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What is recruiter bias and how to fight it?

Justin Lowe Sep 18, 2018 10:00:00 AM

Recruiters are human beings, therefore we are subject to unconscious bias that has been learned over time. This is one of the bigger factors why nearly 75% of hiring goes wrong. And we all understand the negative cultural and financial impacts of a poor hire.

When people hire on their “gut instincts”, instead of on facts and data, bias quickly steps in. Outside of the standard anti-discriminatory hiring laws that prohibit recruiters from making hiring decisions based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital or parental status, disability or genetic information -- people have closely guarded ideas about others that can influence their recruitment actions.

Recruitment Bias

You may be surprised to find that there are several kinds of recruiter bias that can cause real problems for any organization. 

Overconfidence

A seasoned recruiter may believe that he or she is capable of making good hiring decisions based on previous successful hires. Without looking at the facts, the recruiter may hire people who are pleasant and have a strong presence.

Just Like Me

This happens a lot in the STEM industries. Recruiters hire the same types of candidates over and over again because of cultural ‘norms’. For example, a recruiter may hire white males ages 30-40 for IT positions, and very few other candidates ever get considered. Bias towards women, minorities, and even those who are overweight happens a lot more than recruiters are willing to admit.

Pro Tip: Avoid making these 5 common hiring mistakes

Halo Effect

The halo effect happens when a good candidate follows a bad one in the interview process. The recruiter compares the new candidate to someone who was not well-suited for the job or proved to be difficult in some way.

Confirmation

This is often the second part of a recruiter’s biased decision making process. The recruiter is inconsistent in asking the same interview questions and checking the qualifications and background of all candidates. All this does is validate the idea that the candidate chosen was the right one, even if it’s not true.

Illusory Correlation

Recruiters can sometimes get into a pattern of thinking that unrelated people, events, or behaviours are related -- even if they are not. For example, asking interview questions that have nothing to do with the job or the industry can create the illusion that a candidate is a poor fit, because the candidate struggles to come up with a good enough answer.

Remember: The candidate experience is an important piece of successful recruitment

Obviously, there are many disadvantages of recruitment bias. For one, it takes away the potential of hiring a candidate who may be perfect for the job, but doesn’t fit the expected mold. Diversity is good for business and therefore bias works against this. A McKinsey report states that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Diversity is a competitive factor in the business world.

A second reason recruitment bias can be harmful to a business is that it is based on the personal ideas and opinions and experiences of a single person -- instead of factual information about a candidate. No two people ever see things the same way, and it’s not fair or equitable to make candidate selections this way. Inconsistency can lead to serious problems in the recruitment realm, including lawsuits based on discriminatory hiring practices.

When recruiters are unaware of their own bias, their hiring success can falter. The candidate may interview well and have squeaky clean references, but once placed on the job he or she becomes a nightmare employee. Hiring a candidate who looks good on the surface is unwise. People tend to fabricate or elaborate resume and career information in order to look more favorable. Later on, this can prevent advancement and retention -- two metrics by which hiring success are measured longterm.

Stopping Recruitment Bias

Fortunately, there are some ways to combat recruitment bias.

Recognize Bias Exists

Instead of operating in denial, the first step to eliminating recruitment bias is to acknowledge it happens and then establish a system of checks to stop it. This can be as simple as having two or more recruiters touch candidate information and provide feedback to each other throughout the hiring process.

Rework Job Descriptions

In order to attract a more diverse talent pool, job advertisements need to be reviewed for bias. There can be subtle words that imply masculine characteristics desired in candidates. Or racially driven phrases that do not reflect the true culture of the workplace. Test ads to see what attracts more diverse candidates.

Structure Interviews

Interviews that have no structure tend to produce poor results because it’s impossible to measure one candidate against another when the questions are different. Instead, create a series of structured interview questions for every job type and stick to them when interviewing.

AI-enabled Recruitment

Artificial intelligence can remove the human element in recruitment. Use AI for screening candidates initially. Base decisions on real data as scanned by the ATS. Avoid making decisions without first scoring candidates based on how well they completed this first step in the hiring process.

Create Diversity Goals

Make personal diversity goals as a recruiter. Check in with yourself every few months to see how you are doing as an individual and as a company. If you are still finding bias exits, work with an outside HR consultancy firm or recruitment technology agency to come up with solutions that reduce bias.

Topics: Hiring Strategies, Recruitment

Justin Lowe

Written by Justin Lowe

Director of Marketing and Sales