hiring biases

Hiring biases: What they are and how to avoid them

Hiring bias refers to the prejudices or preferences that influence decision-making during the recruitment process. These biases can happen in various forms, such as favoring candidates from certain demographic backgrounds like race, gender, age, ethnicity, educational institutions, or with similar interests to those of the hiring manager.

Despite efforts to promote equality and diversity in the workplace, hiring bias continues to be a significant recruitment challenge, often resulting in qualified candidates being overlooked or excluded based on irrelevant factors.

Why is reducing hiring bias important?

Reducing hiring bias is not just a matter of ticking a box for diversity. It’s about creating a company culture where every individual feels valued and has an equal opportunity to thrive. When biases are reduced in the recruitment process, companies can dig into a broader talent pool, bringing in diverse perspectives and experiences that grow the company culture.

This diversity also boosts innovation and creativity, as teams are better equipped to tackle complex problems from different angles. Furthermore, by focusing solely on qualifications and potential, rather than irrelevant factors, companies can make more precise hiring decisions, leading to better performance and productivity across the board. Ultimately, diverse experiences and teams help to progress a company into the modern age.

Beyond the internal benefits, reducing hiring bias also has significant external benefits. Companies that prioritize fairness and inclusivity in their recruitment practices are viewed more positively by customers, investors, and the broader community of stakeholders.

This positive reputation not only attracts top talent but also strengthens relationships with stakeholders. Moreover, by avoiding legal issues and negative publicity associated with discriminatory practices, organizations can safeguard their brand integrity and maintain trust among both current and potential employees. Overall, the benefits of reducing hiring bias extend far beyond the recruitment process, shaping the culture and success of the organization as a whole.

Different types of hiring biases in the recruitment Process

1. Affinity bias

Affinity bias, often termed similarity bias, is our natural inclination to connect with individuals who resemble us. During subjective evaluations and interviews, we tend to rate those with backgrounds similar to our own more favorably. This tendency stems from a primal instinct to gravitate towards what feels familiar and safe, yet it has no place in modern workplaces striving for diversity and inclusivity. This bias is perpetuated when interviewers delve into candidates’ personal lives, hobbies, and other non-job-related topics.

2. Expectation anchor

As a recruiter, the task of hiring staff is a multifaceted challenge, demanding considerable time, energy, and effort. Amidst the complexity of the process, it’s all too tempting to rely on a handful of factors, what we term “expectation anchors,” to shape our entire opinion of a candidate.

These anchors, though convenient, can often be the culprit behind poor hiring decisions. It’s akin to judging a used car solely by its mileage—a narrow focus that fails to capture the full range of its merits and flaws. While certainly a step above choosing a vehicle based on its color alone, this approach falls short of providing a comprehensive evaluation of a candidate’s suitability for the role.

3. Halo effect

In the halo effect bias, the term “halo” comes from the idea of an angel’s halo, suggesting that the candidate is seen as almost perfect. A recruiter or hiring manager becomes very focused on one particular positive quality or aspect of a candidate they’re considering for a job. This positive trait can become so prominent that it overshadows everything else in the candidate’s application.

4. Horn effect

In the horns effect bias, the term “horns” is a metaphor for the negative traits often associated with the devil. Here, the recruiter or hiring manager becomes fixated on one perceived negative aspect of a candidate’s personality or application. This singular negative trait can overshadow any positive qualities the candidate may possess, leading to biased decision-making.

5. Overconfidence bias

Overconfidence bias in hiring occurs when recruiters or hiring managers overestimate their own abilities to accurately assess candidates or predict their future performance. This bias can lead them to believe they are making better hiring decisions than they are.

As a result, they may be overly confident in their judgments and less likely to seek input or feedback from others, leading to potential errors in hiring and missed opportunities to select the most qualified candidates.

6. Negative emphasis

This means thinking badly about someone just because of things that don’t matter, like how tall they are, how much they weigh, or how their hair looks. For instance, research found that taller men tend to make more money, about $789 more per inch of height, according to a study from the University of Florida.

Also, people who are overweight are often seen as less capable compared to those who aren’t. But all these judgments are based on what society thinks is attractive and don’t show whether someone is good at their job or not.

7. Beauty bias

The beauty bias theory says that people who are seen as good-looking are usually thought of more positively than those who aren’t as attractive. This perception can color everything about a person, from their personality to their skills. Because of this bias, people tend to believe that good-looking folks are smarter, nicer, friendlier, and more honest.

This idea doesn’t just apply to personal situations. The theory also suggests that good-looking people have better chances of getting job interviews, getting hired, getting promoted quickly, and earning more money than those who aren’t as good-looking.

8. Conformity bias

Conformity bias happens when we change how we act to fit in with a group because we want to belong. Instead of following our sense of right and wrong, we copy what others are doing. This kind of research into how people behave can affect how fair we are, even if that’s not what we’re trying to do.

For example, imagine you’re at a restaurant with two friends and you want dessert. But both of them say no, so you end up saying no too—not because you’ve decided you don’t want that delicious slice of chocolate cake, but just because everyone else said no.

9. Contrast bias

Contrast effect happens during interviews when candidates are judged not based on their abilities and skills, but on how they stack up against other candidates. The issue is that candidates might be compared randomly just because their resumes were looked at one after another by the hiring manager.

When a recruiter or hiring manager starts comparing one candidate to another, their perception might change. Instead of evaluating each candidate on their own strengths, the contrast effect takes over, and the candidates end up being judged based on how they compare to each other.

10. Non-verbal bias

Nonverbal bias in hiring refers to making judgments about job candidates based on their nonverbal cues, such as body language, facial expressions, and gestures, rather than focusing solely on their qualifications and skills. This bias can occur when hiring managers or interviewers unintentionally favor or disfavor candidates based on their nonverbal behavior, which may be influenced by personal biases or stereotypes.

For example, a candidate who displays confident body language might be perceived as more competent, even if their qualifications are similar to those of a candidate who appears less confident. Similarly, unconscious biases related to factors such as gender, race, or age may also influence how nonverbal cues are interpreted during the hiring process.

11. First impression bias

First impression bias occurs when a hiring manager forms an immediate, often unconscious judgment about a potential candidate upon meeting them. This initial assessment can heavily influence the hiring manager’s opinions and decisions about the candidate moving forward. First-impression bias happens very quickly, often within just a few seconds of meeting someone.

It can be influenced by various factors, such as the candidate’s race or the clothes they’re wearing. This rapid judgment can set either an overly positive or negative tone for the rest of the interview. If not addressed, it can dominate the entire hiring process.

12. Intuition bias

Intuition bias in recruiting happens when an interviewer relies too much on their “gut feeling” about a candidate to make a hiring decision. However, just because someone feels confident in their intuition doesn’t mean they’re making an accurate decision.

We often hear the advice “trust your gut,” meaning to follow your instincts or feelings to decide. While intuition can sometimes be helpful, it becomes problematic when it affects hiring choices.

When intuition bias guides hiring decisions, there’s a risk that the best candidate might be overlooked. Additionally, relying on intuition can hinder efforts to build a diverse team.

How to identify biases in the hiring process

Identifying biases in the hiring process requires a combination of awareness, data analysis, and proactive measures. Here are some steps you can take:

1. Review hiring data

Analyze hiring data to identify patterns or disparities in the selection process. Look for differences in the demographics of candidates who apply, get interviewed, and are ultimately hired.

2. Conduct blind auditions

Implement blind recruitment techniques where possible to minimize bias. This might involve removing identifying information such as names, ages, genders, and even alma maters from resumes during the initial screening process.

3. Have diverse hiring panels

Ensure that hiring panels are diverse and inclusive, representing different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. Multiple viewpoints can help mitigate individual biases.

4. Monitor feedback and decisions

Regularly review hiring decisions and gather feedback from both successful and unsuccessful candidates. Look for any indications of bias in feedback or decision-making.

5. Utilize technology

Explore the use of technology, such as AI-powered tools, to help identify and mitigate biases in recruitment processes. These tools can analyze data and provide insights to support fair decision-making.

6. Feedback mechanisms

Establish channels for candidates to provide feedback on their experiences throughout the hiring process. This can help identify any instances of bias or unfair treatment.

7. Continuous improvement

Commit to ongoing evaluation and improvement of the hiring process. Regularly assess policies, procedures, and outcomes to ensure they promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Strategies and techniques to reduce hiring biases

1. Create awareness among employees

To promote a fair hiring process, it’s crucial to first educate the workforce about unconscious biases like affinity bias and racial discrimination. One effective method is to provide training and resources to help employees recognize and understand these biases.

Additionally, encouraging employees to take exams such as the Harvard Implicit Association Test can deepen their understanding of unconscious biases and how they influence their thoughts and actions in both personal and professional settings. This awareness can foster a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture.

2. Hold employees accountable

Once employees have been educated on identifying workplace prejudice, particularly human resource specialists responsible for training the team, accountability becomes paramount. One method of accountability involves scrutinizing the actions of each employee.

For instance, consider a scenario where a manager conducts ten performance evaluations, five for males and five for females. If, in this sample, four of the top five performers are women, it warrants an investigation into whether there is bias favoring women in the evaluation process. This investigation ensures fairness and integrity in the assessment procedures, helping to address any potential biases that may be influencing decision-making.

3. Rework your job descriptions

The language used in job descriptions plays a crucial role. Biased or inappropriate wording in job descriptions can deter people from applying instead of attracting them.

To address this issue, organizations should consider removing gender, age, and other restrictive terms from job advertisements to prevent prejudice. This means making job titles and descriptions as inclusive as possible and welcoming candidates from diverse backgrounds and demographics. This approach can help ensure fairness and encourage a wider pool of qualified applicants to apply for the position.

4. Use skill tests for hiring

Skill-based tests are highly reliable indicators of a candidate’s potential success in the future. These tests enable organizations to assess candidates based on their actual work rather than solely relying on their resumes.

For instance, a skill test evaluates a candidate’s job performance, focusing on their abilities rather than factors like appearance, gender, age, or personality. This approach ensures a more objective and merit-based evaluation of candidates, leading to better hiring decisions based on demonstrated competencies.

5. Define diversity and set objectives

Establish clear business objectives that emphasize eliminating unconscious bias and promoting diversity, linking these efforts directly to the organization’s bottom line. This communicates to everyone in the organization the critical role diversity plays in achieving business success.

6. Follow a structured interview

Structured interviews are advantageous if you aim for an impartial, non-biased recruiting process. Structured interviews follow a predetermined format with standardized questions, allowing for a more systematic and fair evaluation of candidates. By using consistent criteria for assessing candidates, structured interviews help reduce the influence of biases and ensure that hiring decisions are based on relevant job-related factors rather than subjective judgments.

7. Have a multi-functional interview team

Utilizing a cross-functional interview team is a highly effective method for mitigating prejudice in the hiring process. By involving individuals from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, the team can provide a more comprehensive evaluation of candidates and minimize the influence of individual biases.

Additionally, it’s crucial to guide the interview team on what to focus on and what biases to avoid during the evaluation process. This guidance ensures that all team members are aligned in their assessment criteria and promotes a fair and objective evaluation of candidates.

8. Build a foundation of trust

To support an organization’s diversity, equality, and inclusion plan, it’s essential to establish trust, commitment, responsibility, and cooperation among all organization members. These foundational elements create a conducive environment for promoting diversity and fostering a culture of inclusivity.


In conclusion, hiring biases are deeply ingrained prejudices that can affect recruitment, leading to unfair treatment and missed opportunities for qualified candidates. Recognizing and understanding these biases is the first step toward addressing them. Implementing strategies such as blind recruitment, structured interviews, diversity training, and regular evaluation of hiring processes can help organizations mitigate biases and create a more inclusive and equitable hiring environment.

Also read: Ensuring equitable hiring and recruiting with these nine practices

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