Tips for Avoiding Subconscious Bias In the Hiring Process


Evelina Silveira, President, Diversity at Work in London Inc.   Publisher, Inclusion Quarterly.

Let’s face it — we are human!  But when it comes to equitable hiring practices, our “humanness” can get in the way of hiring the best candidates.  There is a growing body of research that says that we are more likely to hire attractive people for certain jobs based on their appearance and not their qualifications.  Research shows that even small children think that people of colour are less trustworthy and not as friendly , and these biases continue on into adulthood and influence hiring practices.

The unfortunate reality is that the best people are often not chosen for a job because our subconscious bias gets in the way.

As a small business owner, I am conscious of this now more than ever.  I want to hire the best people, because if I don’t , I lose money and the reputation of my business.   Good people make me good as well. Business owners see and immediate connection with the bottom-line and are no doubt more likely to choose qualified people than looking for only “fit”.

It would be so easy if more people felt this way but they often don’t.   That’s why we need to build in processes to help reduce the occurrences of bias. When it comes to fair hiring practices, the key word is “structure”.  Structure allows for all members of the hiring committee to keep on track.  Problems arise when committee members “go off the script”.

Here are some tips to support the integrity of your hiring processes.

Check you biases at the door.  Remember the focus needs to be on skill rather than “fitting in”. If your goal is to hire “someone who will fit into the organizational culture” you will undoubtedly hire people who are the same as the rest and not necessarily the best employees.  Certain cultures and age groups and those with a diversity of thoughts and opinions, will be out of the running. Sometimes interviewers are afraid to hire the best because they fear losing their job to the candidate. But hiring the best people is a good indication of a progressive leadership team.

Map out your hiring process.  It is a good idea to use a flow chart or another kind of chart to identify who will be responsible for each stage in the process. Having a visual to work from will help you to see what links may need strengthening to increase the fairness of the process.  For example, one way to reduce beauty bias is to start with a preliminary online or standardized interview which removes the possibility of subjectivity.

Zoom in on the key competencies for the job, and structure the processes around it.  If your job posting requires an advanced level of technical skills in a particular area, be sure to have this tested within your screening process.

Involve multiple people in the interview process.  The screening committee should be made aware of fair hiring practices and be committed to getting the best candidate possible.

Ask the same questions of everyone.  Avoid asking extra questions of some and not of others.  You  give a candidate an unfair advantage.

Included a weighted scoring sheet.  Keep to the most important competencies and weigh them according to the job.  Relying on written responses alone is not enough.  This makes the process far too open to interpretation, bias and illegal hiring practices.  If your interview process is ever questioned by the candidate or authorities you can at least show that you had some structure in place.  Having a scoring sheet throughout the process:  recruitment, interviewing, and reference checking will cut down on the bias.  You owe it to the candidate and to the reputation of your organization to follow a structured system.

Focus on the key issues.  Can the candidate do the job? Based on their responses and prior work history, will they do the job?  If they have not done the job before, what qualities have they demonstrated in the interview process or skills have they obtained from other experiences that make the case that they can do the job.

Conduct reference checks.  Ensure that all candidates referees are asked the same questions.

Don’t forget empathy.  Looking for a job these days is harder than ever and there are so many people in need of one. Always keep in mind how you would like to be treated.  Think about how you would feel if someone less qualified got a job that should have been yours.

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