February 13, 2017

Is Bias Undermining Your Hiring Process?


I’ve interviewed a lot of people in the course of my career. As a former recruiter for a growing Chicago Inc. 500 recruiting firm, I could practically interview people in my sleep!

I conducted so many interviews it got to the point where I could “read” someone and determine whether they were right for the role and client in just a few minutes. At that time, one could say I was very skilled at interviewing.

Over the course of my professional development, I’ve also learned a great deal about how the mind works, especially as relates to perception and interpretation, both consciously and subconsciously.

There is absolutely no doubt that we all have developed “lenses” or “filters” through which we view and interpret every experience in life. These lenses or filters create biases. Unfortunately, interviewers can’t automatically turn off their filters when they sit down in front of candidates.

Common Forms of Bias

So, what might interview bias look like? The HR department at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) posted a list we all could learn from on the topic. Some of the biases included on the list:

First Impression Error

UNCSA says: “The interviewer makes snap judgments and lets his or her first impression (either positive or negative) cloud the entire interview. Example: Giving more credence to the fact that the candidate graduated from the interviewer’s alma mater than to the applicant’s knowledge, skills, or abilities is an example of the first-impression error.”

Negative Emphasis

UNCSA says: “Rejecting a candidate on the basis of a small amount of negative information. Research indicates that interviewers give unfavorable information roughly twice the weight of favorable information. Negative emphasis often happens when subjective factors like dress or nonverbal communication taint the interviewer’s judgment.”

Halo/Horn Effect

UNCSA says: “The interviewer allows one strong point that he or she values highly to overshadow all other information. When this works in the candidate’s favor, it is called the ‘halo effect.’ When it works in the opposition direction, with the interviewer judging the potential employee unfavorably in all areas on the basis of one trait, it is called the ‘horn effect.'”

InterviewThe list covers 10 types of bias in all. It’s definitely worth reviewing the entire document and sharing it with your fellow hiring managers and/or recruiters.

Do You Know Your Biases?

A few questions came to mind when I saw this list, and I’d like to pose them to you:

1. Do you have a sense of your own biases?

2. Within your company, do hiring managers receive any training regarding bias? Are there procedures and/or protocols in place to address bias?

3. Do you use other interviewing tools and practices to offset potential bias? (Assessments can really help here. The assessments I use in my practice are validated against bias and EEOC compliant. We call it “scientific hiring.” Please know there are popular assessments that are not so scientific or EEOC-friendly.)

As it turns out, the answer to the title of this piece – “Is bias undermining your hiring process?” – is yes! Bias is natural. It’s part of how we see and operate in the world. Coming to terms with this human truth is critical to better hiring!

Even though I became very skilled at interviewing and finding really great candidates for my clients, I have to admit there was bias involved. Being a skilled interviewer does not necessarily mean all your biases are gone.

What’s key is to build awareness of your bias and to put protocols in place to help you consciously offset it.

Where can we as an HR community start? Well, let’s start with just being honest about it.

JoAnn Corley is CEO of The Human Sphere.

Read more in Hiring Process

JoAnn Corley is a passionate champion of human potential with a focus on leadership and organizational success. She has the crazy belief that we can create our best leaders and businesses from the best of our human selves. Her overall mission is to help companies put the "human" back in "human resources" through holistic talent management. In addition to consulting, she is a dynamic speaker and author and has been consistently recognized as one of the top 100 most social HR and management experts to follow on social media at @joanncorley.