What is recruitment bias? Human resource professionals must be as objective in their hiring assessments as possible to land the best candidate for the job. Unfortunately, regardless of how trained HR professionals and recruiters are, the tendency to form opinions about others remains strong. That is why unconscious recruitment bias remains a challenge to many hiring managers and their respective teams.
Appreciating recruitment bias can help hiring teams avoid pitfalls when recruiting new developers.
In this article, HR professionals will learn what recruitment bias is and how to avoid it in recruiting new developers. The knowledge will empower employers and recruiters to strengthen their respective companies’ diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.
Understanding Recruitment Bias
A thought-provoking article on Forbes says that implicit bias is not a novel concept. First coined in 2006, this bias assumes that unconscious mental processes produce discrimination. It shattered the longstanding notion that prejudices result from conscious intentions and explicit beliefs.
Unfortunately, implicit or unconscious bias is pervasive in society. What is challenging is that people are unaware of its existence or whether their behavior already indicates discrimination or not.
For example, people’s choice of neighborhoods, circle of friends, and whom to date are examples of implicit biases in everyday life. Psychologists say implicit biases develop throughout life through parental and societal conditioning.
So, it is not uncommon for recruiters to exhibit these prejudices when hiring new developers or any candidate without them knowing it.
Unconscious recruitment bias refers to negative stereotypes and attitudes HR professionals have about a particular group of people that can impact their hiring choices and actions. Sadly, these prejudices only exist at the mind’s subconscious level.
For example, some recruiters might choose a candidate because he seems like someone easy to hang out with after work. The job applicant’s hometown, resume picture, and name can also influence an HR professional’s opinion about the candidate.
Implicit biases inject subjectivity into the hiring and selection processes. Job interviews diverge from the job role and description, focusing more on the candidates’ non-work-related characteristics. Unfortunately, virtual interviews promote unconscious bias because the candidate will not be physically present to provide the interviewer with a more comprehensive evaluation.
Recruitment Bias by the Numbers
Unconscious hiring bias is more prevalent than HR professionals care to admit.
Yale University researchers found that well-trained and highly-qualified people tend to hire men more than women. Interestingly, these specialists are highly competent in objective hiring. The same study showed that the respondents would pay men $4,000 more than women annually.
The learning institution also conducted other studies in the past.
In 2017, researchers reported that gender bias is pervasive in high-performance industries, including IT and engineering. A 2019 study by Yale researchers also observed hiring teams exhibited class bias within a few seconds of an interview.
In 2003, MIT and the University of Chicago teamed up to describe the relationship between job interview opportunities and a candidate’s name. The study showed that white-sounding appellations had more substantial job interview requests (50% more) than African-American or non-white-sounding names.
Malcolm Gladwell’s 2005 best-selling book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” also described implicit bias among industry leaders. The book says that 58% of Fortune 500 CEOs were taller than six feet.
It underscored the 2004 Rowan University study results revealing the relationship between height, attractiveness, and power. The thesis supported other scholarly works saying that men’s attractiveness and power increase with stature.
It is safe to assume that men have the upper hand in the corporate world. A 2000 Princeton University study shows that female musicians had a 50% greater chance to advance to the next round of a musical audition process.
It is quite different in the tech industry, where IT companies still prefer men. A McKinsey & Company survey revealed that only 37% of developers, programmers, and other IT personnel are women. Among the tech CEOs, a whopping 85% are men.
A generic Google image search also shows implicit bias. For example, typing the word ‘professor’ will generate millions of images. Unfortunately, nine images of ten search results show white men.
Although the American Association of University Women supports this notion by saying that only 27% of tenured faculty are women, it highlights the pervasiveness of unconscious bias. Even complex algorithms can exhibit prejudices.
Tips for Avoiding Bias when Recruiting New Developers
The following tips should empower employers, recruiters, and other HR professionals to circumvent implicit bias pitfalls when hiring new developers.
Acknowledge the Pervasiveness of Implicit Bias in Recruitment Systems
Hiring teams must recognize and appreciate how recruitment bias is ever-present in the hiring and other organizational processes. It is a pervasive phenomenon because of its existence in the subconscious.
Bringing it to the conscious level allows HR managers and job interviewers to be mindful of their questions. Asking about the candidate’s everyday experiences can influence the interviewer’s perceptions about the applicant’s neighborhood, social activities, and personal affairs. The recruiter might empathize with the applicant for experience similarities.
The sooner HR professionals acknowledge and accept the existence of hiring bias in their respective organizations, the more conscious and aware they become of how they should hire candidates.
Recognize, Appreciate, and Learn the Different Forms of Hiring Biases
Recruitment biases exist in different forms. Sadly, many HR professionals are unaware of their existence.
First Impression Bias – Studies show first impression bias is one of the most common inherent human prejudices. Employment experts say job candidates only have seven seconds to leave a positive impression on recruiters. The first thing a recruiter sees and considers significant on a resume is sufficient to form an opinion about the candidate. Sadly, most HR professionals no longer bother to evaluate the rest of the application documents.
Confirmation Bias – Everyone is guilty of passing quick judgments without learning more about the other person. Recruiters display confirmation bias in the initial stages of the hiring process. They unconsciously form opinions about candidates as they skim resumes. After all, studies show HR professionals only need 7.4 seconds to create an assumption of a candidate based on the resume. The job interview either confirms or refutes these perceptions about the candidate.
Affect Heuristics – Some recruiters judge a candidate’s job fitness based on the applicant’s superficial characteristics. For example, HR professionals might automatically disqualify candidates with tattoos, weight issues, or resemble a person they dislike. Affect heuristics describe subjective (emotion-based) tendencies instead of rational and objective viewpoints.
Halo Effect – Focusing solely on a candidate’s best characteristic while disregarding other aspects is also an example of implicit hiring bias. Recruiters tend to forego more comprehensive candidate evaluation because of the belief that the applicant is the perfect fit for the job. Although making positive impressions are a good thing, the halo effect can muddle a recruiter’s objectivity.
Expectation Anchor – A recruiter exhibiting an expectation anchor bias considers a former employee the gold standard for the position. Hence, no other candidate can replace or come close to the qualities required of the job. The bias describes a person’s tendency to interpret and evaluate new information based on its relationship to a reference point.
Horn Effect – Halo effect’s polar opposite, horn effect bias emphasizes a candidate’s negative attributes. A single negative trait is sufficient to reduce the job applicant’s chances of moving forward in the recruitment process. A classic halo effect example is the notion that beauty equals status and money, where more attractive people enjoy higher wages, higher status spouses, and better employment chances. The horn effect assumes that unattractive people are inferior.
Overconfidence Bias – Some HR professionals have bloated egos, overestimating their ability to assess, screen, and evaluate candidates. Sadly, this implicit bias type only reinforces confirmation bias, clouding the recruiter’s objectivity and emphasizing intuition.
Similarity Attraction Bias – This bias describes the recruiter’s predisposition to choose candidates with similar characteristics or traits. Similarity attraction bias is one of the most common unconscious prejudices. One can see it in the choice of friends, where shared interests are the glue that bonds everyone together.
Affinity Bias – Like similarity attraction bias, almost everyone tends to feel more confident and secure with one person over others because of trait commonalities. Unfortunately, affinity bias is robust in many HR professionals, muddling their judgment and potentially preventing them from evaluating candidates more thoroughly.
Beauty Bias – Most people believe that attractiveness equates to success. For example, the Journal of Economic Psychology published a report about the relationship between food server beauty and tips-based income. The study showed that attractive waitresses earn at least $1,200 more in tips than beauty-challenged food servers. Interestingly, this observation is evident in recruitment and hiring circles.
Conformity Bias – The Asch Conformity Experiments of the 1950s underscored the impact of group peer pressure on a person’s decision-making. It is not unusual for recruiters to adhere to well-entrenched peer standards and expectations. Failure can lead to ridicule and ostracization from the group.
Judgment Bias or Contrast Effect – A Zippia report says 250 candidates apply for a single job opening. Skimming resumes and application documents can be time-consuming, especially if there is only one recruiter. Unfortunately, it is not the only concern. Recruiters also tend to compare one resume with others, producing a contrast effect or judgment bias. This behavior focuses on the candidate pool instead of the job requirements.
Intuition – Trusting one’s gut is one of the gravest mistakes any recruiter can make. Unfortunately, it occurs more often than people assume. An HR professional who uses intuition in choosing a candidate relies on relevant cues that answer expectancies and plausible goals. The recruiter then takes actions typical of such situations. Intuition discounts a candidate’s actual capabilities, remaining at the mercy of the recruiter’s gut instincts.
Start the Hiring Process with a Telephone Conversation instead of Video Call
Although not absolute, telephonic job interviews mitigate first impression bias by removing visual cues from the equation. Recruiters will not see the job applicant’s body language and physical appearance, which might sway their decision in or against the candidate’s favor.
Hiring teams must base their screening and evaluation solely on the job applicant’s interview responses or answers. They can also focus on professional experiences, including performance, learning, and growth. It levels the playing field for highly-qualified developers, ensuring everyone has an equal chance of landing the job.
Create, Develop, and Use a Highly Structured Interview Guide
One way to address similarity attraction bias in recruitment is by developing and using a highly structured interview guide. It offers companies a standardized method of screening and evaluating job candidates by formulating interview questions that focus on the job’s competency requirements. Structured interview guides empower employers to make hiring decisions based on job-relevant information instead of irrelevant details.
The Journal of Applied Psychology published a study showing structured interviews are more reliable than unstructured sets in performance ratings and true score correlations. Its effectiveness and accuracy are equivalent to four unstructured interviews, improving hiring and recruitment efficiency. Using structured interview guides also facilitates consistency and fairness, ensuring all job applicants has equal chances of getting hired.
Develop Uniform and Standardized Job Interview Questions
A structured interview guide is effective if it contains regularly-updated, competency-based interview questions. Companies must develop job descriptions that specify the knowledge, attitude, abilities, skills, and behaviors required to perform each task. Not only does it clarify each employee’s role in the organization, but competency-based work descriptions also provide HR professionals a framework for developing standard job interview questions.
Standardizing job interview questions eliminate irrelevant issues when transacting with job applicants. It allows hiring professionals to evaluate the candidate’s competencies, ensuring a more objective assessment and fair decision-making.
Create, Develop, and Institutionalize a Rubric for Evaluating Job Applicants
Although competency-based interview questions help recruiters improve their hiring objectivity, they still require a tool for scoring candidate responses. Without this mechanism, the evaluation remains subjective. Hence, HR professionals must develop a rubric for evaluating and grading all job applicants.
Each competency has a set of behaviors with their respective scores. For example, employers might want to measure a candidate’s understanding of developer principles. Interviewers can give the candidate a score of 1.0 if he fails to explain the basic principles.
If the applicant displays sufficient knowledge of the particular competency, the interviewer might rate 3.0. However, a candidate who can adequately explain the philosophy, give examples, and describe the principle in real-life experiences, deserves a 5.0 in a five-level rubric.
Developing and using a systematic grading system for evaluating job candidate responses can eliminate judgment or contrast effect bias. It puts every candidate on equal footing, irrespective of their educational and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Develop and Implement Competency-based Tests
People assume that educational attainment correlates to job performance. The higher the level of education, the better is the person at his job. Unfortunately, research shows that education only has one percent predictive ability. Hence, it does not matter if a job applicant came from a recognized IT school. What is crucial is the candidate’s real-world developer experiences and training.
Sadly, many HR professionals look at a candidate’s education to determine suitability for a technology position. They often rationalize their decisions by offering faulty assumptions, adding discretionary judgments, intuition, and personal perceptions into the equation. Unfortunately, doing so only increases recruitment bias.
Hence, it would be best for recruiters to develop competency-based tests that evaluate candidates’ technical skills. It can include data analysis, hands-on coding or programming, abstract thinking, logic, reasoning, problem-solving, and more. The competency tests must mimic real-world scenarios, allowing job applicants to showcase their knowledge and skills as if they are already working with the company.
Minimize Intuition-based Decisions
Intuition accounts for a substantial percentage of recruitment biases, making it almost impossible to eliminate them from recruiters’ systems. However, adhering to a structured interview guide, standardized interview questions, well-defined rubrics, and comprehensive competency-based technical tests should minimize intuition-based hiring decisions.
It will also help if recruiters undergo hiring bias awareness training, empowering them to evaluate their thought patterns and behaviors before making the conscious decision to hire or ignore a candidate for a developer position.
Create Panels of Interviewers
A study published in the Annual Review of Psychology says that collective judgment leads to better decision-making. Hence, having at least three interviewers with diverse perspectives and backgrounds evaluating each job candidate can deliver a more valid, fair, and objective hiring decision.
For it to work, the interview panel members must not have similar implicit biases to prevent reinforcing prejudices and strengthening each interviewer’s subjective judgment. It would also be best to rate each candidate independently.
This technique allows individual panel members to evaluate the job applicant as objectively as possible, regardless of the dominant viewpoint.
Implicit bias is inherent in every person, making it challenging for HR professionals to observe objectivity in their recruitment and hiring functions. Acknowledging the prevalence of unconscious biases in recruitment should help recruiters and hiring managers develop and institute more effective mechanisms for combating innate prejudicial tendencies. Doing so gives credibility to the hiring and recruitment process and strengthens diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. It also guarantees employers will get the best-fitting candidate for their respective organizations.