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How To Limit Implicit Bias In Every Stage Of The Hiring Process

How to Limit Implicit Bias in Every Stage of the Hiring Process

Organizations need people to thrive.  Therefore, hiring is an essential part of any organization’s success.  However, leaders must ensure that the hiring process is truly fair for everyone.  Last year, the Harvard Business Review reported that the level of race-based hiring  discrimination has remained the same since 1990.  The Harvard Business Review also reported that African-American and Asian-American applicants who “whitened” their résumés by removing racial cues got more callbacks than those who did not.  These studies clearly demonstrate that bias in hiring is a problem.  But what can be done?

The problem is complex because the bias is not always evident.  The nation’s hiring managers do not (usually) single out people due to their race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.  While bias is sometimes plain, more often, managers’ actions are the result of implicit bias.  Fortunately, there are ways to limit implicit bias in each stage of the hiring process.


Limit Implicit Bias in the Job Search Process

Organizations must combat bias in the hiring process from the beginning.  Small mistakes in the recruitment process can limit the candidate pool.  Here are some ways organizations can avoid these mistakes.

  • Evaluate Your Job Descriptions for Bias

Years ago, newspapers their split job postings into “Help Wanted – Male” and “Help Wanted – Female” categories.  Though those days are long past, job descriptions can subtly let applicants know that they need not apply.  A recent study found that job postings that used certain words (“leader,” “dominant”) discouraged women from applying.  Before your job posting is issued, review it carefully for any signs of bias.

  •  Avoid the Lure of Employee Referrals

Employee referrals can be a valuable tool.  However, if they are not used carefully, they can reinforce bias.  If your workforce is mostly  white, straight, men, it’s likely that their referrals will share those qualities.   Therefore, employee referrals are not the best way to diversify your workforce.  This bias can be avoided by eliminating referral programs altogether, eliminating payments to employees who refer, or structuring the program to reward those who refer diverse candidates.


Limit Implicit Bias in the Candidate Selection Process

At this point, organizations must be careful to evaluate applicants’ materials with an unbiased eye.  Here are some ways to limit implicit bias during this stage.

  • Use Blind Résumés

A few years ago, a study found that people named Emily and Greg were more likely to be hired than people named Lakisha and Jamal.  A more recent study found that hiring managers sometimes exclude people who have longer commutes.  To prevent these issues, hiring personnel should remove all identifying information from résumés before they are reviewed.

  • Use a Team

When one person is responsible for hiring decisions, there is no one to bring her biases to her attention.  However, when a team works together to evaluate résumés, no one person’s bias will carry the day.  As such, hiring committees should be used whenever possible.  However, a hiring committee’s value is diminished if the committee is not diverse.  Ideally, the decision-making team should have multiple diverse representatives.


Limit Implicit Bias in the Interview Process

According to psychologists, people decide whether they like someone within ten seconds.  While this is not necessarily a bad thing, when implicit biases come into play, a person’s impression of someone – especially someone from another culture – can be flawed.  Luckily, there are ways to limit implicit bias during interviews.

  • Use Standardized Interview Questions

In a traditional interview, the conversation is free-flowing.  However, this format does not evaluate a candidate’s skills and qualifications. Because skills are not being assessed, interviewers can fill in the gaps by rating people based on their feelings and biases.  To combat this problem, each candidate should be asked the same questions in the same order.  Asking each person the same questions reduces the opportunity for bias to sneak into the process.

  • Use a Rubric to Evaluate Candidates

In addition to asking each person the same questions, the committee should assess each candidate using the same criteria.  Implicit bias often causes people to disfavor those who are different.  Using a standard rubric or score sheet will force team members to use the same criteria.  No one will be able to jettison an employee simply because they don’t think she’s a “good fit.”  Moreover, the score sheet should not allow evaluators to simply provide a number.  They should have to explain the reasons for their decision.  Asking committee members to justify their decisions will hopefully force any implicit biases out into the open.


Limit Implicit Bias in the Hiring Decision and Beyond

Every successful job search ends with a hire.  Even if diverse candidates have survived thus far, implicit bias can prevent them from being chosen.  Some of the skills already discussed in the prior stages, such as using a team and using rubrics, will apply here as well.

  • Set Hiring Goals

When an organization sets a diversity goal, it drives the hiring committee’s process.  A diversity goal will cause a team to rethink the tendency to hire the same types of people over and over.  Moreover, it counters any implicit biases by forcing the team to consider differences as a positive.

  • Discuss Implicit Biases – Explicitly

Before a team makes a final decision, they should openly discuss any potential biases.  Doing so will ensure that they are evaluating the candidates fairly based on merit, not on bias.  While this step is particularly helpful at the hiring stage, it can be used at any stage of the hiring process.


Every candidate deserves to be evaluated on their abilities, not their background.  To learn more about limiting implicit bias in hiring and other areas, please enroll in the Equity Toolkit e-courses.  The Equity Toolkit is an interactive, four-course online series containing essential, research-based concepts on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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