2. Challenge, rather than confirm, your assumptions
We have a tendency to search exclusively for information that aligns
with, supports, or otherwise confirms what we already think. In the
context of hiring, this confirmation bias can lead interviewers to
support preconceptions they made during the resume review or
previous interview stages. For example, if an applicant’s resume
lists a stunning project, interviewers might ask questions that help
prove this experience makes the applicant an ideal candidate. If an
applicant stumbles and stutters during the interview, interviewers
might instead search for evidence that proves the candidate isn’t
Ensure that each candidate gets an equal chance to succeed by using
structured interviews that base questions on the skills a role
needs, rather than the quirks of the participants. Without this
structure, interviewers could be more likely to let beliefs steer
their questions and
3. Second-guess first impressions
After meeting a new person, we naturally make assumptions based on
what we notice right away. We overemphasize one
characteristic, attributing a “halo” or “horns” depending on what we
perceive to be good or bad. For instance, research shows that
overweight people, especially women, receive fewer job offers, get
lower salaries, and in general, face the
perception that they are more lazy and incompetent than their
peers (Flint, 2016). The horn, in this case, hurts an applicant’s chances due to
irrelevant, but powerful, perceptions.
To mitigate the halo/horns effect, hiring teams should make it a
habit to not just doubt first impressions, but build that doubt into
their hiring processes. Startups often conduct interviews in a
freewheeling, improvisatory manner, but that kind of process can
unconsciously bring bias into the equation. During the interview
process itself, structured interviews—where you ask each candidate
the same questions in the same order—will help ensure that you
evaluate each candidate equally.
4. Make hard choices to avoid real costs
If you’ve ever sat through a bad movie just because you paid good
money for your ticket, popcorn, and soda, then you’ve encountered
the sunk cost fallacy. This is when you proceed with a commitment
because you’re too invested in its completion to walk away. The
hiring process is particularly at risk of encountering the sunk cost
fallacy as it often requires great amounts of investment from many
people—not least of which is the time of senior members of the team
tasked with evaluating potential hires.
Because of the time invested in hiring, teams can be tempted to
ignore signs that a candidate isn’t right for a position if these
red flags are raised toward the end of the hiring process. After all
that work, it may feel necessary to hire the person instead of
admitting they’re not right for the job. Interviewers concerned
about the sunk cost fallacy can establish
decision points that trigger reevaluation once certain problems
arise. If a candidate’s reference doesn’t offer a good
recommendation, for example, hiring teams might want to pause and
reexamine the candidate. Externalizing these decisions can help
interviewers ignore sunk cost and focus on
5. Recognize that useful tools have limits
The popular saying, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks
like a nail,“ is also known as the law of the instrument bias. If
people only have one tool at their disposal, they’re likely to see the world
through that tool.
The useful tool that hiring teams are most likely to see the world
through? Their applicant tracking system. If it doesn’t offer the
types of customizations your team needs, like the ability to
customize hiring stages, you may end up treating applicants too
similarly across different roles. Neither software engineers nor
marketers, for example, will succeed if the hiring process treats
them the same. Successful hiring teams integrate their applicant
tracking system carefully with best practices to ensure that the
tool serves the team, not the other way around.
6. Encourage teammates to share their opinions
As humans, we all want to fit in with the group. When you can tell
that the rest of your hiring team feels strongly about hiring a
particular candidate, it can be hard to voice your disagreement.
It’s even harder when the person arguing against or in favor of a
candidate is the loudest or highest paid person in the room. Under
these conditions, it’s common for dissenters to go along despite
their personal convictions: a classic example of the bandwagon
effect in action.
This bandwagon effect produces a dangerous kind of hiring bias
because it can cause even a diverse team to neutralize its
judgments. Everyone brings a unique perspective to the table, but if
the draw of consensus is too strong, detractors can end up putting
their concerns to the side. Similarly, if everyone else is willing
to reject a candidate, an interviewer who senses a bias might ignore
that instinct to avoid offending the rest of the team.
Make your team less vulnerable to the danger of “consensus” by
avoiding talking to other interviewers before entering in your own
feedback. Some applicant tracking systems will even allow you to
block interviewers from viewing their colleagues’ feedback until
after they’ve left their own.
If you have an open discussion phase in your evaluation process,
encourage people to defend candidates they want to hire and pose
questions of those they don’t. Lastly, build a sense of psychological
safety on your hiring team. If you want to make the best
possible hiring decisions, everyone involved in evaluating
candidates needs to feel safe speaking their mind.
7. Critically evaluate results of the hiring process
After you make a decision, it’s easy to credit that choice with any
of the good that follows and ignore the consequences. This is called
choice-supportive bias, and it can convince hiring teams that the
hiring process is working better than it is.
If you’re not taking a critical eye to your hiring process, you may
not notice that you’ve missed a number of qualified candidates due
to missteps in your process. Research has shown, for example, that
women are more likely to read lists of required skills in job
descriptions as absolute and skip applying if they don’t appear to
qualified, so job descriptions that have too many minimum
qualifications could be unintentionally weeding out qualified female
candidates. You may miss this if your choice-supportive bias has
convinced you that you’re making good decisions each time, even if
the hiring process itself has problems.
If hiring teams want to dramatically improve talent acquisition,
they’ll need to be humble enough to use data and diverse
perspectives in order to address problems or mistakes they’ve made
in their process. Tools with reporting
functions can help recruiters prioritize results over the desire
to be right.
8. Prevent hiring bias with vigilance
If we think highly of ourselves, we’re more likely to assume that we
make good, moral decisions. This logic is tantalizing, but it is, in
fact, another bias called the moral credential effect. Yes, our
desire to consider ourselves bias-free is potentially its own bias.
Hiring teams must always be vigilant against unconscious biases and
the conditions that make them more likely. Research has shown that
we’re more likely to give ourselves
license to indulge in a bad behavior (such as eating a burger or
throwing away plastic) after doing something good (such as eating
broccoli or recycling) (Simbrunner P., 2018). We might be at our most prone to bias right
after we think we’ve beaten it.
Remember that previous success doesn’t assume future success. The
moral credential effect is the voice that tells you that you’ve done
enough, but overcoming bias is possible only through continuous,
Check for hiring bias at every step
Hiring teams should build a bias-checking process that includes
these three steps:
Identify and openly discuss biases
Hiring teams must have regular discussions about members’ often
unintentional tendency to favor some people over others.
Without unconscious bias being a normal part of conversation,
individuals are likely to remain shy about their concerns. Awareness
training can help teams tease apart the many things that
might distort their thinking.
Be critical of conditions that can inspire bias
We are more likely to be biased when we’re hungry, tired, and
stressed. Why? Because we tend to make decisions more quickly
then — to get them over with — and quick thinking makes bias
more likely. Simply being aware of this tendency can help
hiring teams slow down, grab a snack, or delay major decisions
until after a good night’s sleep.
Standardize the hiring process
A standardized hiring process treats candidates similarly
across resume screening, interview questions, work-sample
tests, and more. Standardized processes help hiring teams to
return to the most important criteria. The more standardized a
process, the easier it is to identify gaps and problems, which
enables hiring managers to improve the process long-term.
Hiring teams that want to build a more inclusive hiring process need
to be able to identify biases, reduce the conditions that encourage
them, and build a hiring process that limits their intrusion.
Hiring biases are most powerful when they intersect
If team members invest a lot of time into a candidate, the sunk cost
fallacy and bandwagon effect can make it doubly difficult for
interviewers to voice their concerns. If an interviewer meets a
candidate ready to confirm a suspicion that their resume inspired,
the anchoring bias might make the concern harder to ignore. If a
team puts a lot of effort into bias prevention across this list,
they might be even more susceptible to the moral credential effect.
Hiring teams are passing over candidates who would succeed, and
outdated processes are excluding good candidates from even applying.
Biases pose a special danger for hiring teams who consider diversity
and inclusion a mission as well as a metric. To combat biases,
hiring teams must be comfortable with humility and experimentation.
Mistakes are unavoidable, but if hiring teams are willing to try new
methods, and be critical of old ones, they can expand their
talent pool, improve the candidate experience, and build a