Bias Isn't Just in Your Job Interview: 6 Pitfalls, and How to Avoid Them

There are two things you and I have in common: we are humans and we have biases. Forming biases is an undeniable part of being human. However, when it comes to the crucial process of selecting the right person for the job, these biases can become a real roadblock, like this research of Harvard shows (Are Firms That Discriminate More Likely to Go Out of Business). You might be wondering how can we make sure we’re making fair and objective decisions throughout the entire recruitment process. Keep reading as we give you the answer.

Joseph Lefebvre on March 06, 2024 Average reading time: 5 min
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Bias Isn't Just in Your Job Interview: 6 Pitfalls, and How to Avoid Them

A recent whitepaper by recruitment expert Bas van de Haterd, in collaboration with Recrout and In2Dialog, sheds light on this critical issue. The paper explores six key stages in the recruitment journey where bias can creep in. It also provides practical solutions to help organizations mitigate its impact. Let’s walk you through each stage and discuss how we can create a more level playing field for all candidates.

  1. The Job Listing

Did you know that bias can hide in plain sight within your job listing? Among other examples, explicit instances might include specifying a maximum number of years of experience, which can unfairly exclude younger candidates. But bias can also be more subtle.

Think of terms like “excellent,” “outstanding,” or “top performer.” Other terms like “recent graduate” also give rise to bias as this puts a time stamp in the job listing, ruling out older applicants. Research suggests that men tend to set the bar lower for themselves when encountering these terms compared to women. This creates an unintended gender bias. Even seemingly harmless details like mentioning “Friday afternoon drinks” can subconsciously sway who feels fit for the role.

Solution: Be mindful of the language you use in your job listings. Have them reviewed by a diverse group of individuals to catch any potential biases.

  1. Advertising to Reach the Right Audience

Remember that bias isn’t limited to just your job listings. It can also seep in through your advertisements. This stands especially true for ads on social media or on platforms like Google Ads which are used to attract potential candidates. The way you frame your advertisements significantly impacts who you attract.

Highlighting flexible working hours might attract a different pool of applicants compared to emphasizing a high salary, even though both aspects could be true for the position. The visuals you choose also play a role. Unconsciously, you might be sending a message about the “ideal” candidate in terms of age, ethnicity, gender, or physical appearance.

 Solution: Develop a persona, and detailed profiles representing your ideal candidates. This will help you tailor your advertisements to resonate with the right individuals across various platforms. Consider A/B testing different versions of your advertisements to see which ones generate the best response.

  1. The Algorithm’s Double-Edged Sword

In the past, the media you chose to advertise your vacancy in, like a specific newspaper, might have introduced a slight bias. However, the rise of algorithms has significantly amplified this issue. Though these algorithms are designed to optimize for clicks and reach, these can inadvertently exclude certain groups or disproportionately target others. For instance, an advertisement for a STEM position or a programmer might end up being shown primarily to men due to the presence of more male IT professionals online.

Solution: To counteract algorithmic bias, consider running separate ad campaigns for different target groups. Dedicate a budget to each. This allows you to tailor your message and visuals to resonate with specific demographics.

  1. Your “Working At” Site – A Window into Your Company Culture

Another potential source of bias lies within your company’s recruitment website which is often the central hub for attracting talent. Research suggests that a significant portion of candidates, especially for non-high-volume roles, visit the company website during their job search. However, this very website could be harboring hidden biases.

This could be through the use of specific fonts that might be difficult for some individuals to read, a lack of accessibility features for visually impaired users, or mobile-friendliness issues that exclude those browsing on their phones.

Solution: Ensure your “working at” site presents a fair and inclusive picture of your organization. Use diverse imagery throughout the website, especially on pages showcasing open positions. Consider creating landing pages tailored to specific candidate personas. Also prioritize accessibility features to make your website user-friendly for everyone, regardless of their device or ability.

  1. The Selection Process – Beyond the Resume

One of the most common battlegrounds for bias is the pre-selection stage, where candidates are chosen for interviews. Traditionally, this decision heavily relies on CV selection, despite the lack of any scientific evidence linking CV content to future job performance. This process opens the door to various forms of bias, such as:

  • Name bias: Studies show that candidates with names perceived as typically belonging to minority groups are less likely to be invited for interviews compared to those with names perceived as belonging to the majority group.
  • Photo bias: While illegal in some regions, such as the US, including a photo on your CV can introduce bias based on appearance.
  • Age bias: Both conscious and unconscious age bias can lead to older candidates being overlooked.
  • Education bias: There might be a tendency to favor candidates from specific universities or institutions.
  • Experience bias: The misconception that well-known employers never hire poorly performing individuals can lead to bias against candidates for other companies.
  • Hobby bias: Stereotypes about certain hobbies, like “tennis players are individualistic” or “footballers are team players,” can influence selection decisions.
  • Location bias: Unfounded assumptions about individuals based on their residential area can lead to unfair treatment.

Solution: Consider implementing Open Hiring practices, which involve removing identifying information like names, dates of birth, and photos from CVs during the initial screening process. This helps to focus on skills and qualifications rather than irrelevant personal details. Additionally, explore skill-based hiring by defining the essential skills required for the role and establishing objective methods to assess them. Structured phone interviews, potentially conducted through chatbots, can also help minimize bias at this stage.

  1. Grand Finale – The Selection Phase Itself

Finally, we reach the stage most readily associated with bias: the actual selection process. This includes everything from the first interview to the contract signing. While it’s challenging to quantify the extent of bias in this phase, studies have revealed concerning trends. For example, research suggests that:

  • Men tend to interrupt women more often during interviews, and women’s interview start times might be delayed compared to men’s.
  • Men who interview women might speak significantly more than when interviewing men.
  • Interviewers might engage in “affinity bias,” subconsciously favoring candidates with whom they share common interests like discussing sports.

Solution: While achieving complete bias-free selection remains a complex challenge, there are steps you can take to mitigate its impact. Structuring the interview process is crucial. This means ensuring all candidates are interviewed in the same way, with the same set of questions asked in the same order by the same interviewer(s).

Additionally, utilizing a consistent evaluation framework to assess the responses of each candidate against the predefined criteria is essential. In some cases, recruitment technology, including interview bots, can play a role in analyzing conversations and identifying potential biases from interviewers.


By acknowledging the potential for bias throughout the recruitment process and implementing these practical solutions, organizations can create a fairer and more equitable experience for all candidates, ultimately leading to a more diverse and talented workforce.



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