6 ways to stop your unconscious bias in the recruitment process

Photo by Rendiansyah Nugroho on Unsplash

Over recent years there is momentum behind diversity in the workplace. There statistics available highlight the cultural and performance benefits from a diverse team. As the focus shifts between different minority groups like women, people of colour or ethnic backgrounds. The most significant contributor to building a diverse team is through the hiring process.

It gets interesting when the hiring process goes into the area of hiring the best person for the role while trying to hire for diversity. For the premise of this article, I am going to simplify it down to one statement.

“It is a given that we want to hire the right person for every role. It is your choice to ensure everyone has a fair chance of getting the role to build diversity.”

Over the years, I have worked to improve the hiring process. Thinking about how to improve each step is vital to hiring the right people and building exceptional teams. As a result, I have had the pleasure of working with some high functioning and fun teams.

I want to share six tips on how to reduce unconscious bias in the job description and resume screening.

One. Language matters in job descriptions. Many studies prove how you write a job description will impact who does and doesn’t apply for your role. If you are looking for the top talent, you need to cast your net wider. Casting a wider net will provide a more diverse range of candidates.

The more specific requirements you include like “must have graduated from a top university”, the more you automatically discourage many minority groups. Certain words or phrases can stop one of the genders or quiet achievers suffering from imposter syndrome from applying.

You can get guidance from your recruiter or for gender bias scan your job description through gender-decoder to get insights on its bias.

Two. Open your job ad to direct questions. Many statistics indicate minority groups don’t feel they can apply for the role unless they meet a majority of the requirements.

To increase the number of applicants, I keep the role description simple and focused on the core skills required. When you list every skill possible, you detract the candidates that rate themselves fairly and attract over-confident candidates. List the essential skills, and you don’t have time to guide on. For the rest of them, you can assess in the interview or provide on the job training.

When you share the ad on your LinkedIn, ensure you write a few of your own words about the role and invite anyone interested but isn’t sure, to message you directly. Through direct messaging, you can have a candid conversation and review candidates that might never have made it to your funnel.

Three. Ignore the name. The trouble with unconscious bias is in its name. It is the fact that you don’t notice when it is happening. When we read a name, our mind will trigger a past event or a stereotype or an image related to the candidate’s background or religion.

There have been experiments where the same resume is submitted with a different name, one gets through to the next round, and the other doesn’t. Based on the name, we can attach the candidate to a predetermined negative view, and the bias starts before you have even read the resume.

Try and skip past the name and get straight into the bio. If possible, ask your recruiter to remove the names before providing you with their resume. There are some exceptional people out there and reviewing all your candidates with an open mind gives you the best chance to find them.

Four. Less focus on universities and old grades. We have read the stories of these billionaires who dropped out of school or uni. But I am not talking about them. This is about the trap of scanning for the big-name educational facilities. Being able to go to university and get good grades depends on multiple environmental factors as well as a privilege. Going to a good uni is even less accessible to many.

The best candidate in your pile might have needed to look after a sick family member after high school so couldn’t go straight into uni and focus on grades. The path followed might have had less access to tutoring and mentors.

So, if the candidate has the named uni and grades in their resume, then take it on as a data point. But judge all the resumes based on where they stand today, what they have achieved and what they can bring to the role today and tomorrow.

Five. Beware of the halo effect. Some candidates include photos on their resume; others might have a prestigious former employer. It is natural for a bias to rise from these details. There have been studies that state that we tend to lean towards better-looking people. Or we are more forgiving for a skills gap if they worked for a significantly known employer.

People who are considered attractive tend to be rated higher on confidence, likability and intelligence, which makes it easier for you to progress them to the next round without a consistent screening. When we also see a big company name on a resume, it is easy to think “if they are good enough to work there, they will be fine here”. But the reality is how we secure roles can depend on many things.

The best thing is to pause and review their experience.

Six. Adopt baseline criteria. Although it might be hard to come up with but having criteria will benefit is quite a benefit. Firstly, if a resume doesn’t fit the requirements, you can reject it, knowing that it was done so in a fair manner. Secondly, if they meet the criteria, you can progress the resume without being influenced by your unconscious bias.

Generally, you have a view on how much ramp time a new starter will have. Your criteria should give you confidence the person you hire will be able to ramp in the standard time or less for the role. The additional skills don’t need to be in the criteria as they can learn them on the job if they have strong core skills.

The criteria will focus your attention on the skills in the resume. Instead of your mind wandering into the unconscious bias.

In summary, hiring is a time-consuming and challenging process. When we think we want to hire a team that matches what our society looks like. We need to be clear and deliberate in how we do it. I hope these six points help you build a more significant funnel of candidates and allow you to screen them without bias.

Remember to pause before submitting your final decision and sense check that you have kept to a fair and consistent process.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not represent the views or opinions of my employer.

Leader | People | Innovation | Technology— Experienced people manager keen to share my thoughts and ideas on leadership, personal growth and people management.

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