interviewers see before meeting a candidate - are they seeing the social clubs of the candidate?  The age of the candidate? 

This information may live on a resume to provide a fuller picture of a candidate as a whole person, however, it is often irrelevant to that candidate's actual ability to do the job and should not influence hiring decisions.

Wondering how to avoid interviewer bias in research? Once again, blind resume screens can help by hiding irrelevant information on a candidate when preparing an interviewer so as not to prematurely influence their decision-making with bias.

Avoiding Unconscious Bias In Interviewing

Avoiding unconscious bias in interviewing is difficult without a standard way to track where it shows up. You can’t address common interview biases without tracking unconscious bias recruitment statistics in your organization.

Companies focused on how to reduce bias in hiring processes are leveraging solutions like Pillar Interview Intelligence, which can track when bias appears in an interview conversation, provide live coaching to course correct those conversations, and empower hiring teams to avoid letting unconscious bias influence their hiring decisions.

Several unconscious bias interview examples that Pillar has helped teams identify and remove are:
*Asking about a candidate's personal life (i.e. Are you pregnant?)
*Asking about a candidate’s age, sex, religion, etc. (i.e. When did you graduate?)
*Asking questions that stray from a standardized interview process (i.e. Did you watch the baseball game last night?)

In addition to live interviews, unconscious bias can appear in other parts of your recruiting process - a few unconscious bias in recruitment examples are:

*Rejecting an application on an assumption a candidate doesn’t speak English well because their name looks foreign
*An interviewer leaving negative feedback on a candidate because of something they heard their colleague say about that person
*Assuming a candidate won’t have the right experience because they graduated college 5 years later than another person currently in the role

If avoiding unconscious bias in interviewing is a priority for your team, Pillar Interview Intelligence can automatically identify areas of improvement and make live recommendations on interviews to ensure your team is making informed decisions on candidates based on unbiased, objective data. 

How To Remove Unconscious Bias

As noted above, removing bias in hiring processes is not a one and done task. Removing bias from recruitment requires ongoing efforts to hire efficiently and equitably. Start by identifying unconscious bias recruitment statistics for your organization and seeing how your team stacks up. Identifying which types of unconscious bias are taking place is a key step towards figuring out how to remove unconscious bias and making better hires.

A common method for companies that are serious about learning how to tackle unconscious bias in the workplace is to have your hiring teams complete an unconscious bias test. Before administering an unconscious bias test, it’s important to understand that it’s nearly impossible in today’s society for people not to have any unconscious biases. The term “unconscious” bias implies exactly that: the bias is not a conscious decision. Because of this, it’s a best practice to reassure your team and make sure they understand the intent behind this test: to understand specific gaps so you can help them improve and grow as humans and employees.

It’s important to note that unconscious bias tests should not be used as a means to punish interviewers, rather use them as an opportunity to tailor your unconscious bias training so it can be more impactful in the long run. 

See more information on Mindful Habits to Reduce Unconscious Bias in Interviews here.

How To Reduce Interviewer Bias In Research

What is interviewer bias in research? In a broad sense, this is when interviewers allow preconceived judgments to influence how they perceive interview responses. In the context of hiring, figuring out how to reduce interviewer bias in research and in interview conversations can be confusing because of qualitative answers, information, and feedback.

Interviewer bias in qualitative research can show up throughout the recruitment process. Whereas quantitative answers are direct, numeric, and objective, qualitative research or story driven interview answers tend to draw on emotions and more subjective perceptions. For example, an employee who referred a candidate says to the hiring manager “This candidate is awesome - they’ve always been a hard worker; they went to an Ivy league school”. 

Now the hiring manager is now going into the interview with a biased lens of the candidate’s abilities and may perceive their answers differently than a candidate who did not get referred in, where there was no prior context for the conversation. Because of this qualitative information, perhaps the referred candidate is not asked about work ethic at all because the hiring manager has already made a judgment from their friend’s qualitative comments, even though it may be a key requirement for the job. This type of interview bias psychology can lead to inequitable hiring and hiring managers potentially missing important red flags on candidates.

Scientists that have studied interviewer bias sociology and how to avoid interviewer bias in qualitative research recommend using structured interview questions that focus on gathering more objective data. For example, instead of asking “What do you do when there is a conflict in the workplace?”, ask “Tell us a specific time you faced a conflict in the workplace - what did you do and what was the outcome?”.

Interviewer bias statistics can be largely improved simply by changing the framework of your interview questions to a more data-driven and objective structure. 

Bias In Hiring Statistics

Bias in hiring statistics typically highlights inequities among growing teams across industries. Gender bias in hiring statistics show that men are much more likely to be considered for a role than women. Racial bias in hiring processes show similar discrepancies between white people and people of color. If you are concerned about bias in hiring processes at your organization, try investing in a hiring bias study and/or a resume bias study - the results of these studies highlight what discrepancies or biases are showing up in your business’s specific recruiting operations.

Remember: the best way to remove bias from hiring is to understand how it impacts your team and then to implement structured and tailored action plans to remove those biases.

It can be a humbling experience for organizations, especially when evaluating types of bias in HR - a department that is often the biggest advocate for DEI initiatives. A best practice is to remind your team that nobody is perfect (unconscious bias in hiring studies often show that everyone has some form of prejudices influencing their decisions). Make sure your team is comfortable with the intent of these studies by reminding them this is not a “hunt” to target and punish biased employees, rather an opportunity to help individuals grow and improve upon themselves.

By acknowledging that it is not simple or easy to remove bias in hiring and working to provide an environment where hiring teams feel safe to ask questions and learn how to interview better, your team can maximize the long term benefits of hiring efficiently and equitably.