Unconscious Bias - What is it? And How do you eliminate it from an Interview? - Part 1

Unconscious Bias - What is it? And How do you eliminate it from an Interview? - Part 1

"If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are.  Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don't particularly like" – Soichiro Honda, founder of Honda

Interviewing is a skill to be learned and practised

Having a love of people is an excellent foundation for becoming a great interviewer, but we mustn't assume our viewpoints are always the correct ones.  Unconscious or not, bias during an interview can be detrimental to the success of any orga­nisa­tion.

In the first part of our article, we look at unconscious bias and explore some of the different bias types.

What is unconscious bias?

When recruiting, the most common form of unconscious bias occurs when the interviewer decides on an applicant's suitability based purely on their first impressions of the candidate.­  Believe it or not, this undoubtedly still happens!   However, there are more subtle examples of unconscious bias too!  Many interviewers are not aware of how easy it is for bias to creep into an interview.­  I am sure that we all know someone who "got the job" because they play sport on the same team as the recruiting manager?  That is a prime example of bias!

So let's have a look at some of the established types of unconscious bias.

Beauty Bias

I think it is fair to say that many of us feel that being beautiful certainly has its advantages in life, but have you ever considered whether being beautiful would help your job interview?

 While we all uncon­sci­ously notice a person's appearance, many people uninten­ti­onally link appearance to personality. For example, believing that someone appears not to have made much of an effort with their appearance for the interview means that they would not put much effort into doing the job for which they have applied.

You may not realise that you are making these uninten­tional assumptions. The opposite may also apply.  However uninten­tional your premise may be - this unconscious bias may mean that you do not support your employers' policy on diversity and inclusion.

Gender Bias

Gender bias is quite easily explained.­  It is also a bias that is quite common.­  An example of gender bias during an interview would be uninten­ti­onally favouring a candidate that you personally would associate with carrying out the duties for the role.  Driving a lorry is historically a male-dominated industry and you may uncon­sci­ously lean towards a male candidate.

Alter­natively, you may communicate better with a person who is the same sex as you and inadver­tently give preference to candidates of that sex.  Unconscious bias is so difficult to eradicate from an interview.

Halo Effect

The halo effect is when we focus on one great skill or quality, so much so that we allow the "halo effect" to outdo the areas where the applicant may lack skills.­  Focusing on one particularly great skill makes you think that they are more suitable for the job than they are.  It distorts our perspective and may mean that you do not appoint the best all-around applicant.

Horns Effect

The horns effect is the direct opposite of the halo effect.­  You focus on one bad skill and no matter what, it clouds your viewpoint on the applicant's future potential.­  When you are inter­vi­ewing, it is crucial to see future potential and not allow one error to characterise the person.

Affinity Bias

As people, we are often unaware that we find it easier to get along with people like us or share similar experiences.  We find it easier to hire like-minded people.  However, you must accept that a great applicant may not be like you but may well be just as gifted as you at the job.  It is important to remember that hiring someone because you get on well with them will also severely affect its diversity.  Remember, you are looking to hire the best person for the job, not a person to become your friend.

Attribution Bias

Attribution bias refers to how you understand another person's actions against how you would deal with the same conditions or situations.  We mainly attribute certain of our behaviours to things that lead to achievement and failure.

It is common to attach our skill and character to our successes and put the failures down to extenuating circum­stances.­  We do not like to believe that we have individual flaws and faults.

By comparison, when we are inter­vi­ewing, our thought processes can reverse when viewing others.­  We can uncon­sci­ously associate their successes with luck and circumstance and associate their failures with low achievement.

We mustn't focus too intensely on the applicants' perceived faults and therefore overlook a talented individual.

Confirmation Bias


Confirmation bias is when we search for evidence that supports our opinions rather than looking at the whole picture.­  This seems most common when we make quick decisions.­  For example, if you have decided that the person you are about to interview looks ideal from their c.v., it is dangerous to merely ask questions to confirm the belief and ignore everything else.  If you allow this bias to prevail, you may decide to offer a candidate the role based on an inaccurate individual assessment, resulting in the person being unsuitable.

Conformity Bias

It requires no effort to allow conformity bias to creep into panel interviews.  This bias is also one of the most common. 

Most people prefer to follow rather than to stand out in the crowd.  So if you are inter­vi­ewing, you may think that the candidate has done well during the interview, but you discover that your peers believe the opposite.­  In this circum­stance, it is only too easy to go along with the majority opinion rather than airing your point of view.  It is essential to give your viewpoint as you may well have spotted something that the other members of the interview panel missed.

Contrast Effect

The contrast effect is the final example of bias that we are going to consider.­  This bias is most prevalent when reviewing C.V. documents.­  When instead of assessing each individual c.v. on its own merit, you find one good one and compare all the others to that document.­  When you have lots of applications and try to narrow down your choices, it is easily done.   By doing this, it is only too easy to overlook someone who could be great in the role.   

So you now have an insight into what unconscious bias is. In the second part of our article we will look at how to avoid interviewer bias and and ways to reduce hiring bias in your recruitment process.

Monarch Personnel is proud of its hiring methodology, much of the process is done "blind" which helps us to promote diversity and inclusion for our own business and our client companies too.

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