Minimize Bias To Avoid Costly Hiring Decisions

hiring bias, selection methodologySince the pandemic began, unemployment has fallen from a high of 14.7% to the lowest level, 5.2% (Sept. 3, 2021), leaving companies struggling to fill jobs. Desperation to hire quickly and natural human biases can cloud judgment and lead to a costly hiring mistake.

“Bias” is a complex word – it can be negative, positive, conscious, unconscious, and bias is deliberately used in marketing, (advertising attempts to create positive bias for their product and negative bias for competition) is studied in science dealing with things (“That configuration of battery parts shows a bias towards explosions”) and of course biases have been thoroughly researched in graduate programs in psychology and sociology.

In hiring, Silicon Valley companies have strong biases toward hiring brilliant technical people, for example, which is a good thing … unless companies do not make allowances for people in protected classes who don’t fit the “traditional” profile.  For this article, we refer to bias as negative bias, whether conscious or unconscious, that can lead to inaccurate conclusions about a candidate’s potential to be a high performer and their fit for the role. Minimizing bias in the hiring process is one important step in improving the quality of hires and avoiding costly mistakes.

Research shows that the attribution bias of hiring managers can negatively impact the outcome of a candidate search. It is usually unconscious and can affect an individual’s judgment because conclusions are drawn about a person’s potential based on their appearance, gender, race, socioeconomic status, educational background, disabilities, criminal record, etc… As you know, there has been a growing awareness that hiring in the stereotypical image of the past can be unfair, denying companies quality hires and denying individuals with potential to reach those potentials.

We all have inherent biases based on our past experiences. An assumption that a candidate would be a good fit based on shared interests (like being a fan of the same sports team) or similar experiences (like being in the same fraternity) can be harmful.  This is not to say that relationship building, sales, and teambuilding should exclude looking for common ground and similarity in background.  Instead, it means it is smart and fair to recognize reasons for liking or bonding with a person, and that liking or bonding should not exclude others lacking that commonality when it comes to hiring or promoting people.

hiring biasAnd bias has been proven to lead a person to assume an employee’s performance – both past and future – is due to personal factors, like a lack of ability, rather than environmental factors, like a demeaning and cutthroat organization culture. These assumptions are not facts and could lead to missed opportunities or bad hiring decisions. For example, years ago females were assumed by many to lack the skills to be good pilots, an assumption that has proven totally untrue.

In the case of a hiring manager feeling pressured to fill a vacancy, they may attribute positive characteristics to a candidate who may not otherwise be a strong prospect. The pressure to hire someone quickly could cause the manager to gloss over negative information and spotlight positive information to feel better about the rapid hiring decision.

This leads to incorrect conclusions about future performance – at a cost.

If we don’t know we are doing it – how can we prevent it?

A successful hiring process and methodology will norm data to reduce bias on the human-end by minimizing the opportunity for gut reactions and organizing data to accurately predict behaviors and outcomes.

Ways to eliminate bias and improve hiring include:

Use A Structured And Standardized Interview Process And Selection Methodology

Make sure all candidates are being asked the same questions relating to the key competencies for the job.  Stay transparent and give everyone the same advantage during selection and interviewing to remove inherent bias from the process. This has the added bonus of limiting candidate deception from sharing what they think you want to hear with rehearsed scripts of their own.

Have A Balanced And Diverse Interview Panel

With a diverse mix of genders, ages and cultures on the interview panel you will limit inherent bias, uncover problematic pieces of the interview process and eliminate the “gut decisions” that can be detrimental. Unfortunately, having 5 or 6 interviewers participating in an interview at the same time, though very diverse, can lead to interview chaos:  it’s a “pile on” that can intimidate interviewees, and follow-up questions can be so random that clear conclusions are harder to achieve.  A variation of the panel interview is …

Use Two Interviewers

Have a panel of, say, 7 potential interviewers and for any single interview the hiring manager can be paired with a panel member of a different background than the hiring manager – this can minimize bias.

Use Universal Language In Job Descriptions

Words matter – and the words used in job descriptions could prevent top talent from applying if job descriptions indicate bias. Avoid gender-bias words such as assertive, ninja, chairman, sensitive, nurturing or polite and replace with words like motivated, chairperson, courteous or customer-oriented.

Focus On Patterns, Not Just Isolated Examples Of Competencies

Chronological interviews, starting with education years and progressing through every full-time job, and then discussing future goals, is an interview methodology that captures the most examples of initiative, drive, effectiveness with people, and dozens of other key competencies.  The chronological interview gives protected groups unparalleled opportunities to show how they succeeded despite bias.  The chronological interview is the method that gives all candidates the best opportunity to tell their career stories.

Evaluate Hiring Results, From A Diversity Point Of View

Leading companies have had diversity training for decades … though with mixed results, perhaps because interviewers do not receive critical feedback on their interviewing technique.  With Topgrading, tandem interviewers are trained to, after each chronological interview, give each other feedback on what they did well and not so well.  The is a powerful way to help interviewers realize if they worded questions, particularly follow-up questions (not in an interview guide), using inappropriate terms.

Eliminating bias doesn’t mean eliminating humans.

Eliminating bias in the hiring process does not mean the removal of all human elements or becoming strictly robotic. Humans are naturally skilled at predicting outcomes by detecting patterns. Getting candidates to tell detailed stories about high points and low points, chronologically, throughout their career reveals patterns of behavior, allowing interviewers to make accurate predictions of future performance and fit in the organizational culture.

Allowing a candidate to tell their story in a conversational style instead of with short-answer options leads to a more engaging experience and connection during the interview process.  Storytelling is shown to appeal to all learning types and is 20 times more likely to be remembered accurately. Candidates have the opportunity to shine and hiring teams will come away with a truer sense of the candidate’s ability to fit in the company culture and into the job role.

A lack of specific experience isn’t necessarily a negative mark for a candidate – their history of performing in new, first time situations (indicating the ability to learn and adapt quickly) and patterns of behavior (resourcefulness, initiative, drive, etc.) can predict their potential for success in the role they have applied for.

Take the first step to improve your hiring success

If your organization is plagued by costly hiring mistakes, it is time to reevaluate the hiring process and methodology that is failing. As a first step, examine how bias is affecting the system and find ways to eliminate it – and ultimately improve the quality of hires and retain top talent.


The Topgrading tools and processes together are a proven hiring methodology for recruiting, hiring and developing high performing teams. Hire more A players and decrease the number of mis-hires with Topgrading.  Contact us to learn more about the Topgrading hiring process and start achieving better hiring results now!

Scroll to Top