Powerful Techniques to Remove Hiring Bias from the Recruitment Process

professional skills

Removing bias in the hiring process is possible when you understand what biases look like and how they find their way into important recruitment decisions. Once identified, those biases can be removed through a variety of powerful HR techniques.

Removing Bias in HR

How can you solve a problem if you're not aware that it exists? This is the question posed by Jonathan Segal in the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article ''3 Steps for Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work.'' Segal firmly believes ''that what you don't know about implicit bias can hurt you - and your company.'' In order to remove bias from the recruitment process, you have to train your HR recruiters to recognize bias. From there, you can implement several powerful techniques for removing bias, including:

  • Training managers to recognize bias during an interview
  • Creating structured formats to guarantee equal interviews for all applicants
  • Using panels instead of individual recruiters to conduct interviews


Understanding Bias in Recruiting

Before we dive in, let's take a look at what it means to be biased in the recruitment process. The online Business Dictionary defines a bias as ''an inclination or preference that influences judgment from being balanced or even-handed.'' A bias can be seen as a prejudice toward someone as well. Bias in human resources occurs through the recruitment process when managers consciously or unconsciously ''discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information.''

Below are a few examples of recruitment biases and how they can sneak into the interview process.

Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is defined as ''prejudices people have but are unaware of.'' We are all naturally wired to take in large amounts of information and mentally process and sort it based on categories and stereotypes we have grown accustomed to. For instance, we may take a pile of resumes and sort them based on a person's location, place of schooling, and past work experience, among other features. Our brains make ''incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without realizing it.'' But whether intended or not, these activities still represent discrimination and bias. More on unconscious bias in the workplace can be found in a related article on Study.com.

Confirmation Bias

Wepow, a company specializing in recruitment technology, describes confirmation bias as a situation where a recruiter makes opinionated assumptions based on information in an applicant's resume. For example, if a person attended a university that a recruiter feels is inadequate in academics, then the recruiter may assume from the beginning that the applicant is not equipped for the job. This is a confirmation bias. The recruiter could potentially write off an excellent applicant simply because he or she (in the recruiter's opinion) attended the wrong school.

Poor Hire Bias

In an article for globoforce, an online HR firm, Darcy Jacobson shares that poor hiring bias is one of the more commonly recognized forms of unconscious bias. It occurs when a recruiter assumes that because of one outstanding quality found in an applicant, the applicant as a whole is completely qualified for a particular job. In other words, if an applicant walks into an interview looking well dressed and speaking in dignified tones, an HR recruiter may automatically assume that the individual is well educated, informed, and equipped for the job, regardless of any other information gleaned from the interview. In some cases, an interview may not even be thorough enough to discover if a person is even equipped to handle the job; this is sometimes referred to as the ''Halo Effect.''

HR Manager Training

Bias Removal Techniques

Now that we know a little more about the types of biases that can work their way intentionally or unintentionally into the recruitment process, let's look at how we can remove them.

Train Your HR Managers

As mentioned earlier, Jonathan Segal recently shared several tips for removing biases from HR with the SHRM. He believes that the most powerful weapon for combating bias in HR is educating managers and recruiters about its existence. ''How do you address something you don't even know might be happening?'' asks Segal. The answer is to educate your HR managers about unconscious bias in recruitment before the interview. So, how do you do this? Segal recommends these three steps.

Step One: Train Without Admissions

Share the most recent data and reports demonstrating the presence of bias in the workplace, particularly in recruitment. Present your managers with real-life court cases involving HR and accusations of bias by potential job applicants. In essence, prove that bias in HR is real and that it happens more often than not.

Segal suggests developing HR exercises that present different recruitment scenarios in which biases occur. Have recruiters work together to identify the biases and develop ways to avoid them. This encourages managers to recognize and identify biases without having to admit that they hold those same biases as well.

Another suggestion can be found in an online Study.com course ''Reducing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace: Strategies and Processes.'' Here, instructor Clio Stearns recommends bringing in outside trainers and guest speakers for ''consciousness raising,'' or raising awareness of bias in HR. Encouraging managers to read field-related literature from diverse authors can also help to instill a desire for bringing similar diversity into a company.

Step Two: Promote Self-Aware Decision-Making

Teach hiring teams how to mentally stop and question their actions and reasons for making decisions. ''If they are self-aware, they should realize when they are experiencing certain feelings'' and learn to recognize them as bias or non-bias, says Segal. Case in point, if an applicant walks into the room and the recruiter suddenly likes or dislikes the individual, then the recruiter needs to mentally stop and take note of and reflect on his or her reaction. ''Knee-jerk reactions serve as reminders to pause and be more deliberate and less reflexive,'' says Segal. If there's no time to pause and engage in some self-evaluation, an interview may be based on an initial impression, without any thought given to an applicant's actual qualifications.

Step Three: Implement Systematic Safeguards

Take extra precautions to help ensure that your recruiters enter an interview with an unbiased approach to the applicant. You can do this by eliminating some of an applicant's basic information such as name, address, ethnicity, and even his or her place of schooling.

Segal's other recommendations associated with this step include the next two techniques for removing bias in recruitment.

Interviewing Plan

Create a Structured Interviewing Format

In an article appearing in SHRM, Dana Wilkie suggests implementing specific interviewing guidelines for recruiters to ensure that all applicants are evaluated equally. For instance, set a specific time limit and apply it to all interviews. Develop a set of questions that are strictly focused on the roles and requirements of the job being filled. The goal is to give each applicant the same interviewing experience to avoid any bias or discrimination in the process.

Establishing a rating system for the interview can also be of help. Rate the responses given to the questions on a scale of 1 to 5. Don't look back at the ratings until all of the interviews have been completed to ensure that a rating for one applicant doesn't affect the rating of another. Segal recommends creating a list of phrases to describe a recruiter's reaction to an applicant's responses. This can help a recruiter avoid using any type of wording that may be biased or stereotypical. At the end of an interview, recruiters can then review the results that are ''based on observable behaviors rather than labels,'' writes Segal.

Choose to Conduct Panel Interviews

Interviewing in pairs or even panels can help to ensure that biases do not enter the hiring process. Matthew O'Connell, Ph.D., Co-founder and Executive Director for Select International (an HR firm) agrees with this method; he states that ''having more than one person observe the applicant will reduce bias and inaccuracy.''

For this process to be the most effective, O'Connell suggests assigning specific questions to individual recruiters so that no one recruiter dominates an interview. A facilitator should also be assigned to ensure that an interview stays on focus and within the set time frame. Coburg Banks, a multi-sector recruiting firm in the United Kingdom, adds that when using panel interviews, make sure that the panel includes ''a fair mix of men and women, cultural diversity and a broad age range.'' Not only does this help limit biases in the interviewing process, but ''also helps uncover and fix any blind spots in the interviews and eradicates decisions made on 'gut feeling'.'' For instance, Google often sends managers from other departments to be part of interview panels in order to ensure a fair and non-biased assessment of an applicant.

Interview Panel Success

Set Your Plan Into Motion

Training managers to understand and avoid bias, creating structured interviews, and choosing to conduct interviews using more than one recruiter or a panel are effective techniques for eliminating bias in the recruitment process. However, it's up to you to implement these techniques within your own recruiting department to help promote an unbiased and successful interviewing process.

By Amanda Johnson
February 2018
professional skills hr professional development

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