5 Smart Ways to Root Out Hiring Bias

hiring bias

By Yvonne Milosevic

Whether we like it or not, we all have implicit biases—it’s part of being human. The important thing is to actively counteract them when we recognize the harm they can cause. As we’ve noted before, there’s a disconnect between good intentions and on-the-ground reality at many organizations. For example, if you’re in a management position, you may be guilty of hiring bias without even realizing it.

Interviewers often consider candidates based on how well they fit in with the team. They use the famous Airport Test (“Would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person?”) to gauge how well they “click” with the candidate. But focusing on rapport rather than on someone’s skills and qualifications can lead to less-than-stellar hiring decisions—not to mention a homogenous workplace.

Professor Lauren Rivera of Kellogg School of Management has seen this hiring bias phenomenon repeatedly in her research.

Hiring managers look for people who share their own background and interests. And if the people doing the hiring are predominantly male, or white, or wealthy, then they perpetuate that lack of diversity in their organization.

Once you become aware of these tendencies, you can take concrete steps to eliminate them. Review these practical tips for creating a fairer, more inclusive hiring process.

How to Reduce Hiring Bias

One: Figure out what your company culture really is.

Few companies have an accurate view of their own culture. Plus, understanding what attributes represent a good fit is not straightforward. Make sure the HR team can identify critical characteristics that match your culture. That way, subjective factors won’t take precedence with interviewers.

Two: Test candidates to see if they display those values.

“If you want your employees to demonstrate fun, give candidates a scenario with a disgruntled customer and ask what they’d do,” Rivera suggests. That provides more useful information than a question like, “tell me what you do for fun,” she explains.

Three: Use a skills-based screening for job applicants.  

Once you’re in a room with someone, your unconscious biases will kick in. That’s why Rivera suggests screening candidates’ relevant skills before they come in to interview. “So, for example, someone interviewing for a communications job could be given a writing assignment,” she explains. “That way, interviewers know that they are dealing with candidates who have the technical chops to succeed.”

Also, make sure the job description explicitly states the hard and soft skills required for the position. That makes it easier to assess the applicant’s qualifications.

Four: Standardize the interview process by using identical questions for each candidate.

If you ask all applicants the same list of questions, you have a better chance of comparing apples to apples. You can then rank how each candidate answered and refer to those objective assessments when making your final hiring decision. Consider bringing in a few people from different departments or seniority levels to provide feedback on the candidates and reduce individual biases.

Five: Limit the weight of “fit” in the hiring process. 

By focusing more on skills and having a consistent interview process, the squishy attribute “fit” becomes less important. But Rivera often hears pushback to this sort of assessment: “People always worry, ‘if we always hire on skill, we’ll hate the people we work with.’”

So, she says, “do that skills-based screening first, then bring people in for an interview to make sure they’re pleasant and respectful.”