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We are all influenced by it: Unconscious bias. The so-called “unconscious bias” is our brain’s solution to deal with the flood of information that hits us at every moment. This allows us to navigate a complex everyday life and make necessary decisions, such as the very personnel selection decision in recruiting (Tolstoy-Miller, 2017). This is exactly where this mechanism becomes a hurdle for more diversity in the company. Perception and judgment become clouded and, as a result, the talent and potential of candidates is often unintentionally overlooked. 

Unconscious bias: “unconscious cognitive biases and other faulty tendencies in perception, memory, and judgment” (Wondrak, 2014).

Increased diversity = increased competitive advantage

For long-term economic success, it is essential to build up sensitivity to the unconscious bias in the recruiting of one’s own company. This is because heterogeneous, diverse teams have been shown to be more productive, creative, and efficient than purely homogeneous teams (Homann & Greer, 2013). The resulting diversity ensures that the needs of all employees are covered. According to recent studies, this represents a significant competitive advantage (Wondrak, 2014). The relevance of this issue is underscored by the growing number of supportive initiatives that address this issue in companies (e.g., Diversity Charter). By consciously taking countermeasures as early as the personnel selection process, a similar working environment can be created in the long term. Improvement in the relationship with employees increases retention (employee loyalty) and counteracts fluctuation (job changes) (Chamberlain, 2016). 

In addition, it is increasingly important for companies to position themselves as attractive employers. After all, we work in an employee market. Diversity also plays a considerable role here, as applicants prefer companies that stand for diversity (Daugherty & Chowdhury, 2019). To emphasize this image in employer branding, employers are increasingly relying on modern aptitude diagnostics. In the process, they rely on intelligent algorithms that recognize individual potential and contribute to recruitment success (Kersting & Ott, 2016).

The following checklist provides an overview of how to successfully confront the unconscious bias in recruiting:

Avoid unconscious bias in recruiting!

Get the checklist now free of charge by e-mail.

Overcoming the unconscious bias in recruiting: 

First, it is important that the core idea of valuing diversity is spread among employees and thereby increasingly implemented. As part of the corporate culture, this philosophy can be seen in decisions large and small. Central to this is the personnel selection decision. This is where the dilemma can often arise: Does the person fit the open position or the existing team? In the process, preference is often unconsciously given to those who resemble decision-makers themselves or other team members in partially irrelevant characteristics (Vollmer, 2015).

Let’s take a closer look at each stage of the recruiting process: 

1. The job profile lists required skills for a specific job. However, these are often formulated very openly or contain criteria that are not relevant to the specific vacancy (Posthuma & Campion, 2009). Another source of error at this point is interdepartmental consultation, which is often difficult and complicates communication processes. Often there are different views regarding the requirements or misunderstandings arise. This can result in a list of requirements that does not reflect reality. One solution to this is a data-driven job profile that evaluates the existing team and maps what skills are needed based on that. This identifies who really meets the criteria of the job and bypasses a stereotypical aptitude assessment (Kersting & Ott, 2016).

2. The job announcement has a significant impact on who will consider applying. It should already be conveyed here that the respective vacancy is not tailored to a specific type of person, but is open to all candidates who bring the required skills with them. Here, the use of stereotypical adjectives- attributed to a particular social group, for example-often unintentionally directs who feels addressed (Posthuma & Campion, 2009). In addition, it is important to pay attention to diversity in written and visual language. This is achieved, for example, through the use of gender-appropriate language, through which all members of society should feel addressed. This increases the possibility that diverse applications will be submitted.

3. In the pre-selection process, the unconscious bias can lead to suitable applications being sorted out too quickly. Unconscious bias, for example toward appearance, grades, or educational institutions attended, influences the image that is created of an application in just a few milliseconds and thus represents an unwanted obstacle. According to DIN 33430, two independent persons should also make the pre-selection decision according to the same criteria. The use of aptitude diagnostics in personnel pre-selection can again provide support here. This evaluates candidates based on their skills holistically and regardless of irrelevant characteristics (Savage & Bales, 2016).

4. Also in the interview, unconscious patterns of perception play a role. To avoid this, standardization by an interview guideline is recommended, which is used as a reference during the interview. By additionally holding ideal responses, expectations are guided, and interpretive latitude is reduced (Huffcutt & Roth 1998). In addition, it is also useful here to at least two to conduct the interview and call on each other for reflection. The multiple-eye principle subsequently also helps to communicate personnel selection decisions in a transparent and comprehensible manner. Any “blind spots” are eliminated, and the person is assessed as comprehensively as possible (Wondrak, 2014).

Personnel selection as the key to more diversity in the company 

As social cognition, aptitude assessments are fundamentally biased (Kersting & Ott, 2016). Because discrimination occurs unconsciously and therefore implicitly, it is more difficult to detect than overt acts of discrimination. The motivation to face this challenge is a decisive step towards success. Paying attention to what influences the decision as early as the personnel selection process has been shown to have far-reaching positive consequences for the company’s overall development (Vollmer, 2015). 

Aptitude diagnostics can play a significant role here because it fundamentally counteracts stereotypical assessment by collecting information systematically and in a goal-oriented manner (Kersting & Ott, 2016).

5fae8dc4d52cd1652b6e0ccd Wege zur Vermeidung von Uncounscious Bias
Avoiding unconscious bias in personnel selection


Therefore, in summary, it can be said: We are all influenced by unconscious prejudices and acquired stereotypes. That is why we should try to be aware of them, face them with reflection and not be afraid to revise decisions sometimes. After all, HR managers are in a key position that significantly influences diversity and therefore productivity in the company. The Removing unconscious influences from personnel selection decisions is therefore not only a worthy mission, it is also an extremely important one. 

Recognizing the unconscious bias is the first step in the right direction. Let digital aptitude diagnostics assist you in this process, we will be happy to advise you.

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