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How to remove hiring bias from the recruiting process

Diversify your workforce and fulfill EEOC criteria with these bias reduction strategies.

Hiring bias can deflect the benefits of a diverse workforce: strong organizations, greater employee productivity and happiness, innovative ideas, and an increased bottom line. There's a multitude of reasons to build towards a more diverse workforce, but before we can do so, we must understand and break down the barriers our hiring biases pose.

What is hiring bias?

While there are many types of hiring biases, they typically result from mental shortcuts we take that cause us to misinterpret candidates based on our personal experiences, leading to more inaccurate assessments. Francesca Gino, professor at the Harvard Business School, explains hiring bias as something that causes “us to make decisions in favor of one person or group to the detriment of others.” This hinders the diverse environment that’s necessary for businesses to succeed.

Hiring bias can begin as early as the candidate sourcing process. In fact, Handshake found a few common sourcing practices—like GPA cutoffs and rigid recruiting windows—that eliminate hordes of qualified students from underrepresented backgrounds by nature. Since sourcing is the first step of the hiring process, identify whether your sourcing practices are consistent with these findings.

Read this blog to learn what you can do to improve your qualified criteria.

In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that the hiring process is often biased and unfair, highlighting that racism, ageism, sexism, and a variety of other factors that we may or may not be aware of as major push factors for inequity.

So, how do we minimize or eliminate hiring bias in both traditional in-person and virtual settings? Handshake's Ultimate Guide to Diversity & Inclusion is a good place to start. In this blog, we’re taking those findings one step further by compiling tactical tips to help ensure that you’re being fully inclusive throughout the interview and hiring process.

Hiring bias in virtual vs. in-person interviews

While the content of virtual and in-person interviews is largely the same, the experience can be quite different. Some candidates experience anxiety in an in-person setting, but may feel comfortable enough to be themselves on camera. In other cases, the inverse could be true.

If you prefer a candidate who is more animated and outgoing, you may need to remind yourself that this virtual environment is new to them, and getting to know someone over video may not reflect their authentic personality. This could also become a problem if you mistake a candidate who’s shy as less enjoyable to work with, or less capable of performing the job’s tasks.

In an in-person environment, there are no distractions to take focus away from the interview. You’re typically in a room together with closed doors. With virtual interviews, however, distractions abound.

Would you consider a candidate unprofessional if she or he needs to pause their interview to tell their kid that they’re unavailable? If a candidate has a distracting background or something on their wall that doesn’t resonate with you, can you set that bias aside and focus on their qualifications?

Assessing your personal biases ahead of these interviews ensures that each candidate, no matter where they interview from, has the same general experience with you.

Addressing potential interview and hiring bias

Conscious biases can be easier to leave at the door during interviews, but what about more subtle biases that you may not be aware of? Identify your obvious biases, but also focus on reducing the not-so-obvious ones that are common in society, like associating or stereotyping certain roles with a specific group of people.

When we align women, for example, with careers in nursing and education, or men with C-suite roles, we may unconsciously apply these views to the interview process, narrowing down our candidate pool to only those we think should fill the role.

Iris Bohnet, the author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design, explains how the “seeing is believing” approach can impact diversity.

“Seeing is believing. If we don't see male kindergarten teachers or female engineers, we don't naturally associate women and men with those jobs, and we apply different standards [throughout the hiring process].”

Iris Bohnet, author of What Works: Gender Equality by Design

Negative, or lack of representation entirely, can be extremely problematic if young women and men begin to believe that their access to opportunities is limited.

Another bias that many of us are unaware of is the desire to work with people who look and sound like us. If our HR department is mostly women from the Midwest, we may unknowingly recruit similar candidates, for example. Sociologist Lauren Rivera conducted interviews with bankers, lawyers, and consultants to test this theory that cultural similarities matter to employers. Results confirmed that these groups typically seek out candidates like themselves.

Standardize every interview with every candidate

Eliminating hiring bias means taking a more objective approach to interviewing, One way to do this is to standardize the process. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) suggests using structured interviews where candidates are asked the same set of predefined questions that focus on factors that directly impact job performance.

This structure helps minimize bias by taking out subjective factors such as ability or appearance. Instead, you pay attention to how a candidate would solve a specific problem or how they’d perform certain tasks required for the role. The Harvard Business Review recommends mental ability, aptitude, and personality tests as better assessors of a candidate’s potential.

Whirlpool Corporation is a leader in advocating for the role behavioral and skills assessments play in reducing hiring bias, contributing to the company hiring 10% more women and 5% more underrepresented minorities year over year.

Be deliberate in your process. Define what qualifies an excellent fit and have all interview panelists score the candidate accordingly. Work samples have also been proven to act as great predictors of job performance. Inviting a prospective engineer to write sample code, a copywriter to write a sample blog, or a social media manager to create a sample strategy are all effective ways to minimize interview and hiring bias—by focusing on the work output itself.

Candidates are understanding of the constraints that come with this shift to virtual settings. Whenever possible, take notes on paper to minimize noise and distractions on your computer. Give space and remain patient if there’s lag, visual, or audio issues, and be willing to shift to other formats, like a phone call, when necessary.

Similarly to in-person interviews, first impressions are critical to the virtual interview process.

In today’s virtual setting, reliance on video calls is heavy, and interviewers and hiring managers should be aware of biases that can be at play. Bias can be shaped by aspects including room background, a candidate’s mannerisms, video/audio quality, region, extracurriculars and many others.

Recent research has alluded to the fact that implicit bias training doesn’t work. And although AI candidate assessments do a decent job of reducing hiring biases, they're not entirely foolproof. Companies should challenge their assumptions and incorporate policies that refer back to the role criteria or interview rubric for consistent and fair evaluations instead.

Communication before, during, and after the interview

Before you interview candidates, provide them with an overview of how the interview will be structured. Will it be in-person or virtual? If it’s virtual, will they need access to technology? Are there specific topics you’ll discuss or assessments they'll need to prepare for? What about interview styles—how does the hiring manager approach interviewing vs. peers?

Communicate early and set clear expectations around the hiring process. Sharing in advance who your interviewer(s) will be and encouraging prospective hires to research them before the interview is a great way to set qualified candidates up for success. If you do this, just make sure you’re giving each and every candidate the same consistent experience.

The Muse suggests creating a rubric before the interview to help guide questions and rate each candidate against numerical values. This includes communicating what qualifications, skills, and experiences you’re looking for and how you will measure if they’re fit. After the interview, you should be able to rate their responses with a numerical value for comparison later.

To ensure a fair, consistent, and unbiased interview process, you'll soon be able to score and evaluate qualified candidates with Handshake Video.

Remember, we’re all human

Each of us has inherent biases—whether conscious or unconscious—based on our own individual experiences. Some are more positive, like assuming you’ll get along with someone because they were a member of the same fraternity as you, while others are harmful, such as refusing to interview a woman for a leadership role.

It’s important to recognize your biases, implicit or explicit, so they don’t impact your interviews and hiring process. By doing so, you'll move towards a more diverse workforce and ensure every qualified candidate, regardless of gender or race, has a fair chance at contributing to your organization.

Now that you know how you can reduce hiring bias, it’s time to start hiring your best entry level class yet. Get in touch to learn how Handshake can help you get started.

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