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Hidden Bias in The Hiring Process

Everyone would like to consider their organization inclusive, offering chances to qualified applicants regardless of race, ethnic background, physical appearance, or gender. That, however, is not the case. A recent study led by Harvard University found that hidden bias is far more common than we think, and it sneaks into hiring decisions regularly.

Hidden bias is dangerous because hiring managers, business leaders, and CEOs often don’t know it is happening. Often they don’t realize they are applying a hidden bias. The decisions might be shrouded in a “gut feeling” or an assumption that an individual won’t fit in with the company. These snap decisions have little to do with their qualifications or answers to interview questions; instead, they are made by a seemingly hidden feeling or perception.

Hidden bias not only harms potential employees and job seekers but can also be disastrous for a business. It can often lead people to make bad business decisions for reasons the decision-makers aren’t even aware of. So, how do you avoid hidden bias in the hiring process?

Ad Wording Can Indicate Hidden Bias

How a job advertisement is written can be the first clue to hidden bias. Many buzzwords encourage or dissuade people from applying for a job. For example, a woman might be less likely to apply to a job that is listed as a “dominant” or “aggressive” position. Women traditionally shy away from such buzzwords because they indicate a male-dominated workspace. Conversely, men are more likely to shy away from words that tell a softer or more feminine workspace. Terms like “tech-savvy” or “fresh and innovative” may mean a company is looking for a younger employee.

This type of bias is more subtle but can quickly drive away potentially qualified candidates. Such discrimination is less reported, as job seekers are simply less likely to apply than to find hiring bias within the process.

Avoid Tough Time Constraints

Finding the right candidate should never be rushed, but for many companies filing a position quickly and with a qualified candidate is extremely important. Unfortunately, bias can sneak in when hiring managers are under strict deadlines. Managers might fall back on their biased assumptions of worth to quickly weed out types of candidates. For example, a hiring manager might look at the school candidates attended and make a snap judgment based on their perceived prestige of an institution.

Tough time constraints also force hiring teams to fall back on implicit bias; that is, the innate instinct to hire individuals more similar to the established group.

Avoiding these basic mistakes when entering the hiring process can help ensure you give each qualified candidate a fair shot and can positively impact your business in many ways. 

Cite this article: Lynch, N. (2017). Hidden Bias in the Hiring Process. Available:

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