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Watch Out For These 14 Types Of Bias In Your Hiring

Jan 30, 2022
20 min read

Hiring a new employee means making a series of complex decisions, most of which we do without being fully conscious of. From prior personal experience to our perception of what certain elements of a resume mean to our first impression of the person, the factors that may sway our judgment are plenty. There are many types of bias that risk our objectivity in hiring but by naming them, we can learn how to spot them and avoid making bad hiring decisions.

How Do You Define A Bad Hire?

Hiring the wrong person doesn’t necessarily mean that this person is a bad professional or that there’s something wrong with their character. A bad hire simply means someone who doesn’t fit the competency or culture fit expectations of the role they were hired for. Picking the wrong person in a selection process has costly implications for the company — and not just because of their salary.

The longer they stay, the more training costs you burn in your talent development budget. Moreover, the quality of their work and the decisions they make can potentially put the rest of your team at risk. The higher their position ranks, the bigger impact these decisions will make.

A bad hire is normally the result of either a false negative or a false positive error in a recruitment decision. False positive means hiring an unqualified candidate for the role, while false negative is rejecting a qualified candidate. Both mistakes can be accredited to one or more biases in the recruitment process.

Bias In Recruitment And Selection

Bias in hiring has a much bigger influence on the business in the long run than just replacing one bad hire. It prevents the organization from cultivating a diverse human capital and consequently hinders its potential for productivity and innovation.

Companies with more diverse teams perform better financially but it’s not as simple as hiring more employees from underrepresented groups. It’s the result of more data-driven and more carefully evaluated, in other words, unbiased recruitment practices. Additionally, it’s also a positive byproduct of cultivating a more inclusive work environment that celebrates differences and evaluates performance justly and objectively.

So what holds recruiters back from making that happen?

Usually the culprits are the various unconscious biases that we’re influenced by. No matter how well-intentioned we are, these cognitive patterns direct our thought process and there’s normally more than just one at play. By making yourself familiar with these 14 types of bias in hiring and adopting more conscious methods in our selection process, you can be more effective and ethical in your work.

14 Types Of Bias In Hiring

Affinity Bias

We naturally sympathize with certain people more than we do with others. This sixth sense makes us gravitate towards people we connect with on a personal level. It’s how we make friends, decide who to follow online, or go on a date with.

While this sort of chemistry is a good guide for our personal relationships, it can be the basis for biased hiring decisions. When we have an affinity for someone, we might encourage them more in the interview process than other candidates or try to justify our preference towards their profile.

Similarity Attraction Bias

Similarity attraction bias appears when we discover we have certain similarities with a candidate which clouds our judgment of their real capabilities. Something simple as interviewing someone who turns out to have graduated from the same college as us can change the way we perceive them and talk to them.

We might get a sense that they are “on our team” based on personal details unrelated to the job they are applying for. This kind of positive bias, similarly to affinity bias, may give an unfair advantage to candidates who happen to possess similar traits or past experiences as we do.

First Impression Bias

We all know that first impressions count in social interactions. In fact, some studies show that we form an impression of a stranger in under a second and it can influence the way we relate to them later on. Despite being our evolutionary instinct, first impressions aren’t the right way to judge the competencies of a person in an interview process.

If our candidate arrives in a hurry to the interview room and appears nervous, we might misjudge them before they could have a chance to present their professional abilities. Looking at the photo or the social media profiles of a candidate can also make us form our first impression early that we might later try to justify in our decision making process.

Beauty Bias

According to statistics, people who are more conventionally beautiful according to society’s standards earn an average of 3 or 4% more than people with below-average looks. They also tend to be hired and promoted sooner than others. Men earn 2.5% more per inch of additional height than their shorter counterparts and are more likely to become CEOs.

The physical appearance of a person rarely correlates with the skills required for performing their job, yet we seem to fall for this common bias time and time again. When a candidate is being hired to fill the job of another professional, we might favor someone who looks similar to their predecessor, thinking their personality would also be similar.

Recruiters who believe that they have “great instincts” can sometimes develop something called overconfidence bias. They might miss important details about the candidates or ignore them altogether to support their sense of intuition about whether or not they are the right fit.

Overconfidence Bias

This bias often occurs when there’s no objective evaluation model set for open roles in the company or when the CEO “has the last word” without being properly involved in hiring procedures.

Affect Heuristics

Affect heuristics are the classic examples of jumping to conclusions too quickly without finding reliable evidence for our assumptions. Superficial factors often turn out to be the basis of these decisions. For example, interviewing someone bald with tattoos running up their arms we could falsely assume that they are irreverent and unable to follow guidelines necessary for performing their job.

This bias is most common when the hiring process is rushed without adequate time for evaluation and backing up assumptions with evidence. When we are in a hurry, we’re more likely to take shortcuts in our decision making process and rely on our emotions rather than proper reasoning.

Illusory correlation

When we make up an illusory correlation, we find connections between facts that aren’t really there. Illusory correlations are often disguised as proof because they relate to actual facts but they are nothing but false evidence. 

For example, gaps in someone’s resume timeline or being unemployed for an extended period of time might bring us to the conclusion that they couldn’t find a job because they aren’t skilled. In reality, being unemployed can have several other reasons such as health issues, focusing on someone’s personal growth, taking care of a loved one, traveling, difficulty finding open roles for a unique skill set, or even the very fact of facing prejudice from recruiters. Hiring managers often fall into illusory correlations when they ask personal questions irrelevant to the job and try to find an attached meaning where there isn’t any.

Attribution Bias

Attribution bias also known as fundamental attribution error occurs when we try to find explanations for someone’s behavior related to their personality and ignore other situational factors. We make judgments on what “kind of person” our candidate is and overlook other social and environmental forces influencing their behavior.

Attribution bias often turns up their head when interviewing international talent. Cultural and societal norms differ in every country so it requires a higher level of cultural awareness to evaluate foreign candidates fairly.

Confirmation Bias

As humans, we love to be right. We naturally try to look for evidence to back up what we think to be true in order to ease our cognitive dissonance and protect our sense of identity and self-esteem. However as recruiters, we need to be careful with wanting to be right at the cost of hiring the wrong candidate.

Confirmation bias makes us seek evidence for what we already know and believe. In an interview process, this might lead to overemphasizing factors that support our early assumptions and ignoring others that would suggest otherwise. There’s a difference between asking an interview question with curiosity and as a way to elicit the response we seek.

Expectation Anchor

When we open a new role, we form certain expectations about what the person fulfilling that role should be like. In the process of defining their job description, we might set certain expectations that aren’t actually important for the job role. For example, a PR manager doesn’t need to be extroverted in order to do their job well.

It’s especially common when hiring for a role of replacement. We might unknowingly try to find a candidate whose personality, appearance, or background is a match to their predecessor instead of evaluating other options. The needs of the team and the company might also change in the meantime and it’s possible that the profile that was the perfect match for the role before isn’t a fit anymore.

Halo effect

Falling for this unconscious bias means overemphasizing a candidate’s positive traits because of one impressive element in their profile. In other words, because of their strengths in a particular area we might magnify their capabilities in all other areas.

We might think that someone who’s charismatic is also intelligent. We could assume that someone who graduated from a notable educational institution or worked with someone famous is also good at their job. While these assumptions could turn out to be true, we need to evaluate them the same way we do in the case of other candidates in order not to fall into confirming our own biases.

Horn effect

The horn effect is the polar opposite of the halo effect. It’s an implicit bias that makes us overemphasize the mistakes and negative traits of an individual because of a particular inadequacy. We assume that if they’re bad at one thing they are bad at all other things.

Interviewing someone under the influence of this bias might also make us implicitly discourage the person with our attitude towards them, which can further undermine their interview performance. No one’s at their best when they feel they’re being judged.

Contrast effect bias

When we fall for contrast effect bias, we tend to evaluate candidates in relation to other candidates, particularly the ones that follow or precede them in the screening process or in the interview flow. We might judge the qualifications of an applicant in comparison to the one that walked in before them rather than the criteria of the role.

Sometimes, there’s no right person for the role out of the pile of resumes received. This unconscious bias can potentially mislead us to choose the relative best candidate instead of expanding and diversifying the talent pool we source from.

Conformity bias

Humans are social animals. One of our most deep-rooted instincts is to conform to others in social situations in order to feel accepted by others. Peer pressure can influence a variety of decisions in our lives and hiring decisions are no different.

When there’s more than one recruiter evaluating a candidate, one might lean towards accepting the opinion of the others despite data suggesting otherwise. This is particularly true when two or more of your peers have the same opinion or when one of them is superior to you in terms of their position.

The Difference Between Bias And Discrimination In Hiring

Forming cognitive bias is a slippery slope that can lead to discrimination. Unconscious biases give way to the stereotypes we form about a certain group of people, for example that blonde women aren’t intelligent or that men aren’t as good caretakers as women.

When these biases affect us on an emotional level, we call them prejudice, a form of judgment we form as an emotional response to certain groups. Prejudice is only a step away from discrimination, which is bias in action. Discriminating someone means showing a different behavior towards them because of the group, class, or other category they belong to (or perceived to belong to). These categories can be their:

  • Birthplace;
  • Age;
  • Race or ethnicity;
  • Gender;
  • Religion;
  • Political views;
  • Disability;
  • Family status;
  • Style & Appearance;
  • Or wealth.

If we accept, reject, or treat a candidate differently because of these unjustified distinctions, we talk about discrimination in hiring. This is why it’s so important for us to examine our own hidden biases as hiring managers and choose to act differently than what they might suggest.

Bias Examples From Our Experts

We asked our in-house experts at Gyfted to share what the most common biases are that occur in hiring processes worldwide. Here’s what they said.

Łukasz — Hiring Expert

According to Łukasz, one of the biggest myths in hiring is that stress resistance is the most important trait for any given position. Recruiters often place added pressure on the candidate in interviews or misjudge their capabilities because they seem nervous.

During his career, he’s also seen several hiring managers assume that candidates with experience in certain sectors or companies are more or less qualified than the rest. They think that if company X is on the candidate’s resume, they must still hold their organizational values. In reality, they might have accepted the job because of having limited options in their career and are now looking for a change.

Alina — Psychometrician

Alina shares that representation bias is one of the most common cognitive biases in the world of recruitment. Representation bias means that if we live in an environment where a certain group is overrepresented, we might overestimate their absolute frequency in the population.

Children of divorced parents, for example, believe that there are more divorces in general than those whose parents have never been divorced. Representation bias carries the risk of excluding certain societal groups from our talent pool or repeatedly hiring the same kind of people in the organization.

Magda — Data Scientist

Similarity bias often risks the overall performance of organizations, Magda shares. Recruiters are often drawn towards people who are similar to them and whom they easily get along with. Similarity in views makes cooperation smooth and makes it easier to avoid conflict. However, hiring only the people who agree with you cultivates a “yes man culture” at work.

Teams that have no diversity in perspectives are less creative, innovative, and productive in the long run than those that welcome disagreement in an open discussion. Healthy debates and questioning the status quo doesn’t just require a diversity of opinions but also a work culture that gives space to these productive debates.

Jan — Cognitive Scientist

Jan is one of the scientists at Gyfted developing psychological assessments. He emphasizes how easily recruiters can be swayed by overconfidence and rely on intuitive assumptions, especially in unstructured interviews. Their instinct turns out to be unreliable more often than they would like to admit.

Overcoming Bias In Hiring

Objective and data-driven strategies for candidate selection can help reduce bias in hiring so we can invest in the right talent instead. Blind screening, for example, bypasses initial assumptions we might make based on the photo, date of birth, or hometown of an applicant. A consistent evaluation structure and interview flow give equal chances to candidates to show their strengths.

If we want to get as close as possible to a fully unbiased hiring system, we need to merge the best of human sciences and technology. Our experts in psychometrics, big data, and machine learning are working on the first fully integrated recruitment system to bridge the gap between recruiters and hidden talent.

This new innovative hiring model provides insight for candidates into their cognitive and psycho-demographic profile and gives them a chance to share it with recruiters. This way, hiring managers get the complete personality profiles of candidates and the most accurate data on whether they are a fit for their culture, team, and job description.

Sign up now and gain early access to the personality traits, competency, preferences, and motivations of all your candidates.