One thing is clear: Building diversity in the company has only advantages. For example, diverse teams are up to 36% more likely to be profitable than average (McKinsey, 2015). Diverse companies are more attractive places to work and are preferred by applicants (Daugherty & Chowdhury, 2019). In addition, 78% of employees consider it more important to work in a diverse environment than to receive a higher salary (Stepstone, 2020). More diversity significantly improves the relationship with employees. Retention, motivation and loyalty are increased, while fluctuation (job changes) is actively counteracted (Chamberlain, 2016).
Recruiting (HR) is the key place to build more diversity in the company. This lays the foundation for sustainable corporate success.
Effective personnel selection therefore means identifying the right candidates based on the factors that really lead to job satisfaction and success (Kersting & Ott, 2016). Irrelevant characteristics, such as age, gender, and social or ethnic origin, should be left aside. This is the only way to create successful teams that reflect the society in which they operate, and this has an impact on various facets of company success, such as product performance, customer loyalty, reputation, etc.
One obstacle on this path is the so-called unconscious bias. This term encompasses “unconscious cognitive biases and other faulty tendencies in perception, memory, and judgment” (Wondrak, 2014). They lie dormant in the subconscious of all of us because they are simply our brain’s solution to our complex daily lives (Tolstoy-Miller, 2017). Particularly known in HR as the gut feeling that people are only too happy to rely on. This is based on information that is already known, and mistakenly simply considers the current state to be particularly convenient and desirable. This approach simply no longer works in today’s working world, where agile companies are constantly faced with new challenges and have to adapt quickly to changes (Wondrak, 2014).
Successful HR leaders, then, do not simply accept their gut feelings without reflection, but actively engage with cognitive biases that can influence theirs. In short, you make yourself aware of the unconscious, and that is the first step in the right direction. Because awareness and reflection are the most important mechanisms, which are in our own hands. Knowing patterns means being able to expose them, so below we’ve broken down the 10 most common types of unconscious bias in recruiting.
To err is human – The limits of human judgment lead to cognitive biases that are often repetitive in their patterns. Especially in the recruiting process, these occur more frequently and, in the worst case, lead to expensive bad-hires. To avoid that, we’ve broken down the 10 most relevant Unconscious Bias types here.
The cognitive bias starts with the first impression. This can be positive or negative, in any case it has a strong influence on the overall assessment. An opinion is formed that is difficult to change. Even contrary information often fails to change the image of the candidate (Voß, 2014). The so-called “primacy effect” means that one remembers previously incoming information more strongly than the information that follows it. Therefore, the initial impression gained is difficult to overturn (Brueggen et al., 2016).
This bias is based on the tendency to infer overall performance from one aspect of good or poor performance. The impression gained about a person then influences how one views their overall character (Agarwal, 2018). So the name says it all here. A separate characteristic of a person influences the whole perception of his personality. Depending on how this characteristic is subjectively assessed, it either outshines or overshadows the overall impression gained. This means that a halo or devil’s horns are figuratively hovered over the person’s head, thereby forming a hasty judgment (Voß, 2014).
Similar to the halo effect, the overall impression of a person is inferred from a characteristic that is perceived as positive. The benchmark here is the resemblance to oneself, which is why it is also referred to as the “mini-me effect” (Voß, 2014). People who are similar to oneself automatically appear more likeable and one tends to attribute positive characteristics to them (Agarwal, 2018). This mechanism is based on the illusion that people already know each other well and can therefore assess the other person well. So, one is more likely to be attracted to people who, for example, are the same age, have the same nationality, a similar career, or the same sexual identity (Sans, 2020).
This bias particularly influences selection decisions that are supposedly out of the ordinary. It is the tendency to prefer the current state of affairs to any change. This is based on the phenomenon that the status quo is perceived as good and desirable – simply because it already exists (Eidelman & Crandall, 2012). The famous gut feeling arises and the force of habit hinders the will to create better conditions for all through change (Zeckhauser & Samuelson, 1988). So, people unconsciously choose candidates who are similar to the current workforce, usually in criteria irrelevant to performance, such as skin color or gender (Johnson et al., 2016).
The classic: Unconscious bias influences attitudes toward people who belong to one or more marginalized group(s). How strong their influence is depends on how deeply the stereotypes are anchored in the individual environment (Birkelund et al., 2020). For example, HR managers looking to fill a position in a male-dominated industry tend to be more skeptical of female candidates. In fact, they simply do not think of them when they think of appropriate casting (Madsen & Andrade, 2018). It is the same with attitudes toward PoC, people perceived as non-white. For example, these are more likely to be perceived as less skilled or more inefficient (Bendick & Nunes, 2011). The influence of such stereotypes has been confirmed in some studies, in which, for example, the name and photo were changed when the CVs remained the same, resulting in a change in assessment (González et al., 2019).
With this bias, people tend to pay more attention to information that confirms pre-existing beliefs. Features that fit the existing opinion are perceived more strongly. In fact, people unconsciously look for it (Sans, 2020). This means, then, that preconceived attitudes about a certain educational background, nationality, or religious affiliation influence a person’s judgment to the extent that information that confirms them is unconsciously particularly absorbed and stored (Agarwal, 2018).
This bias can be attributed to the phenomenon of group pressure, or simply the need to be praised by one’s environment for decisions made and to fulfill its expectations. These desirable choices are based on the attitudes and behaviors of the immediate environment, such as the colleagues involved in the selection process (Sans, 2020). If you are in charge, you tend to seek their approval and suppress your own, perhaps contrary, opinion. This leads to decisions that are supposedly out of line becoming impossible, as does change one’s attitude toward a person (Padalia, 2014).
In this case, it is assumed that one identified factor must be related to another. Thus, an illusory connection is made between a trait and a competency. Based on this assumption, an assessment of suitability for the particular vacancy is then made (Platts, 2020). In fact, such an approach appears ostensibly rational and reasoned. In fact, it is the complete opposite and a consequence of unconscious erroneous connections in the thought processes. So, people tend to assign rare characteristics to minorities and more common characteristics to majorities (Costello & Watts, 2019).
A phenomenon that occurs especially on days full of job interviews or resume checks. A person’s performance is judged based on the performance of the preceding or following person. In this context, the assessment criteria are no longer objective, but influenced by the impression of predecessors or successors (Voß, 2014). This means that the chances are better if the other person has a negative performance and vice versa. The stronger the contrast between the impression of a person and that of his predecessors or successors, the stronger the contrast is rated. Consequently, the scale is constantly adjusted unconsciously. The risk occurs that truly suitable candidates are not recognized, while less suitable candidates pass through the resulting gap (Platts, 2020).
As the name indicates, this is about the unconscious overestimation of your own abilities. Even on a small scale, this can have significant consequences. Because, as we all know, you don’t know what you don’t know, and that leads to decisions being made without sufficient information. After all, you think you already know everything you need to know to make a successful decision. This form of unconscious overconfidence is also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect (Dunning, 2011). In personnel selection, this cognitive bias leads to HR managers being so convinced of their experience, for example, that they believe they can make the right selection decision on the basis of only a few, sometimes irrelevant, criteria. They rely on their instincts, the famous gut feeling. As a result, the person who brings the most potential is not selected and can even lead to costly bad-hires (Platts, 2020).
Being aware of the various unconscious biases that affect us all is the first step to overcoming them. This requires constant reflection and active change of your own behavioral and thought patterns. Of course, this is not always easy and remains prone to error. That’s why you may be supported by intelligent algorithms and digital tools.
Recruiting therefore relies on psychological aptitude diagnostics. Objective criteria are used to focus on the individual strengths and potential of the applicants. Modern aptitude diagnostics makes this possible by collecting information in a goal-oriented and strength-based manner. In this way, stereotypical assessment is counteracted, and selection criteria are used that really lead to job success and satisfaction. This significantly increases recruitment success and at the same time creates an attractive employer brand (Kersting & Ott, 2016). In the form of game-based assessments, psychological aptitude diagnostics also ensure an appealing candidate experience and generate even more valid data for a well-founded selection decision.
This creates a structured selection process in which candidates are evaluated fairly and objectively. This is because the information generated is consistent and directly comparable with each other. In the process, they are anonymous and detached from irrelevant characteristics, which often prevent objective comparisons. For an individual job, all candidates go through exactly the same procedures, so that their results can be superimposed, and unconscious biases can be avoided.
Unconscious biases lie dormant in the minds of all of us. In recruiting, they are a barrier on the way to more equal opportunities and diversity. Being able to name and identify the cognitive biases is an important step in overcoming them.
Where human judgment reaches its limits, successful HR managers make use of modern aptitude diagnostics. This gives them objective and comparable information about potential team additions. The candidate experience becomes stronger and therefore the employer brand more attractive. And best of all, the people who are hired are those who become truly successful and satisfied at the respective position.
This is how recruiting works today, and we will be happy to advise you on this.