Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

8 Essential Guidelines to Reduce Unconscious Bias In Your Recruitment Process

By Mark Wilkinson | Jun 13, 2017 | Assessing Applicants

A recent McKinsey study showed that culturally diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors, while gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to do so.

And yet businesses across the world (great and small) are still struggling to find the right balance.

Essentially, we lean towards people that are similar to us.

Its human nature and it goes well beyond age, gender and race.

Things like class, hobbies or even the candidate’s favorite football team can sway a person’s opinion on them.

Even worse, unconscious bias could have a negative impact, before we even meet the job candidate.

Everything from the wording in the job description to the way you process CVs could have a serious effect on the final pool of candidates you get to choose to interview.

Are interviews pointless?

A study conducted in 2000 showed that recruiters form an opinion of someone in the first 10 seconds of meeting them and then spend the rest of the interview looking to confirm their suspicions.

If that’s true then the implication is that the following 99.4% of the interview is a complete waste of time! In fact, the likes of Google and Microsoft now hire outside agencies to check for recruitment bias.

You probably don’t need to go that far, but it’s important to do as much as you can do.

So, let’s take a look at some easy-to-implement guidelines…

1. Assess yourself.

If you have the final say on a hire, then you need to be brutally honest with yourself.

Do you have any (seemingly harmless) biased opinions (for example, a common one is that men make better managers and women are more empathetic, making them better for customer service roles).

You need to recognise those opinions so that you can work on them.

You can even take Harvard, Virginia and Washington Universities’ Implicit Association Test to assess yourself on this kind of thing. The results might surprise you and could even have a positive impact on your recruitment process.

Bias is built into almost everything we do, but you won’t see it until you look for it.

2. Check your job descriptions carefully.

The words you choose can have a powerful impact on the people that apply for your job in the first place. Words like ‘ninja’ and ‘rockstar’ may be fashionable, but according to a variety of studies, they also tend to prevent women applying for roles.

That’s strange, right?

Well apparently, there are more than 25,000 “problem phrases” that indicate a gender bias in job adverts. You can run yours through Textio and see whether you’re using any of them.

It’s important to apply some critical thinking to the results, but you might be surprised at how an innocuous phrase has an impact on your applicant pool.

Use pro-diversity language and you’ll find that you get a wider range of applications.

3. Evaluate every CV in the same way.

A 2003 American study showed that candidates with “clearly white” names received 50% more callbacks for job interviews in Boston and Chicago, despite the rest of the resume being exactly the same.

Now the times have changed, but the study is still an eye opener. It shows that you need to have a system in place and score each CV objectively not subjectively, to reduce bias in the system.

So, develop a scoring system that takes the cold, hard facts from the CV and turns them into scientific, numerical data. That one simple step will remove a great deal of bias from your selection process.

You can also choose to hide the basics like gender and the candidate’s name, but this can be quite complicated to actually implement and involves removing names and photos from the CV.

If you need some advice on CV assessment – check out our checklist here.

4. Stick to a script in interviews.

Finding common ground with a particular candidate is a heartwarming moment and a lot of recruiters pride themselves on putting the interviewee at ease.

That’s fine, but if you only do this for certain candidates, you do automatically give them an advantage.

Sticking to a basic script (including some ice-breakers and easier questions) might not sound like the most appealing way to interview candidates, but it is the best way to remove inherent bias from the interview.

You should also decide in advance what a great, an acceptable and a terrible answer to each question looks like.

I know this will take time but the end result is a recruitment process that is more transparent and free from bias.

5. Use a diverse interview panel.

Panel-based interviews can be intimidating, but they can also help to reduce inherent bias (if you opt for a diverse panel). Simply put, if one of your panel members connects with a candidate on a personal level, then there are still others in attendance to balance the overall decision about that person.

You should have a fair mix of men and women, cultural diversity and a broad age range on the panel.

This doesn’t just help combat unconscious bias, it also helps uncover and fix any blind spots in the interviews and eradicates decisions made on “gut feeling.”

Google actually involve managers from a totally unrelated field too, to provide a ‘disinterested’ party.

This helps prevent ‘thin slice error’ where a candidate can bond with the panel over a particular job function but they overlook the fact that they just aren’t a good fit for the company.

6. Prepare your own skills test.

When you ask a candidate to solve a problem, or complete a work task that is in line with the job role, then you change the whole psychology of your recruitment process.

You’ve subtly shifted the focus from personality, background, education and even experience to the candidate’s performance and skill set.

Not only are work tests the most accurate way to see how a candidate will perform on the job, it also gives you something to focus on apart from gender, age and personality.

7. Employ an outside agency.

If you suspect unconscious bias is a real issue in your recruitment process then employing an outside agency to field the initial responses and present suitable candidates can be useful.

You’ll still get the final say on the candidate hire, but you’ll get a thoroughly vetted and diverse set of applicants.

8. Set specific diversity goals.

Every company should have a clear plan when it comes to diversity. You need to know your goals and work towards them incrementally.

You cannot change the whole company overnight and you should never hire the wrong person just to tick a box. But realistic goals and regular reviews will flag up any problems and areas where you need to improve.

Summary

Unconscious bias affects literally everything we do, but there’s no reason why it should run rampant through your recruitment process and your company.

It’s important to keep recruitment as balanced as possible.

Recruiter Pro Tip

Of course, there is a danger with all that we’ve talked about.

If your interviews are too structured and too scripted, then you’re…

That’s why it’s so vital to keep things balanced. (Easier said than done, I know).

I guess, the most important thing is that you know the dangers of unconscious bias and use the guidelines we’ve outlined above (and more) to remove as much bias as possible, without completely ruining your recruitment process.

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- Mark Wilkinson
Mark Wilkinson

Mark Wilkinson

Mark is one of the founders of Coburg Banks and heads up the permanent recruitment division of the business.  Every day he helps companies with their recruitment projects, sourcing the very best individuals for their vacancies.  He understands recruitment inside-out.

> More blog posts by Mark Wilkinson

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