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How to Avoid Making Biased Hiring Decisions

Posted by Jessica Miller-Merrell

biased hiring decisions

One of the hardest things to let go of, in all aspects of life, are the biases we develop over time. It happens naturally through our experiences, interactions, and relationships and it is almost inevitable. Since we each have a unique way of looking at life in general, we also each form assumptions and judgments about other people, creating a filter that changes how we view those around us. While it is commonplace to form these kinds of biases, the accompanying filter doesn’t always paint a picture that is accurate.

This is especially true when it comes to your company’s hiring practices. All too often, hiring decisions are based on bias and how we view a candidate, rather than on facts, skills, and ability. It’s a sad fact that good candidates sometimes don’t pass the test because someone forms a negative impression within the first few minutes of meeting them. Some may argue that these impressions and judgments are actually their instincts kicking in, and they should be listened to. But in most cases, they are just judgments, plain and simple. To avoid making bad hiring decisions by letting bias creep in, follow these four tips.

Identify Your Biases

Some of the most common reasons that candidates are subjected to bias are superficial things like the clothing they’re wearing; the way they speak; their age, sex, or race; or a perceived lack of confidence or arrogance. The problem with using these characteristics to judge the quality of a candidate is that they either have no bearing on job performance, when it comes to things like age, sex, or race, or they are things that can’t be possibly be assessed as quickly as the judgment is made, such as when someone seems to be arrogant. When you identify the factors that tend to be stumbling blocks for you, it’s easier to avoid making that judgment or inquiring about the trait.

Get to Know The Candidate Ahead of Time

To avoid making snap judgments about candidates the first time you meet them, get to know them ahead of time. You can do this through phone interviews, online skill assessments, speaking to their references, or requiring pre-interview assignments. All of these activities provide a more comprehensive view of the candidate that would be hard to get from a one-time meeting in person. When you’re face to face, it’s hard not to judge even simple things like a handshake, eye contact, and nervousness. Taking the time to do some research will also create a more accurate first impression, and it will prevent having the entire interview be tainted by either a good or bad impression.

Focus on the Facts, Not Feelings

If you’ve done any amount of hiring, you’ve likely heard and probably said things like, “I feel, “I think,” “he/she is not a good fit,” or “he/she would be a good team player.” The problem with all of these phrases is that they focus on opinions and feelings, not facts. While there is something to be said for instincts, especially those that have been honed and sharpened through years of experience, our feelings and thoughts are often misread as instincts. Instead of basing your decisions on instincts, focus on quantitative and measurable information, such as accomplishments, skills, experience, and education. Ask questions about these elements, and give them more weight than what you may think or feel.

Give It Time

Even when highly-trained HR professionals conduct interviews, the hiring decision is often made within the first five minutes of meeting a candidate. The problem here is obvious, but it still happens time and time again. To avoid making the mistake of deciding whether or not to hire someone without even speaking in-depth with him or her, put the 30-minute rule into practice. Determine ahead of time that you won’t form a yes or no opinion until after you’ve spent 30 minutes with the candidate. You still may not be able to give a definitive answer at that time, but you’ll at least have put off making an uninformed decision.

What are your tips for avoiding bias in interviews? Let us know in the comments section below.

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About Jessica Miller-Merrell

Author

Jessica is listed as the 2nd most influential recruiter online and as the 8th most powerful woman on Twitter. She is the author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, a how-to business guide for Twitter users. She also writes for a number of leading publications, including Fortune, HR Magazine, SmartBrief, and HR Executive Magazine.

6 COMMENTS Join the discussion
  • Preston Lundgren November, 11, 2013

    Snap decisions that you take when hiring somebody can be the most detrimental decisions you can take as a recruiter. Following your instincts can be both a good thing and a bad thing, and knowing when to make them is the trait of a great recruiter. But even great recruiters are just human and their feelings can interfere with making a great hire.

  • Jasmine Sargos November, 11, 2013

    With all the recruitment tools available to us recruiters, it’s becoming increasingly hard to make a poor hiring decision due to biased judgement. If there is one tip that I can offer people who fear making these decisions, I can only say use some sort of pre-employment testing tools that will allow you to paint a picture of the professional profile of the individual you assess, prior to the face to face interview, when your quick judgement can make a haste hiring decision.

  • Ryan Kosta November, 12, 2013

    Some of the best hiring decisions that I made were based on the impression that I made on the character of the person I was interviewing. Also some of the worst.
    Sometimes I simply ignore the results that I get from the technical interviews and I don’t hire the obvious choice. But I just can’t get over the impression that the candidate makes during the face to face interview. Still, it’s never the other way around. I never hire somebody that did great during the HR interview, but messes up badly during the technical skills assessments.
    That is because I really started to believe in hard numbers that pre-screening solutions offer. So if it’s not the first obvious choice, it’s most certainly the second one.

  • KT Connor, PhD November, 13, 2013

    You mentioned character. I wonder how many ways that is defined. Is it an intuitive sense you have, or is it motivation or ethics or altruism? It would be interesting to address that in a discussion.

  • Bob Gately November, 29, 2013

    Hello Jessica,

    Our clients tell us that before they began hiring for talent they would hire the best candidates. After hiring for talent they realize that they were hiring the wrong people about 80% of the time. Yes, they did hire competent employees who fit the culture but they were not hiring people who fit the job.

  • Lisa Cunningham December, 01, 2013

    We use a panel interview team which helps to eliminate individual biases and creating the opportunity to challenge any biases that do arise. We also use a hiring grid which drives focus to the key competencies and KSAs required for job performance.

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