Steps to Remove Unconscious Bias in Your Current Recruiting Process

Hiring top talent plays a key role in the overall success of any organization or business. However, while finding the most suited individuals can be easy, the hiring process is often hindered by unconscious bias. Even with a good hiring strategy in place, hiring managers, recruiters and human resources professionals often struggle with this bias, discrimination against candidates based on race, gender, nationality, and age.

So how can you ensure that the unconscious bias is eliminated from the hiring process for you to bag the best candidates suited for the job? Here are 6 steps that you need to take to avoid it.

1.  Set diversity as a goal

Having a diverse team in an organization is very important in enhancing the overall productivity of the company. Besides, it is a requirement by labor laws in almost every country. However, your recruitment team might not see the seriousness of it just by mentioning it. It will carry more weight if you put it as a company goal that everyone involved in hiring needs to achieve. Start by defining what diversity in your company looks like. Evaluate the groups that are underrepresented in terms of gender, age, race, nationality, and sexual preference. Then set it as a goal and set metrics to achieve it in every step of the hiring process.

2.  Be careful of your wording in the job advertisements

Job advertisements on various channels convey the message of your intention to hire potential candidates. However, did you know that some words that are often used could be unconsciously biased? Words such as driven, confident, and active appear more masculine and could keep female candidates from applying. On the other hand, words such as interpersonal and supportive appear more feminine for male applicants. Eliminating such words from the job post is a good start at eliminating such bias.

3.  Remove resumes from applications

Resumes are one of the best ways for recruiters to know the prospective candidates. However, they can easily lead to unconscious bias as they carry information such as the gender, age, and nationality of the applicants. Eliminating them from the process ensures that recruiters don’t come across such information that leads to bias. You can think of evaluating the candidates’ skills through online tests that don’t ask for such details. Next, review the tests and invite candidates for interviews based on how they performed on the test.

4.  Have a cross-functional interview panel

If your recruiting process involves a single person making all the decisions, then unconscious bias is bound to surface. Having a panel of interviewers eliminates this problem, more people means a wider perspective on the interviewees. It, therefore, becomes easy to make an informed decision. Go a step further and have each group represented in the panel whenever possible. Ensure that the panel discusses in advance what they are requiring from the candidates. Have a plan in place to save the situation in case incidences of unconscious bias emerge.

5.  Let your interview process be structured

An unstructured interview process can easily portray a false perspective about a candidate, which can lead to the recruiters discriminating against those that might be qualified. To avoid this, make sure that the whole process is structured. This means asking the same questions to all candidates and then making informed comparisons of their abilities based on the answers given. When developing the job description, come up with questions that you deem fit to test the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of all candidates.

6.  Contract a payroll service

It can be hard to eliminate unconscious bias especially when you are not experienced in hiring. If you find it daunting for your hiring team, you can always hire an expert to do the job for you. Working with an International PEO can save you from the inescapable unconscious bias. These experts have immense experience and knowledge to help you develop an unbiased hiring strategy that will ensure you hire the best talents.

7.      Use freelance platforms to find candidates

Freelance platforms provide a cheaper way to access the best talents from all over the world. They are best used for project-based jobs that don’t require hiring a person full-time. The global talent pool makes freelance sites effective in creating diverse teams for employers, including those in the healthcare sector. Hiring managers in the healthcare industry can use a platform such as Kolabtree to hire medical experts for their research papers or even larger projects. What’s more, such a platform can help reduce the occurrence of unconscious bias in several ways:

  • Employers rate the freelancers that they have worked with. Hiring the best candidate would be as simple as choosing the individual who is highly rated. In this case, you are choosing the individual purely based on skills and not on age, gender or where he or she is from, and more.
  • Freelancers provide samples of the best work on their profiles. You can see the skills of the candidates beforehand, which is a clear indicator of future job performance. If you are comparing several freelancers, it becomes easy to critique the quality of their work as opposed to calibrating your judgment based on other elements such as personality, appearance, and the like.

How to overcome unconscious bias in your hiring

Unconscious bias in the hiring process happens subconsciously. Any person can form a preference or dislike for a candidate based on past experiences, beliefs, or things they consider as common facts without realizing it. However, it becomes possible to interrupt unconscious bias if you are aware of its existence. Below is a list of 6 common types of unconscious bias that your recruitment team should be aware of, as well as ways to reduce their effect on the hiring process.

1.  Halo/horn effect

The Halo effect happens when an interviewer is impressed by something about the candidate leading him or her to perceive the candidate in a positive light throughout the hiring process. Unfortunately, that perception hinders the interviewer from objectively judging the candidate to a point of overlooking the negatives if any.

The Horn effect is the opposite of the halo effect where something that a hirer doesn’t like about a candidate takes predominance in the entire hiring process.   

An example of the halo effect includes how a hirer can view a well-groomed and confident candidate as intelligent. Or a person who worked for a reputable company or attended a big-name college is perceived as a go-getter or trustworthy. Consequently, this positive perception overshadows any negative characteristics such as unfit personality or poor communication skills.

In horn effect, a hirer might perceive an introvert candidate as less intelligent or without the right skills whilst he or she could be the right fit for the position.

How to overcome this bias:

  • Ditch the CVs – A CV carries information such as where the candidates attended school, companies they worked for, and the like. Eliminating them from the process removes the possibility of the hirer forming an opinion based on such kind of information.
  • Give online tests – Rather than calling for in-person interviews in the early stages of the hiring process, give online tests to the candidates. You can assign identification codes to candidates such that they don’t have to give out their name, age, past experiences, or any other personal information.
  • Use structured interviews and scoring criteria – Ask the same questions to all candidates. However, focus on testing about the specific skills needed for the job and not about their backgrounds. In addition, rate each answer independently to avoid the answer to the first question influencing the scoring of the subsequent questions.

2.  Beauty bias

Stereotyping people based on their looks is a common occurrence in the workplace. One in four employees has faced discrimination because of their looks. It is common to see a physically attractive individual receiving better treatment from managers and colleagues. This is because they are often perceived to be more talented, kind, and intelligent compared to average-looking individuals. In the hiring process, beauty bias can lead to interviewers positively stereotyping individuals for their attractive or good looks rather than their performance capabilities. However, in another twist, physically attractive people can be discriminated against when applying for menial jobs, as most managers don’t deem them fit for such jobs. Moreover, attractive women in male-dominated jobs are often seen as less competent.

How to avoid beauty bias:

The only way to avoid the influence of beauty bias is by avoiding meeting applicants in-person in the early stages of the hiring process. Managers can have a policy of no photos on the resumes. Anonymous online tests and telephone interviews can also help evaluate qualifications more objectively without the influence of how candidates look physically.

3.  Weight bias

In a world where societal pressure dictates that skinnier people are more fit and active, weight bias has penetrated almost all facets of life including the workplace. One study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University shows that discrimination against people who are overweight is in fact as common as racial discrimination. In the UK, almost half of the employers have previously reported being less likely to recruit overweight candidates. Moreover, if they do, they start them off with a lower starting salary. All these discrimination crops from common stereotyping overweight people as lazy, unattractive, and incompetent. In addition, they are perceived to be less fit physically and mentally.

How to overcome weight bias:

Managers need to understand that a person’s weight has nothing to do with their abilities and qualifications. Just like overcoming beauty bias, reserving in-person or video interviews to the last stages of the hiring process help in rating the candidates based purely on their skills. In addition, having a panel of interviewers helps in forming different perspectives about each candidate.

4.  Name bias

Name bias occurs when an interviewer forms an opinion about a candidate based on his or her name. According to a study by researchers at Nuffield College’s Centre for Social Investigation, a person’s name affects application outcomes significantly. In an exercise where they sent fake applications for various positions, the results showed that applications with white British names received 24% call back while those with ethnic minority names received 15% call back. Further results showed that people with Pakistan, Nigerian, South Asian, North African, and Middle Eastern heritages had to make more applications to receive a callback. Another research by Harvard Business School shows that non-white applicants who ‘whiten’ their names are more likely to succeed in getting a job as compared to using their real names.

With such statistics, you might wonder what is in a name. Well, a person’s name reveals aspects such as ethnicity, gender, and religion of a person. Moreover, each aspect forms a biased opinion on the candidates in the hirer’s mind. Studies continue to show that a significant number of interviewers evaluate job applications purely on a religious basis. This means that they are more likely to favor a candidate just because they share the same religious beliefs or they are from a religion that is highly accepted. For instance, in a job application with Christian, Muslim, and Atheists applicants, Christian candidates are mostly rated highly since they are perceived to have positive work traits as compared to the other religions.

How to overcome:

Name bias can be overcome by keeping names out of resumes. Eliminating CVs from the process in the early stages can help. In addition, companies can utilize AI tools to blind irrelevant information such as name, gender, religion, past experiences, and the like. This way, recruiters only evaluate the information that matters most – the skills.

5.  Gender bias

Gender bias is one of the most common biases in the workplace that has been there since time immemorial and continues to influence decisions hiring candidates. Gender bias occurs when a candidate is more preferred for a role based solely on his or her gender. This bias affects more women than men according to a 2014 meta-analysis on gender stereotypes and bias in employment decision-making. Gender bias plays out in various instances that include the following:

  • Common stereotyping where men are often perceived to possess strong leadership qualities. In this case, interviewers favor male applicants for leadership positions.
  • Some jobs such as those in the engineering and tech industries are viewed as male roles. This makes interviewers doubt the capabilities of female applicants. The opposite also prevails where female candidates are more favored in roles that are perceived more feminine such as those in the hospitality industry.
  • Women in the child-bearing age are overlooked for high-profile jobs since such roles are perceived as highly demanding. The interviewing panel sees such roles as too much responsibility for women who juggle work and parenting especially after having a baby.
  • Interviewer prefers a candidate of his or her gender to other candidates of the opposite gender despite failing in the skills required.

How to overcome

  • Use AI tools to eliminate gender information from resumes.
  • Use AI tools to identify gender-sensitive words and replace them with gender-neutral words in job descriptions.
  • Have a panel of interviewers made of individuals from both genders to avoid the hiring decision falling solely on one person.
  • Standardize the interview questions and evaluate applicants according to the answers that they give.
  • Encourage interviewers to spend more time on the list of suitable candidates and come up with more names on the list. Spending more time contemplating on the suitable candidates forces the mind to come up with alternatives that aren’t based on gender.

6.  Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias works more like the halo/horn effect where an interview forms a negative or positive opinion about a candidate based on something he or she has learned about the candidate. Such opinions are mainly based on the interviewer’s beliefs or assumptions about that particular finding. The only difference from the halo/horn effect is that the interviewer will go to extra lengths to confirm his or her beliefs or assumptions. The interviewer even ignores any information contrary to these beliefs or assumptions.

An example of a confirmation bias would be where a candidate grew up in the ghetto or crime-prone neighborhood. The interviewer already forms an opinion that the candidate couldn’t have turned out any better having grown up there. He or she asks targeted questions such as whether the candidate was ever involved in crime or drugs. If yes, what makes them think that they can’t revert to that kind of life.  

How to overcome:

  • CVs and social media profiles are the main sources of information that can lead to confirmation bias. You can ditch resumes altogether or push them to the end of the recruitment process. You can also use online tools to blind all other information from CVs except the skills. In addition, refrain from searching a candidate online until you have made an objective opinion based on their skills.    
  • Create a level playing field with a structured interview process. Ask the same questions to all candidates, refraining from questions that can introduce irrelevant facts about the candidates.


While eliminating unconscious bias from the hiring process can be daunting, small efforts such as those listed above can go a long way in reducing the effects on the process. As the name suggests, unconscious bias can happen without the intention of the hiring managers. Besides taking the above steps, it is good to train your hiring managers on matters of diversity as well as how to recognize bias blind spots so that they can avoid it.

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