Reducing Unconscious Bias in the Hiring Process

Unconscious bias in the hiring process refers to preconceived notions or preferences informed by personal experiences, upbringing, and culture that interviewers may have toward specific candidates. It can manifest itself in favoritism towards candidates who are similar to the interviewer, as well as a lack of equal opportunity given to applicants who contrast to their own background. This behavior can be detrimental to an organization's ability to create and foster inclusive cultures and evaluate candidates on their qualifications alone. Recognizing unconscious bias is essential for equity in the recruitment process and must form part of an organization's diversity and inclusion strategy.

While implicit bias may operate outside of conscious awareness, seemingly hidden from those who have it, these biases manifest themselves in ways that matter, including influencing whom we hire. Given that we all have preconceived opinions and attitudes, how can we, as organizations with hiring managers, help contribute to the removal of barriers in the hiring process and work toward equal employment opportunities for all?


Develop awareness and initiate a diversity and inclusion plan 

Understand and identify how your organization can improve - not only its hiring practices but also its promotional practices. Here are some ways to improve your hiring and promotional practices through the removal of bias: 

  • Create an employee-based committee to help develop and implement the plan and brainstorm on how to attract more diverse candidates to your company. 
  • Clearly communicate opportunities for advancement and make the recruiting process more transparent. Educate hiring managers on how to identify bias and ensure they understand the value of a diverse workforce.
  • Hire a diverse recruiting team who will be more attentive to diversity in the hiring process. 
  • Establish mentoring programs to build relationships and consider instituting apprenticeship programs within the community to increase the availability of skilled applicants. 
  • Organizations should also critically evaluate their recruitment process and identify potential changes that can be made to improve their Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) plan. If you don’t have a D&I plan yet, institute one. 

Training on diversity, equity, and inclusion is important, but it is only the first step, and it can lose its impact if the organization does not take any further steps to build a culture that emphasizes and prioritizes this initiative. Develop guidelines for your company that include strategies on how to correct for implicit bias and identify the ways in which it manifests (e.g., via micro-inequities). This is critical because the profitability and sustainability of companies are correlated with the diversity of their human capital.

Revisit your job descriptions

Let’s face it. Reviewing and rewriting job descriptions is often a dreaded task, but beyond the critical compliance impact, this may also be the first impression you make on a candidate, and it can be an important bias-busting opportunity. Try to write job descriptions that are more inclusive by avoiding words that tend to be loaded with gender-based stereotypes. List the absolute minimum requirements that are considered bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ’s), and lighten the language for those “nice-to-haves.” For example, consider whether certain educational requirements are essential, or if an equivalent combination of experience and skills could be equivalent for that role.

Providing clear job specifications and requirements is necessary, but it also gives an organization the chance to emphasize its commitment to creating a diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environment. 

Use software to level the playing field

Provide a consistent application process for all applicants by using an automated application system that incorporates objective, qualifying pre-screening questions based on job-relevant requirements and that are specific to job roles. Allow locations within a determined radius to share applicants in a pooling system to expand your range of pre-qualified candidates. Utilizing technology helps remove the consideration of variables that are not predictive of job performance, which leads to more consistent (and effective) hiring decisions based on objective criteria.

Consider tools that anonymize resumes and applications to help mitigate bias during the hiring decision process and ultimately improve diversity within your organization. Most importantly, create consistency and focus strictly on job-relevant requirements in the hiring process across all candidates and jobs.

Implement pre-employment assessments

Administering pre-employment assessments allows your organization to consider another objective factor within your hiring decision process. Properly developed and validated tests are highly predictive and provide insight into how likely a candidate is to be successful in a particular job. Employees’ demonstration of effective situational judgment and traits that have been scientifically validated to predict performance on the job is instrumental in improving workplace effectiveness.

Utilizing standardized assessment questions for all applicants allows hiring managers to consider candidates for the job using the same framework and enhances perceptions of fairness in the hiring process. It’s also essential for hiring managers to weigh the assessment results in conjunction with other important job-relevant information (e.g., references, prior relevant work experience, skills, and certifications) to determine the best-fit candidates. 

 Pre-employment assessments can be an effective way to help mitigate bias in the hiring process and find the right candidate for the position. However, assessments must be scientifically validated and measure knowledge, skills, abilities, or other objective characteristics that are job-related in order to be fair and effective. For more details about these key assessment-related considerations, please refer to the webinar recently delivered by Cadient Talent’s Assessment Practice Manager, Dr. Michael Baysinger.

Use structured and standardized interviews

Structured interviews use the same list of questions for all job candidates, and ideally, the questions should focus on how an applicant has handled specific work-related situations in the past or how they would handle work-related situations they may encounter in the job for which they’re applying. These question sets should address the skills, traits, strengths, weaknesses, and tasks relevant to the job. This type of interview allows hiring managers to more easily compare job applicants since each person is asked the same questions. The scoring of candidates’ responses should also be structured and uniformly applied to help eliminate subjectivity and both implicit and explicit biases. Structured interviews help reduce biased opinions about candidates by utilizing a more controlled approach with a defined list of questions established by your company to zero in on factors that have a direct impact on performance.

The advantage of using a standardized question set and scoring for interviewing candidates is a consistent, fair, and effective process. Stick to the script!

Be intentional with your sourcing and referrals

Broaden the scope through which you seek job candidates rather than relying only on existing pipelines. Try sourcing from more diverse job networks and educational institutions such as historically black colleges and universities. A diverse company starts with inclusive recruiting, and personal referrals are one of the best sources for promoting diversity. Respond to potential bias in recruiting by restructuring your referral system to reward diverse referral candidates.

Make data-driven decisions

Finally, leveraging machine learning and data science can also be instrumental in reducing bias in the job screening process by using objective criteria that are predictive of job performance to help evaluate candidates.

For additional information on the value of considering all available company and HR data and the important role that machine learning can play in the recruiting process, please refer to this webinar presented by Stuart Nisbet, Chief Data Scientist at Cadient Talent.


For more tips on improving diversity and inclusion in your organization, click here.