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5 Biases in Hiring and How Technology Is Fighting Them

September 8th, 2022

Hiring, Hiring Process, DEI, HR Trends

7 min read

Bias in the hiring process—and the negative ramifications it leads to—can be an intimidating problem to tackle. It can be uncomfortable for hiring managers to identify their own biases, or for them to uncover problems within their current hiring practices. It is, however, an essential thing to do.

Identifying and eliminating biases in hiring that hamper the pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is no small task. Fortunately, there are plenty of tech tools at your disposal. Here are some common types of bias in hiring, as well as some of the best technological solutions for addressing it.

Why Is Hiring Without Bias Important?

Eliminating bias in hiring isn’t just the right thing to do: It's crucial to an organization’s survival. A company’s employees are its most crucial drivers. So you need to make sure that you’re hiring—and retaining—top talent. Biases work against that goal by making it harder for hiring teams to recognize the candidate most qualified for the job.

how to hire without bias

Failure to hire and retain a diverse workforce has a significant impact.

A report from McKinsey, for example, found that:

  • “Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent 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 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior-executive team, earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) rise 0.8 percent.”

Simply put, the ability to hire without bias is essential to remaining competitive.

Common Hiring Biases

1. Similarity Bias

Perhaps the most easily recognizable of all types of hiring bias, the 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.

2. Affinity Bias

A close cousin of the similarity bias, the 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).

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. But this often comes at the expense of qualified candidates without connections, who are brushed aside.

3. Conformity Bias

Also known as “groupthink,” the 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 ridicule or ostracization fuels the conformity bias, leading people to overestimate the capabilities of a candidate who they might believe to be the majority’s favourite.

4. Halo Effect

This bias 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.

5. 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 Reduce Bias in the Hiring Process Using Technology

It’s important to understand that unconscious bias in hiring practices could be lurking anywhere, and that it can affect many different parts of the hiring process. Fortunately, there are many technological tools that can help you take action.

biases in hiring remove

Uncover Unconscious Associations with Digital Tests

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. Building 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, as it provides objectivity and rigour to the process. Tools like the Implicit Association Test developed by Harvard University, for example, can help you and your team objectively determine which unconscious associations you carry.

Evaluate Your Current Practices with Surveys

It’s a true mantra of the digital age, but it’s one that’s worth repeating: You need to look at the data. Objective data will be your best source of truth when evaluating your current practices and where there’s room for improvement.

This is something where the applicant tracking system (ATS) you use can really make a difference. Lever, for example, allows you to create surveys for potential hires, providing you with comprehensive data on where you can improve. And with Pinpoint, you can also gather equality monitoring reports to help you evaluate where your company’s efforts may need work.

Write Inclusive Job Postings with the Help of Text Editors

Bias can often creep in early in the hiring process, right when the job posting is being written. Subtle language differences, like using gender coded language, can deter certain candidates, sometimes to the point where they don’t apply at all.

know your hiring biases

Studies have shown that including language traditionally seen as more “masculine,” for example, impacts how many women might apply for a position. As a result, it’s important for hiring managers to be mindful of the language they use in postings, and avoid including “masculine” words such as “dominant,” “aggressive,” and “challenge.” To this end, hiring managers can consider using an AI-powered writing tool designed to uncover biased language and offer alternatives, such as the following:

In addition, 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 should 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 “these ads will be key to achieving our goals”)
  • idioms and colloquialisms (e.g. “we’re a one-stop shop”)
  • multi-word verbs (e.g. “you will 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. The results of work sample testing can be some of the best indicators of future performance. Work sample testing allows prospective employees to prove their suitability for a job and adds another crucial data point for recruiters to consider.

If you do not 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 Software

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

What Is 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 resumes 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. Pinpoint, for example, provides an Anonymized Screening or Blind Hiring 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, for example, often have more 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.

Try Artificial Intelligence—With Caution

We can’t talk about recruitment tech without mentioning artificial intelligence (AI). It’s often touted as a catch-all remedy for human-induced biases in the hiring process. And many technologies utilize AI to help with the recruitment process.

The field isn’t without its problems, though. AI hiring bias can occcur, and a number of examples of how AI can introduce bias into the hiring process are well known. Amazon reputedly scrapped an AI and machine learning recruitment program because it was found to exhibit bias against women. As one expert remarked in SHRM, “the problem with Amazon's recruiting technology was that it was loaded with past resumes gleaned from a 10-year period in which men applied and were hired more often than women.” As result, any efforts that utilize AI should be cautious of the data used when creating it.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. Many top providers of AI-powered solutions are rigorous in the data they use for their algorithms. AI can revolutionize the hiring process when it's supplied with clean, high-quality data. Screening software powered by AI can sort through applications orders of magnitude faster than humans can, arriving at a shortlist of candidates in minutes rather than hours, and doing so in a way that removes problems like the expedience bias.

Removing Bias in Hiring Takes Time

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

  • use reputable online assessments to uncover your unconscious biases
  • use your ATS to evaluate your current practices and identify room for improvement
  • remove biased language from job postings with the help of text editors
  • use a test provider to assess candidate abilities
  • conduct blind and asynchronous interviews
  • use trusted AI tools to speed up your hiring process without introducing bias

Most of us come to work with the best intentions, but the problem with bias is that it’s 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.

Many of our partners offer excellent solutions for addressing these problems. If you’re looking for a new ATS, we encourage you to explore our many integration partners and find the one best suited to your needs.

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