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Minimize Unconscious Bias During Recruitment

In my last blog I wrote about why it’s important for you to get your recruitment decisions right; not that I always did!! I also introduced you to the PEOPLE process for conducting an interview. Let me just remind you of the six steps:

  • Prepare for the interview
  • Establish rapport
  • Obtain information by asking high-quality questions
  • Provide information to answer the candidate’s questions
  • Lead the interview to a close
  • Evaluate the candidate against your set criteria

Unconscious Bias While Interviewing

One area that I didn’t cover, but that is critical to effective interviewing is that of your unconscious biases. You did know that you had unconscious biases right?? Well, just in case you are unfamiliar with them, I’ll borrow from an article by communications expert Sharon Drew Morgen who defines them as:

“The unconscious, habitual, involuntary, and historic reaction to something deemed ‘different’ (skin colour, gender, lifestyle choices, etc.) that negatively triggers someone’s largely unconscious beliefs and values – going against what the person deems ‘right’ or ‘good’ as per the subjective filters through which they experience their lives – causing an automatic feeling of, and defence against, some sort of violation. Our biases have been developed through the stories of our lives. From birth, our parent’s beliefs become part of our unconscious, very personal, ecosystem; the cultural norms of our youth create our habits, behaviours, and identity; the schools we attend or the gangs we join introduce us to the way our world works and how to behave accordingly”

Stereotyping in Interviews

They are stereotypes about people that all of us form without thinking about it. While that sounds bad, it’s also natural and hopefully, you can see that your unconscious biases run very deep. But, how do your unconscious biases potentially impact your interviewing processes? They can cause you to make decisions in favour of one person or group to the detriment of others. This can not only impact recruitment, but also negatively affect a company’s policy on diversity, promotion, and retention efforts.

In the recruitment process, unconscious bias happens when you form an opinion about any candidate based solely on your initial impressions of them. Even in the early stages of the recruitment process a candidate’s photo on their CV or application form, their name, or their hometown could influence your opinion more than you think. In short, your unconscious biases influence your decision – whether positively or negatively – using criteria that may well be irrelevant to the job for which you are interviewing them.

Examples of Unconscious Bias

There are many unconscious biases. Just have a look on the internet if you don’t believe me. They include:

  • Affinity bias
  • Ageism
  • Attribution bias
  • Beauty bias
  • Confirmation bias
  • Conformity bias
  • The contrast effect
  • Gender bias
  • Racial bias

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list and, yes, there is an obvious link to employment law. This is why you need to know about these things and how to overcome them; if indeed you can. I suspect that it will take more than just a day’s training on diversity. You will need to go much deeper than just the behavioural level to explore your deep-seated beliefs, values and norms.

Halo & Horns Effect impacting hiring decisions

Anyway, back to the point. Two unconscious biases that you really do need to be aware of (literally) are the halo and horns effect.

The halo effect is the tendency for positive impressions of a person to positively influence your opinion or feelings towards them. It is a type of cognitive bias and is the opposite of the horn effect.

My Eagle Training colleague, corporate trainer and friend Martin Eldon uses the following scenario to explain the halo effect. Let’s just say that you are interviewing a candidate. We’ll call him Bob for the sake of argument.

The Halo Effect

Going back to the six step PEOPLE process, you’ve done your preparation. You’ve skillfully created rapport and are ready to ask them some searching questions.

“Tell me a bit about yourself, Bob. What do you like to do in your spare time?”

“I like going to the gym, walking in the hills and I love going to the theatre (pre-COVID obviously!).”

You pick up on this last point. “I love theatre too. What do you like?”

“I love Shakespeare,” says Bob.

“Me too”, you reply. “Do you go down to Stratford?”

“Yes”, says Bob, “I went last year and saw the Twelfth Night. It was great.”

“That’s spooky, I went to that one last year too,” you say. “It was brilliant wasn’t it,” you opine.

Do you get the idea?

When it comes to answering questions about his qualifications, skills and experience to do the job you are interviewing him for Bob’s answers should tell you he’s not a good match for the requirements of the role. It doesn’t matter because Bob has now got a halo around his head because of the rapport that you have built with him based on your similarity. This man can do no wrong. He could be a mass murderer and it wouldn’t matter to you. In fact, you want to name your next child after him!

You get the idea I’m sure.

The Horns Effect

The horns effect is the opposite. When you ask him what he likes and he tells you about his interest in Shakespeare you retort saying that theatre of this kind is just for the bourgeoisie elitists in London. He’s going to the gym and walking in the country doesn’t help him either as you hate exercise.

Do you get the idea?

OK, so now Bob doesn’t have a halo. No, he has a pair of Lucifer horns. You hate him! Even when he gives you fantastic answers to your job-related questions it doesn’t help him. Bob’s fate was sealed from the get-go.

You get the idea.

Minimize Unconscious Bias During Recruitment

So, now you know about these unconscious biases of yours, you are probably wondering how to remove them from the recruitment process; especially in the interview situation.

Well, first and foremost, you need to be more aware of our biases. You might not able to get rid of them completely, but it’s important to build awareness and help people think more consciously when making hiring decisions. It’s like Sharon Drew Morgen says:

“It’s not possible to permanently change behaviours by merely changing someone’s behaviours. Offering training that merely offers examples and experiences of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviours, and expecting people to undo their habituated triggers because they ‘admit’ to, or recognise ‘bad’ behaviours, uses the wrong thinking. Changing core biases permanently is not a behaviour change issue; it’s a core Identity/Belief problem that must be resolved at the source, within the system that created it.”

Here are some thoughts for you to consider as ways of reducing, but not totally eliminating unconscious bias in the recruitment process as a whole and interviewing in particular:

  • Build awareness around unconscious bias
  • Use validated assessments such as DISC
  • Standardise the interview process by using standardised questions as far as possible to ensure consistency across the interview programme
  • Watch out for bias toward likeability (halo effect)
  • Implement a collaborative interviewing process
  • Think about diversity/inclusivity goals
  • Don’t rely solely on your intuition

So, there you have it. I wish that I had known about my unconscious biases, especially the halo effect when I used to interview people. It would have saved me a lot of time and money had I not selected people who I took a shine to because I thought they were similar to me!

If you would like to know more about the part that unconscious bias plays in the recruitment process and how you can reduce it, please contact me and I’ll be delighted to have a chat.

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