If strengthening diversity in the workplace is a top priority for your company, it’s vital to discover how hiring biases may be holding you back. Unconscious biases are particularly difficult to pin down and minimize because it’s human nature to first “gravitate to people who look and act like us and then automatically think we’re getting a good hire,” says Misti Ringham, HR business partner for XMI.

But these biases can have a profound impact on judgment, causing companies to make hiring decisions that aren’t rooted in finding the best worker for the job, she says. 

Awareness is key to help recognize and reduce unconsciously unfair hiring practices. Here are some common biases in hiring:

1. Age bias. Federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against a job seeker because of age, but that doesn’t make age bias any less common in hiring. In fact, this is one of the most common types of biases Ringham sees hiring managers exhibit, especially if they’re from a different generation than the candidates applying for the job. “The dramatic shift in workplace demographics is to blame,” she says. “It can be hard for hiring managers from one generation to empathize with the expectations of job candidates from another.” 

2. Affinity bias. Perhaps you hail from the same town as a candidate, went to the same college or both enjoy bingeing “Game of Thrones.” Feeling an immediate kinship with a candidate because of something you have in common with them—whether that’s race, ethnicity or gender, or even something as simple as liking the same kind of bagel or beer—that’s affinity bias. Connecting to a candidate who looks or behaves like you might feel natural, but make sure those affinities aren’t overly influential when it comes to your decision-making.

3. Confirmation bias. We all have the tendency to search for information that affirms our beliefs or make snap decisions and then try to justify our preconceptions—hiring managers are no different. This can lead us to try to elicit answers from a candidate that supports our initial assumptions about them or pass over a good candidate for ambiguous reasons.  

4. Halo effect. Sometimes you can focus too heavily on one positive aspect of a candidate, such as a prestigious alma mater or prominent former position, and let that information guide your overall opinion of that candidate. That halo of perfection can cloud judgment and allow you to bypass a fuller investigation of their background.

5. Horn effect. The converse of the halo effect, the horn effect lets a negative piece of information about a candidate—a lack of inexperience in one of the roles listed in the job description or a gap in career history, for instance—overwhelm their positive aspects. You obviously want to make sure the person is the right fit for your organization, but a too-quick judgment based on uncompromising qualifications might mean you miss a great candidate.  

6. Beauty bias. Numerous studies have revealed the ugly truth: We unconsciously believe that the way a person looks affects how they will do their jobs, with physically attractive people being treated more favorably and considered more successful. “Selection decisions should be based upon job-relevant knowledge, abilities and other characteristics—such as temperament—but not on appearance,” Patrick McKay, professor of human resource management at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, told the Society for Human Resource Management

So, how can you combat these all-too-common biases? 

Start by using blind screening tools to help find candidates with the right skills before meeting them in person. Michelle Thompson, director of human resources for XMI, also recommends having more than one person involved in the hiring process. “Hiring should be a multi-touch experience,” she says. “Not only does it improve the candidate experience, but it also helps hold the hiring team accountable to finding the best candidate for the job.”

Another best practice is ensuring the vetting process is consistent from candidate to candidate. “Don’t let a mutual acquaintance or an interesting hobby derail an interview,” she says. “Ask each candidate the same set of behavior-based questions that can help root out the best candidate for the job.”

Need help with getting a handle on your unconscious hiring biases? XMI’s team of HR experts can help you identify the biases that are holding your hiring back and help you improve your hiring practices. Get in touch at 615-248-9255 or info@xmigrowth.com

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