Unbiased Projections: The Key to Anticipating Candidate Success with Precision

Last updated Nov 4, 2023
  • Predictive biases in candidate evaluations arise from unclear guidelines and inherent human tendencies, leading to stereotype-based decisions.
  • Biases like contrast, cultural noise, first impressions, and others can skew hiring fairness.
  • Combat biases by raising awareness, revising job descriptions, blind résumé reviews, standardized interviews, and promoting diversity objectives.
  • Assessment centres offer objective evaluations through job-related exercises to predict performance and guide hiring.

Organizations today need help finding candidates with the necessary skills, qualities, and potential to succeed. Predicting a candidate’s future performance is critical for informed hiring decisions and long-term success. Unfortunately, traditional candidate evaluation methods are prone to biases that can lead to inaccurate predictions and further unfair practices.

Studies by Emilio Castillo, a professor of management at MIT Sloan School of Management, showed that unclear evaluation guidelines can lead to bias. Studies indicate that in the absence of clear criteria, individuals tend to rely on stereotypes based on factors such as gender and race when making decisions.

Biases are inherent to human nature. According to the University of Washington, we instinctively create categories or compartments in our minds to comprehend and navigate the complexities of our daily lives. 

These mental categories manifest as generalizations, stereotypes, attitudes, and associations. They are influenced by our beliefs, values, and personal experiences and frequently influence our interactions within social and professional spheres.

Types of Biases

Bias can manifest in different ways during candidate evaluations. The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and the University of Washington listed the types of biases, these are:

Contrast Bias

This type of bias occurs when an interviewer engages in an inappropriate comparison of candidates to a single candidate. When one candidate is notably weak, this can create a misleading perception of other candidates as more qualified than they are.

Cultural Noise Bias

Cultural Noise Bias arises when candidates respond to questions based on the information they believe will increase their chances of securing the job. They tend to tailor their answers to what the interviewer wants to hear. 

For example, a candidate who has primarily worked as an individual contributor may claim to prefer working in a team setting during an interview.

First Impression Bias

First Impression Bias occurs when candidates are evaluated primarily based on the initial moments of the interview. This bias can lead to judgments being formed quickly and disproportionately impacting the overall assessment. 

For instance, if a candidate appears nervous and stutters during the first few minutes of the interview, they might be perceived as less qualified, even if they demonstrate composure and articulate themselves well for the rest of the interview.

Similar to Me Bias

Similar to Me Bias occurs when a candidate shares interests or characteristics with the interviewer, leading the interviewer to overlook negative aspects of the candidate. 

The interviewer may prioritize personal connections over the candidate’s qualifications in such cases. For example, an interviewer who played college football might favor a candidate with a similar background, even if they are not the most qualified for the position.

Stereotyping Bias

Stereotyping Bias emerges when an interviewer makes assumptions about a candidate’s traits solely based on their membership in a particular group. 

This bias can lead to unfair judgments and limitations placed on candidates. 

For example, an interviewer may wrongly assume that a woman would be incapable of effectively performing a job that involves frequent lifting of packages weighing 50 pounds.

Halo Effect Bias

Halo Effect Bias arises when an interviewer positively evaluates a candidate based on a single notable characteristic. This bias can lead to overlooking other relevant factors in the assessment process. 

For instance, a candidate’s self-confident attitude might overshadow their lack of experience in a specific requirement, causing the interviewer to overlook this deficiency and potentially inflate their overall evaluation.

Gut Feeling Bias

Gut Feeling Bias occurs when the interviewer relies on their intuition to determine whether a candidate is a good or bad fit for a position without considering whether the individual’s qualifications align with the established criteria. 

In simpler terms, it is when the interviewer’s gut feeling overrides objective evaluation based on qualifications and job requirements. 

For example, during an interview, everything may seem right on paper, and the candidate may give all the correct answers, but the interviewer’s gut tells them that something is not quite right.

Harshness Bias/Horn Effect

Harshness Bias, also known as the Horn Effect, occurs when an interviewer assesses a candidate negatively based on a single characteristic. 

This bias can lead to lower overall ratings due to the rater’s higher personal standards or a dislike for the candidate unrelated to the interview. 

Additionally, this bias may arise if the rater needs a clearer understanding of the specific areas being evaluated.

Leniency Bias

Leniency Bias occurs when an interviewer tends to be overly lenient towards a candidate, giving them higher ratings than they truly deserve. 

This bias can be influenced by factors such as a personal liking for the candidate, reluctance to assign low scores without sufficient justification, or a lack of understanding of the evaluated areas. 

As a result, most candidates may receive outstanding ratings that are inflated beyond their actual performance.

Institutional Bias

Institutional bias refers to the norms, practices, procedures, and policies within an organization that create an environment of inclusion and belonging for the dominant social groups while marginalizing and isolating those who are underrepresented in the workforce. 

This bias can be observed in various aspects, such as developing evaluation criteria or job postings. 

For example, it may manifest by including an advanced degree as a “desired qualification” when it may not be necessary or by specifically seeking applicants with knowledge of a particular institution’s systems.

In simpler terms, institutional bias refers to systemic practices that favor certain groups and can create barriers for those who are underrepresented.

Explicit Bias

Explicit bias refers to our conscious attitudes, preferences, and generalizations towards others. 

These deliberate biases arise from personal beliefs, values, and life experiences. 

They often stem from a desire to associate with people who are similar to us. 

In the context of resume review, explicit bias can be seen when we intentionally choose to interview only candidates from prestigious schools or when we purposefully reject qualified candidates who do not possess a degree.

Implicit bias

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes, preferences, and generalizations we hold towards others that operate subconsciously and are beyond our conscious control. 

These biases can manifest without our awareness, similar to running on auto-pilot. They can conflict with our stated beliefs and values. 

Even if we strive to have a fair and unbiased hiring process, these hidden biases can negatively influence our screening and selection decisions.

Candidate evaluations can be influenced by various biases, such as contrast, cultural noise, first impression, similar to me, stereotyping, halo effect, gut feeling, harshness, leniency, and institutional, explicit, and implicit biases. 

These biases can lead to unfair evaluations that ignore qualifications and create hiring inequalities. 

Acknowledging and tackling these biases is important to ensure fair and unbiased assessments based only on merit, skills, and relevant attributes, rather than irrelevant factors or preconceived notions.

But how can we address these biases?

To audit and mitigate bias in the hiring process, it is important to ask critical questions and challenge assumptions. 

Assess why you perceive an applicant in a certain way and consider the influence of norms and assumptions. Ensure that conclusions are evidence-based and backed by relevant information. 

Consider diverse perspectives and consider candidates who may bring unfamiliar or unexpected qualities. Compare candidates against objective criteria rather than relying solely on experience. 

Recognize the impact of institutional bias on defining merit and excellence.

Additionally, consider the concept of culture adds, emphasizing the value that diverse backgrounds and perspectives can bring to your team and department. 

Implementing these measures can promote a more fair and inclusive hiring process.

Tips on Reducing Bias in Your Hiring Process

Unconscious biases, including racism, ageism, and sexism, significantly impact hiring decisions. Recognizing and reducing these biases is crucial for promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace. 

According to experts like Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School, and Iris Bohnet, director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, managers and teams can start by raising awareness of these biases and their effects. 

They can implement strategies such as de-biasing practices and procedures, challenging assumptions and stereotypes, and actively seeking diverse perspectives and talent. 

Organizations can foster a more equitable and inclusive work environment by taking these steps.

The following are some tips on reducing bias in the hiring process:

1. Strive to Comprehend

To address biases in hiring, managers should seek to understand what biases are and how they affect the process. This involves providing education and training to employees to raise awareness about unconscious biases and help them recognize their own biases. 

By fostering an organizational conversation about biases, managers can encourage discussions and generate ideas on the organization’s steps to minimize biases. The goal is to simplify and standardize the hiring process while promoting awareness and actions to mitigate biases.

2. Consider Revising Your Job Description

Reworking job descriptions is an important step in reducing biases in the hiring process. Even subtle word choices can have a significant impact on the application pool. 

Research shows that using masculine language can deter women from applying, while more collaborative and cooperative language attracts more women. 

Using software programs to identify and replace gendered words can help create more inclusive job listings. 

The objective is to try out various vocabulary options and see how they impact the pool of candidates in order to gain insights and enhance the recruitment procedure.

3. Go blind for the résumé review

It is important to implement a blind process when reviewing résumés to reduce biases. This means not considering demographic characteristics and focusing only on the qualifications and talents of the candidates. 

Doing so helps create a more fair and equal recruitment process. Employing software programs that eliminate personal identifiers can aid in conducting a fair and methodical assessment of job and CV submissions. 

Such an approach enhances the likelihood of selecting the most suitable candidates and identifying untapped talents. Designing and implementing the anonymous review process beforehand decreases the chances of any partiality influencing the assessment.

4. Implement a Work Sample Test

Work sample tests are highly effective in assessing future job performance. These tests involve giving candidates tasks that resemble the work they will be doing. 

Employers can compare and calibrate their judgment by evaluating work samples from multiple applicants. 

Work-related problem-solving and skill tests provide valuable insights and help employers focus on a candidate’s work quality rather than biases based on appearance, gender, age, or personality.

Today more and more companies are incorporating assessment tests into their hiring and recruitment processes to distinguish better the best candidate, which can be difficult to judge in an interview alone. Assessment centres can be an integral part of the recruitment process.

What is an assessment centre?

It is not a location. It can be called an event, a methodology, or a process in itself, in which participants go through a variety of job-related exercises and real-life work-based scenarios while trained assessors and hiring managers evaluate their behaviors and test results. Many HR professionals view assessment tests as an unbiased way to predict a candidate’s future performance.

Assessment centres are usually used after the initial stages of the selection process because of the large amount of time and expense in conducting them. They usually follow the initial job interview. They can also be deployed for evaluating people for internal promotion or selection.

Assessments can last anywhere from half a day to two or three full days. They may occur at the employer’s training facilities or at a third-party venue like a hotel.

It is a data-centric process providing objective, standardized information to organizations about employees’ abilities. It’s easy to become subjective in the interview process. 

Hiring managers can be won over by how certain candidates sell themselves in an interview, but are they suitable for performance? Many interviewers have said they went with their “gut feeling,” but sometimes that gut feeling may be wrong.

It can be argued that hiring assessments help employers maintain a business mentality. They can help pinpoint people with the right skills rather than those who are just smooth talkers. 

Furthermore, resumes can be tested. Certainly, anyone could write a particular skill down, but how does one know if they are accurate?

What happens during an assessment centre?

Here are some examples:

  • Leaderless Group Discussion – involves candidates working as part of a team to resolve a presented issue. These exercises measure interpersonal skills such as group leadership, teamwork, negotiation, and group problem-solving.
  • Role Playing – candidates are to act out a given real-life work-based scenario where the assessors can view their responses to problems that may arise and how they would handle them.
  • Presentations – each candidate is given a topic or a choice of topics and asked to present for around five to ten minutes, with time at the end for questions. It is designed to measure a candidate’s research and presentation skills, including their ability to organize and structure information and communicate their points clearly and concisely.
  • Q & A Panel Reviews – regarded as a more objective means of assessing a candidate’s suitability because the interview involves three to five people on the panel. Hence, the decision is not dependent on just one person’s opinion.
  • In-tray or in-basket exercises – Similar to role-play, candidates are asked to assume a particular role as an employee of a fictitious company and work through an in-tray. In this in-tray are different types of internal problems in written form (such as emails etc.) that a candidate may need to deal with during a normal workday. The exercise measures their ability to organize and prioritize their workload.
Points to be aware of:
  • Assessment tests shouldn’t replace the traditional interview, as nothing can replace a face­ to-face interaction. Rather, assessment results should be one of many pieces of information used by expert decision-makers to help collect the data they need to make accurate predictions.
  • Employers shouldn’t expect any test or procedure to measure a personal trait or ability perfectly for everyone. Nor should they be 100% dependent on any test or procedure to predict future performance accurately.
  • Assessment may not provide a summary of a candidate’s past accomplishments or achievements, nor can it reference the candidate’s past work history. However, it can provide insight into a candidate’s personality, behavioral traits, and how they rate with other existing top talent in your organization.

5. Standardize Your Interview Process

Standardizing interviews is crucial for reliable job prediction. Unstructured interviews need to have defined questions and assess job success. 

In contrast, structured interviews with the same questions minimize bias and allow employers to focus on performance-related factors. 

A predetermined scale is used to grade candidates’ responses during interviews to ensure fairness. This helps to maintain objectivity and makes the interview a separate, unbiased data point in the hiring process.

6. Consider the Likability of the Candidate (if it matters to you)

Likability can influence interview outcomes, as first impressions and personal connections play a role. 

However, this bias towards natural chemistry or common interests should be monitored. Assessing likability during the hiring process is a challenging question. 

Employers need to determine if it matters to them and assign it a score along with other skills to maintain control and objectivity.

7. Establish Objectives to Promote Diversity

Setting diversity goals is valuable as it brings attention to the issue and its importance in organizations. 

However, it’s important to approach the topic carefully to avoid potential controversies or backlash. 

Data can help gain support, as research shows that diversity offers significant business advantages. 

Tracking progress against diversity goals at the end of each hiring process helps keep diversity and equality a priority throughout the company.

Final Thoughts

It is crucial to raise awareness of unconscious biases and their impact to reduce bias in the hiring process. 

Strategies such as educating on biases, revising job descriptions to use inclusive language, implementing blind résumé reviews, conducting work sample tests, standardizing interviews, and considering likability with caution can help mitigate bias. 

Additionally, setting diversity goals and tracking progress against them promotes a more inclusive work environment supported by data-driven decision-making.

Do you use assessments in the hiring process in your organization? How do you balance the results of these assessments with what your managers observe post-recruitment and/or experience in the initial face-to-face interviews?

By: Curran Daly + Associates


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