Yael Silverstein ’07BC ’13BUS

Yael Silverstein

Yael Silverstein ’07BC ’13BUS

Hiring the Right People: How to Reduce Hiring Bias

If you’ve ever had to hire for an open position, chances are you’re familiar with the feeling of wanting the role filled yesterday. However, there is a reason for the first part of that famous phrase “hire slow.” Hiring the wrong person can have disastrous effects.

Not only does turnover cost companies significant amounts of money with replacement estimates for senior hires costing employers up to 213% of salaries, but making a bad hire can have a negative impact on company morale that is long-lasting and far-reaching.

Have you ever hired someone because you had a “good gut feeling” or you just inexplicably “felt it was right”? If so, irrespective of if that specific hire worked out, you’re guilty of decision-making bias.

You’re in good company! Even trained interviewers are guilty of bias. In fact, a 2000 study from the University of Toledo confirmed that the first impressions made in the first 10 seconds of an interview could predict the hiring outcome.

As humans, we’re programmed to make quick judgments and decisions through a series of mental shortcuts known as heuristics or biases. The more complex the decision, the more we rely on these shortcuts. Making judgments on people, such as with hiring, is quite complex, and we often see these shortcuts arise.

Some of the most common ways that bias sneaks into hiring are below:

  1. Similarity attraction effect: When we find ourselves drawn to candidates with shared interests or experiences. Gravitating towards similar people is a common human tendency, but it does not translate to improved hiring.
  2. The halo effect: When we like one thing about a person (perhaps they are well-dressed or charming), we tend to overestimate his/her skills or abilities in other areas.
  3. Confirmation bias: I see this one the most with trained interviewers who often become enamored with candidates based on application materials. Confirmation bias will “lead you to hone in on information confirming that conclusion, which is why this bias often contributes to inconsistent and/or leading interview questions” (Loehrke, “3 common hiring biases and how to overcome them, ” The Business Journals, January 22, 2018).

Evidence shows that “trusting your gut” does not lead to better hiring results.

Luckily, it isn’t hard or expensive to incorporate evidence-based research into a few tweaks and hacks to create a structured, intentionally designed hiring process that is fair, objective, and more accurate.

Before you tackle hiring, you want to make sure your company has done the following pre-work:

  1. Is your executive team aligned on what diversity means to your organization? The definition of diversity can be broad, going far beyond obvious demographic representation, and 70% of companies have not defined it.
  2. Is your company inclusive? Reducing hiring bias can have a positive effect on increasing diversity, but hiring diverse employees is all for nothing if your culture isn’t inclusive enough to make them want to stay.
  3. Consider investing in an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) with strong data and analysis toolsMeasure outcomes to ensure accountability.
  4. Ensure you have a strong hiring pipeline. Your selection process will only be as strong and diverse as the candidates in your recruitment process.

Ok, now we’re ready to improve your hiring process:

  1. Kick it off right: The more time you invest up front with all decision-makers, the more likely there will be alignment throughout. The hiring kickoff should include discussions of a) the job description that will be posted and how accurately it reflects the components needed to be successful in the role, and b) who will be involved in the hiring process and how (not only defining the roles, but determining who has decision-making authority).
  2. Consider “blinding” resumes: One of the best ways to reduce bias is removing personally identifiable information from the resumes of applicants including their name, gender, age.
  3. Create a score card: Reduce gut decisions and facilitate more objective discussions amongst disagreeing interviewers by creating a ratings score card. Use the job requirements listed in the job description and a numeric rating scale (for example 1- strongly disagree, 2-disagree, 3-agree, 4- strongly agree). Train interviewers to use ratings and note what they heard in the interview that led them to each assessment. When interviewers disagree, use the ratings to facilitate a discussion based on a shared understanding of the skills and competencies required to be successful in the role, not on gut feelings.
  4. Use a coordinator to move candidates through the process: Hiring managers may feel rushed to fill positions and have some of the common biases after meeting candidates. Utilize an objective coordinator (who doesn’t meet the candidates) to collate the ratings and input from various interviewers, and serve as a more objective partner for hiring managers.
  5. Leverage skills assessments: When it comes to the validity of job performance predictors, very few things prove to have correlation. One predictor with positive correlation is a skills assessment that mimics the type of work required in the role. Don’t be afraid to have candidates complete such assignments early in the process to remove unqualified candidates, or later on to differentiate between top choices.
  6. Only use structured interviews: Another valid job predictor is the structured interview. This requires employee education, but it is well worth the effort. First, decide on the goals of the interview – what you are trying to learn from different stages in the process. Then, pick an interview type to match – my favorites are screening calls early in the process and then top-grading and scenario-based interviews for semi-finalists. Make sure interviewers are trained on consistency for apples-to-apples comparisons, how to listen to what candidates are not saying, and how to use open-ended questions instead of leading ones.
  7. Ensure time for candidates’ questions: Finding the right fit means that a candidate has to be as excited about your organization as you are about him/her. And, that excitement has to endure long after he/she is hired as an employee. To ensure candidates don’t feel as if they’ve been sold a bill of goods, make sure to leave ample time at the end of interviews for the candidates’ questions, be open about organizational/team/role challenges, and do not oversell the role.
  8. Beware of reference checks: It comes as a surprise to most people, but there is actually a very low predictive correlation between a candidate’s reference checks and success on the job. Why is that? No one wants to give a bad reference. However, reference checks can still be useful. A few tips to get the most out of reference calls: first, listen to what is not said. I often ask former managers to rate the candidate on a scale of 1-10. If it’s not a 9 or a 10, I need to find out why (on occasion an 8 can be good, but a 7 or below is the kiss of death). Another tip is to share what a candidate has said, for example, “John mentioned that you once gave him constructive feedback on X, could you tell me more about that?” By giving the reference safe cover without the fear of revealing anything the candidate hasn’t already revealed, you can put the reference at ease.

Hiring doesn’t have to be stressful – and you don’t have to have a giant HR team, sophisticated systems, or a massive budget to ensure you’re using best practices. Incorporate the tweaks above into your existing process to create a positive experience for candidates and interviewers that effectively reduces hiring bias.

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