The 7 deadly biases of inclusive hiring (and how to avoid them)

February 5, 2023
biases in hiring

We’re sure you don’t need anyone to tell you that things like ‘lust’ and ‘wrath’ aren’t things you want in your hiring process. 

However, just as human nature can be easily tempted by these deadly sins, it can also be inclined towards some pretty awful unconscious biases, particularly during the hiring process. While that feeling of envy is easily recognizable when comparing the budgets of other teams or departments within your organization to your own meager resources, what you may not be as aware of is the favor you are showing certain candidates on account of your unconscious biases. 

Unconscious biases can be a sneaky and detrimental force in the hiring and recruitment process but recognizing and overcoming them is crucial for fostering a diverse and inclusive workforce.

The good news is temptation itself is not sin, only giving into that temptation is. Similarly, unconscious biases can be overcome with self-awareness and the right processes to avoid giving in to them.

We’re going to dive into the top seven unconscious biases that arise during the hiring and recruitment process. We’ve also provided some advice from our Endorsed Employers on how to successfully overcome these ‘deadly’ biases to create an inclusive and equitable hiring process.

Affinity Bias 

Affinity bias refers to the tendency to favor individuals who are similar to ourselves. In the context of hiring decisions, this can manifest as unconsciously favoring candidates who have similar backgrounds, experiences, or personalities to those of the hiring manager or other members of the hiring team.

Example of the affinity bias at work

Say you find out that a candidate was from the same town as you. Your unconscious affinity bias might lead you to like them better than other candidates, even though a person’s hometown has little to do with their fit for the role. 

Appearance bias

Appearance bias refers to the tendency to form an impression of a person based on their physical appearance. In the context of hiring, this can manifest as unconsciously favoring or overlooking candidates based on their physical appearance, rather than their qualifications or abilities.

Example of appearance bias at work

The obvious example here would be an unconscious prejudice against people of color, but there are other appearance factors that could be at work too. For instance: attractiveness, tattoos and piercings, and hair color. 

Horns/Halo effect 

The horns/halo effect refers to the tendency to form an overall impression of a candidate based on a single characteristic or trait. While the halo effect implies when a positive impression overshadows all other aspects of an applicant, the horns effect explains a negative impression. 

Example of the horns effect

In the context of hiring, this can manifest as overlooking or discounting a candidate that was late to one interview, despite their great experience and skills for the role.

Conformity Bias

Conformity bias refers to the tendency to conform to the opinions and decisions of others, especially those in positions of authority. It’s also sometimes known as the bandwagon effect or groupthink. 

Example of conformity bias

In the context of hiring, this can manifest as unconsciously adopting the opinions and decisions of the hiring manager or other members of the hiring team, rather than independently evaluating candidates.

Decision fatigue 

Decision fatigue refers to the phenomenon of being less effective at making decisions as the number of decisions increases. Making repeated decisions can impair executive function and influence subsequent decision-making. In the context of hiring, this can manifest as unconsciously becoming less effective at making hiring decisions as the number of candidates or rounds of interviews increases

Example of decision fatigue

It’s been found that a Judge’s decision to grant parole is impacted more by the time of day of the hearing, than by the alleged offense – with favorable rulings occurring more often first thing in the morning or after lunch breaks. Similarly, your own evaluation of whether a candidate is worthy of an interview can be affected by your energy levels. 

Attribution bias

Attribution bias happens when we make assumptions about people’s actions and intentions.  It’s the tendency we have to try and evaluate or find reasons for the success or failure of people without having the information to back that belief. 

Example of attribution bias

An example of attribution bias could be a hiring manager or recruiter who determines a candidate unfit for the job because they assume taking a break to start a family means a woman won’t be as dedicated to her career when she returns. Or that someone who has changed jobs frequently lacks loyalty instead of considering any other external reasons that could’ve led to their recent work pattern. 

Overconfidence bias 

Overconfidence bias refers to the tendency to overestimate our own abilities or the accuracy of our own predictions. Of all the biases we discuss in this article, this might be one of the closest to an actual deadly sin – pride. This can manifest as unconsciously believing that our own opinions and decisions are more accurate or reliable than they actually are and means we will fail to seek out alternative perspectives or opinions.

Example of overconfidence bias

The most common example of this when it comes to recruitment, is the belief that undertaking a single unconscious bias seminar means you are ‘cured’ of your bias. Increasing awareness is not enough. Unconscious bias training can’t be a one-time session; it entails a longer journey and structural organizational changes that manage these biases and track their progress.

Which leads us nicely into…

How to manage unconscious biases and improve your recruitment process

To have a genuinely unbiased and inclusive recruitment process is a difficult, iterative process, but it’s not impossible. Some of this can be achieved through technology, and others need more innovative selection methods. 

Here are some of the ways several of our Endorsed Employers are already succeeding to reduce bias in their hiring processes: 

Finderfinder logo

“We aim to eliminate unconscious bias in our hiring practices to ensure we are fair and inclusive of all qualified applicants. This starts with how we write our job ads, for example, removing diversity-limiting requirements such as years of experience and degrees, and running the ads through an online gender decoder tool. When it comes to interviews, we place equal emphasis on experience, potential, and attitude, and ensure we have diverse interview panels in place.

“To combat conformity bias in the interview process we use an anonymous scorecard system through our Applicant Tracking System (ATS), so each panelist’s feedback is kept private until a decision is made. This helps avoid ‘groupthink’ in our decision-making and candidate assessment.

“By doing this, we are taking steps to ensure that we encourage applicants from all backgrounds to apply, in order to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.”

– Jamie Finnegan (he/him), Global Head of Talent

Ernst & Young Australia (EY)EY logo

“At EY, we aspire to be an organization where differences are valued, practices are equitable, and everyone experiences a sense of belonging. At times, we may be drawn to people who are similar to us (affinity bias), but we know that this leads to homogeneity and will stifle our opportunity to innovate and problem-solve. It will also hinder business performance, employee engagement, and retention.

“In large organizations like ours, decision fatigue can occur when conducting multiple interviews. That’s why we have strategies in place to ensure decisions are made equitably.

“As part of our Talent Acquisition and Hiring Manager Capability Uplift Plan, regular sessions are run to educate and elevate DE&I issues, like tackling unconscious bias. All interview documents include reminders around this and encourage hiring managers to pause and consider whether candidates are being selected based on preference, tradition, or actual requirements.

“We also ensure our job adverts are gender neutral, engage diverse shortlisting and interview panels, use job simulations where we can, and implement consistent evaluation criteria and scoring rubrics.

“We all have biases which have been formed through our frames of reference developed from family, friends, and society. There is nothing wrong with this, and they often help us make efficient decisions. We do, however, need to be aware of them and how they may unintentionally hinder others’ career opportunities. So as a Talent Acquisition team, we must continue to raise awareness of affinity bias and decision fatigue, and have the processes in place to help us pause, reflect, and catch any bias that may creep in.”

– Pippa Fiscus (she/her), Social Equity Talent Attraction Manager 

Cumminscummins logo

Cummins Inc. has long demonstrated a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This deep commitment was recently honored by Forbes with a spot on its prestigious, “The Best Employers for Diversity 2022” list. 

“In order to avoid affinity bias, our hiring teams are trained to actively take note of the similarities that are shared with the candidate. This allows them to differentiate between the skills, experiences, and unique qualities of a candidate and the similarities or attributes that may affect the assessment of the candidate through the hiring process. 

“We also talk about how candidates will add to the team culture rather than hiring for ‘culture fit’

“It is easy to fall back on cognitive biases in the recruitment process particularly when hiring decisions need to be made quickly. At Cummins, we aim to hire the best people regardless of appearance, background, or other personal traits. We achieve this by keeping role criteria as objective as possible. We will always invite multiple opinions through our multistage, panel interview process and utilize consistent interview guides. 

“In addition to this, we are always reviewing our recruitment data to identify failure modes or gaps in our hiring processes that may impact our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and actively work on strategies to avoid this.”

– Tracy Moore (she/her), Talent Acquisition Team Leader – Asia Pacific

Jemena/Zinfrajemena / zinfra logo

“At Jemena and Zinfra, recruitment and selection for employment are guided by principles that promote equitable talent practices enhancing our ability to attract the best possible candidates to ensure a diverse and high-performing workforce.

“Leaders work closely with our Talent Partners throughout our recruitment process in a way that helps us to actively look for and reduce unconscious biases.

“Our team has a number of strategies they implement including:

  • Ensuring language in job ads is gender neutral and positioned in a way that would encourage applicants from any background to apply. We utilize WORK180 jobs platform to screen our ads for any gender bias in the language we present. 
  • Actively engaging in open conversations with hiring managers to ensure decisions are based on equitable criteria.
  • Trialing techniques like blind screening candidate resumes for specific roles.
  • Encouraging balanced shortlists, and interview panels.
  • Sharing successful stories of how diverse talent have been successful and added value across the business.
  • Promoting employee benefits with broad appeal that support the success of a wide candidate pool, like our commitment to flexibility, our Family Friendly Workplace accreditation, and WORK180 endorsement.”

– Anna Liston (she/her), Talent Acquisition Business Partner at Jemena

    Softcatsoftcat logo

    softcat employee“We are constantly striving to make our interview panels as diverse as possible. If the team in question doesn’t have a diverse panel, we do have Recruitment Champion Email pots to ensure that we make the panel diverse. And every recruitment consultant approaches this email pot to seek support for the panel interviews.

    “We have interview and Assessment centre training for all new managers in the business which talks about the halo effect and the unconscious bias. We also have a consistent scoring matrix in place for the candidates who appear at the Assessment centre. 

    “We constantly analyze the recruitment data on a quarterly basis to check for any patterns or trends which may suggest a halo or horns effect.”

    – Rupali Chadda (she/her), Internal Recruiter

    coles logoColes Group

    Anita coles“Within our Coles Talent Acquisition team, we know unconscious bias happens without us even knowing it. We understand that to move from unconscious bias to conscious inclusion, we need to consciously include, so we don’t unconsciously exclude. ​​ 

    “To avoid bias through our recruitment process:

    • We use gender neutral language and imagery in our job advertisements and recruitment related materials
    • We aim for gender balanced interview panels, consisting of two or more interviewers
    • We conduct structured interviews using formal interview guides, to ensure a consistent process is applied to all candidates
    • Our interview questions have been developed based on key competencies that have been identified for each role
    • To help confirm interview outcomes, a set scoring system is used, which allows hiring managers to review interview performance objectively. 
    • We offer unconscious bias training sessions, to help our teams understand how unconscious bias plays out in the workforce and how we can disrupt it and build a more inclusive culture.

    “By improving our knowledge on common bias types, we become more aware of our own personal biases and strengthen our ability to make fairer, more informed decisions to ensure the best talent is hired.”

    – Anita Devereaux (she/her), Inclusive Recruitment Specialist

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    About the Author

    Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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