Unconscious bias ‘skews interview process’

Recruitment processes are often heavily skewed by a number of unconscious biases on the part of those hiring, according to a new report from the Chartered Institute of Professional Development.

The report, A Head for Hiring: The Behavioural Science of Recruitment, shows that employers’ initial perceptions of whether a person will be a good fit can be determined by factors which have no real impact on performance, including visual, cultural, demographic and situational factors. For example, both male and female managers tend to favour men over women in hiring decisions and tend to hire ‘Mini-Me’s’, people like ourselves in terms of hobbies, experiences and how we dress/present ourselves at interview.

What position in the interview line you are in also influences success, says the report. It says the time taken to make a recruitment decision often increases for the first few candidates, but can drop as soon as the fourth, at which point confirmation bias or ‘selective hearing’ can come into play.

It adds that identical CVs seem to get more call-backs when the applicant is typically deemed to have a ‘white’ name as opposed to one that can obviously be associated with an ethnic minority group.

It says potential biases can stem from a need to justify a choice once it has been made or from wanting to avoid the perceived risk of hiring someone who is different to the norm and it adds that open-ended interviews can lead to different participants being asked different questions to unconsciously re-affirm initial impressions.

It adds that even physical factors – such as the weight of clipboard that a CV is presented on, or how warm an interviewer feels – can affect how a candidate is rated in their overall assessment.

Jonny Gifford, Research Adviser at the CIPD, said: “So many recruitment decisions are based on a ‘gut instinct’ or what feels intuitively right, and this is a real problem. We like to think we can spot talent, but insights from behavioural science show that our decision-making is actually highly prone to ‘sloppy thinking’ and bias. Even highly trained assessors make systematically different decisions depending on the time of day and their ‘cognitive load’ or ‘brain-strain’ at that point in time. Regardless of the level of resources and techniques one has to work with, there are steps that employers and recruiters can take to ensure that candidates get a fair recruitment experience and that employers find the person that best fits the role and can drive business performance.”

The report has a list of recommendations, for instance, that employers test the wording of job adverts to see how it affects who applies before job interviews and anonymise CVs when reviewing them; spread
interviewes and decisions across days but keep other conditions like the room, the questions and even the refreshments similar at interview and use the same job-focused interview questions for each candidates; and stick to what the scores suggest for a final decision after interview.

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