• Barnett Waddingham
    Barnett Waddingham
  • Guest Blog, Ben Hutt: How to eliminate unconscious bias in the hiring process…

    Research has shown that HR professionals are increasingly missing the best candidates for the job due to unconscious bias. These unintentional judgements are influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences, and have an impact on how we assess situations and people in all aspects of our lives.

    It is all too easy for employers to fall into the trap of selecting a candidate based on similarities to an existing successful or much-loved colleague. Of course, personality and cultural fit are crucial when finding the right hire for your business. However, the temptation to define your hiring parameters with “we want someone like Jane” highlights that the employer is perhaps allowing the skill requirements of the role to be clouded by personality traits.

    But it doesn’t end there. Unconscious bias can cause professionals who would never consciously condone racism to eliminate resumes when they see an “ethnic” name at the top, or to pass on female candidates who “don’t seem forceful enough.”

    Perceptions about the candidate’s age, race, weight, bodily ability, heteronormative behaviour or gender conformity, height, or even hair colour can all take the place of rational decision making about which candidate would truly be right for the job.

    There is a clear-cut business case for eliminating unconscious bias

    Eliminating unconscious bias and improving company diversity will ultimately strengthen the company. Consider these statistics:

    • Diverse companies experience a 1 per cent greater return on equity;
    • They experience 3 per cent greater operating results;
    • A 17 per cent increase in stock prices;
    • A 6 per cent increase in employee engagement for every 10 per cent increase in employer diversity.

    Fortunately, there are some simple actions any company can take to quickly reduce, or eliminate, the impact of unconscious bias in the hiring process.

    Rewrite job descriptions

    The way you write your job descriptions could be limiting the range of candidates you attract to apply for the role. To widen the pool of applicants, businesses need to ensure that they steer clear of ‘hyped up’ language, including phrases like “we’re number 1!” Instead, the language in the job description should focus on concrete details and skills.

    For example, job descriptions should include 3-4 key areas of responsibility and performance – preferably those that will make the most impact on job success. Employers would be wise to think hard about what these core skills are, rather than listing every item on their ‘wish list’. According to the Harvard Business Review, female candidates often will not apply for a job unless they meet every last requirement on the list whilst males will typically apply even if they only meet a few of them.

    Use blind technology

    There are many programs which will allow businesses to strip identifying details from candidate CVs. Once these details are removed, the employer is left with a list of qualifications and accomplishments without getting any hints about the candidate’s age, gender, or ethnicity. By taking this step, businesses increase the likelihood of a more diverse group of people with the right skill set getting to interview.

    Eliminate biased interview questions

    Employers also need to scrutinise all of the current interview questions to ensure that they don’t unfairly favour or penalise anyone based upon their demographic details. Charity Village offers an excellent resource on how to construct a bias-free interview process. Instead, businesses should try to identify a few specific behavioural traits and construct questions which give potential candidates the ability to demonstrate that they share them. It is also worth considering building some ‘checks and balances’ processes into decision-making, which ensure candidates get a genuinely fair shot at the job.

    Consider your company culture

    Many candidates will eliminate themselves from consideration if they suspect that the corporate environment won’t be friendly to them. When this is the case, they’ll see indicators that are both subtle and blatant. For example, every one of Google’s conference rooms was named after a famous man until they made a commitment to name half of those rooms after famous women, instead. Even small details like this are important in the recruitment process – businesses need to look beyond the CV right through to the way that the company portrays itself.

    Keep working on it

    Eliminating unconscious bias isn’t easy, but then again, as the saying goes – nothing worth having comes easy! Employers need to continue to look for opportunities to make every part of the hiring process as fair as possible so that the right hires can be made based on genuinely important skills for the role. It would be a shame to miss the best candidate because he or she was dismissed out of hand due to factors beyond his or her control, that don’t have bearing on their future success in the role.


    Search Party is a recruitment marketplace that lets employers search for recruiter-represented candidates based on their skills and experience. Candidate profiles are anonymised so employers can focus on what really matters – fit for the job.

    Ben Hutt has over 15 years’ experience in management consulting with top-tier firms such as PwC Consulting. Ben formally joined Search Party as chief financial & operations officer in June 2012. He was instrumental in the company’s inception of the Marketplace concept as well as Search Party’s expansion overseas. He became the CEO and managing director of The Search Party Ltd and all its subsidiaries in July 2014.


    Jack Wynn

    All stories by: Jack Wynn

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