Nobody likes to think that they are biased – least of all trained recruitment professionals. Yet research shows that humans are hardwired to have subconscious biases, much the same way as the brain likes to find patterns in chaos or tries to make sense of random events. So how does subconscious bias affect the hiring process, and what can you do to mitigate it?

We hire people like us
Behavioural science has shown that we hire people like ourselves. Recruiters may positively favour a candidate who dresses or speaks in a similar way, shares their experiences and interests, or expresses similar views, for example.

As well as preferring candidates who are similar to them or someone they know, recruiters can also feel more comfortable hiring candidates who are like people they’ve employed previously.

While it’s important to find a candidate who is a good ‘fit’ for the organisation, the most dynamic teams have a mix of different personality types (as Belbin’s research has shown) and hiring ‘more of the same’ can be a costly mistake for the company’s productivity.

Even if it’s impossible to avoid subconscious bias, there are things you can do to mitigate the risk and help ensure your HR team is hiring from a diverse pool of candidates.

1.  Anonymise CVs
It’s not just interviews where bias can occur. One study in the US took identical CVs and gave one a traditionally white name (for example Jane) and the other a traditionally black name (for example Lakisha). The CVs with white names received twice as many call backs.

There is also evidence to show that both sexes still favour men over equally-qualified women when it comes to hiring, compensation and promotion.

An obvious first step is to avoid asking for information on the CV that could bias the hiring manager, such as names and addresses, before scoring CVs or application forms. In addition to anonymising CVs, it’s been shown that grouping CVs together to compare them, rather than scoring them individually, can help to limit bias.

2. Ask everyone the same questions
Bias can creep in when interviewers ask questions as they occur to them. Firstly, the questions they ask may be to unconsciously re-affirm their first impression of the candidate (which can be formed in the first four minutes of meeting). In addition, recruiters who have lots of candidates to see may only recall what was said at the end of the interview.

3. Focus on performance indicators
As well as helping to avoid bias, structured interviews have been shown to predict future job performance better than unstructured ones.

Before seeing candidates, spend time defining the key predictors of performance and make sure these are posed to candidates in the same way. Questions should be related to performance on the job – either what candidates have done previously or how they’d respond in specific situations.

4. Interviews should be about fact finding
To help avoid making hasty decisions, the interview should be treated as an information-gathering exercise, rather one of judgement-making. Keep the interview focused on fact finding and only score candidates when you can compare answers like-for-like.

5. Implement tests
There’s a good reason why so many companies today use competency and psychometric testing as part of their selection process. Tests allow for the capture of data, which can be easily ranked and compared. However, it is human nature for candidates to want to give the perceived ‘right’ answer, rather than necessarily a truthful one, so tests are only one part of the picture.

6. Get outside training
Finally, consider working with an outside recruitment agency who can offer tailor-made training. At Delisle-Barrow, we take a strategic look at a company’s growth and projected future employment needs and then analyse the jobs and skills required before relaying this to a set of interview questions.

We also coach hiring managers on the five key skills of exceptional candidates – and how to determine which of these are needed for a particular role.

Having a thoroughly researched set of questions supplied by an independent agency is one of the best ways to avoid interview bias – and ensure you are hiring the best people.