Biases in Hiring Decisions

Hiring the best possible candidate for vacant positions is a crucial part of any interviewer’s job. It requires thorough analysis of every applicant’s experience and competencies aligned with the job description before making the final hiring decision. Biases in hiring
However, what is often seen is that applicants having strong references are preferred over the deserving candidates. Other than references, gender, age, religion etc often effects the hiring decision, not realizing these decisions ought to be made in the best interest of the organization and not on anything else. Another bias associated with the interviewers is that they tend to avoid to opt for somebody who is superior (in terms of proficiency) than him/her. Therefore, in order to achieve desirable results, these biases should not come in the way of the recruitment process because they aren’t in the best interest of the organization and is also a violation of the ‘Equal Opportunity Act’.
Kindly contribute your opinions/suggestions on this – how can unfairness in the recruitment phase be eliminated for the purpose of hiring the ‘right person for the right job’?


  • Vincent Vanderbent

    It takes an honest, self-aware manager to hire the right candidate. Don’t we like to see candidates who shine, who seem to have everything going for them? The confident demeanor, the smile, the track record. We don’t realize that better qualified staff often lack the hunger and drive to move up the ladder because they don’t need to. When hiring managers go for image, they overlook this basic fact.
    As an example, I once observed how a manager who was otherwise smart enough to hire candidates who had the technical skills she didn’t have herself and not be intimidated by them, tried to hire below market rate only to be faced with candidates who lacked professionalism and integrity.
    Unfortunately, difficult situations are the norm rather than the execption in the politically dynamic market place. If hiring managers were to realize that the more technically competent candidates are generally outmaneuvered by their less adept but politically shrewder colleagues, and thus get “weaker” references, the world would be a different place indeed.
    Also, when are we going to acknowledge mistakes and eliminate people in the introductory period? A newly hired graphic designer with excellent references but weak design skills once stole computer parts from other designers, transferred them to his own area, all within the course of the first 90 days. His boss, realizing her mistake, did nothing because she didn’t want to admit having made a mistake. Years later, this employee managed to skip ranks on the promotional ladder to great frustration and anger among his harder working colleagues, still equally inadequate at his job, but appearing so professional and confident that he misled all his superiors. Need I mention that the company, a large financial institution, collapsed, albeit not directly because of this guy’s actions? Of course, our employee moved on to “greener” grass and most likely continues playing his game there. Some habits are very hard to break. Why, because of the signals we fail to see.

  • Most of the time when people are selected for other reason than competences and references, the company will probably miss her goal and the person who hired the candidate too. If the person hiring people is scared by hiring somebody superior than her, it is probably because she is not at the right place herself, or the way to work is based on competition and not collaboration. Of course, it is sometime useful to have a “fair” competition in order to stimulate proficiency, but it is more interesting to cooperate on a collaborative way. Each of us, we have strong points and weaknesses, but working together as a time makes that everybody could be complementary to the other team members. Each of us, we learn from the other. Somebody, who is superior in specific areas, has to be seen as an opportunity for the team members, a source of shared information and knowledge, and not as a constraint.
    It is related too to the values you want to share. The nationality, the age..are not valuable criteria’s to select a candidate. Each of us, we have our personal life, our personal value, but they should not be a criteria of selection. But of course, the point is that your value has to be in harmony with the environment you are working in. We have not to forget that work is a component of social integration and personal development, and each companies has a responsibility and has to contribute in this social integration, giving equal chances to everybody.
    To avoid such unfairness in a recruitment phase, there should be different level of management implicated in the recruiting process, but these persons have to be independent. As you know, there is “informal” networks in which people do not take decision on an independent way. If they are taking the same wrong decision, then such process will be useless.

  • You’re absolutely right that these prejudices exist. One way to help alleviate them is to ensure that the candidate is intervired by a number of people, and that everyone’s opinion is given due consideration. The only problem is, the hiring manager inevitably has the final say in who gets the job. If the hiring manager is the person with the prejudices, they will end up hioring the candidate they want, as opposed to the best candidate.

  • I think that we cannot solve the biases in hiring right person for the right job to do in his or her lives because it is human nature.
    In order to hire right person for the right job I think that companies need to create strong ethic and social responsibilities programs for his or her employees to work at the companies.
    Furthermore, I think that Human Resources department has to combine or work together with other department likes management teams in order to hire to right person for the job.

  • Hi Salima
    First, some further comments about biases. I believe — as I mentioned in an earlier answer — that one insidious problem in getting the best candidate, is that many biases are unconscious, i.e. unrecognised by the recruiter/hiring manager him or herself. Several studies have shown, for example, that physically attractive people get advantages in hiring and promotions and higher PA ratings. (One interesting exception is women in upper management for whom the reverse is true)
    Another, more recent study, concluded that people of different racial backgrounds or ethnicity have a preference for hiring/promoting from their own groups. Generally, (and this is a really important point) managers involved in these studies initially believed they were selecting purely based on competency.
    In terms of what to do about it, here are some things I would suggest.
    > First, I would conduct, or bring in a resource to conduct some workshops that help managers get in touch with their biases and understand where they come from. My company’s philosophy is that biases are ‘normal’, probably unavoidable, but fixable if they are recognised and understood.
    Then, HR should spend time with the hiring manager (and it is helpful to get input from other sources such as internal customers) identifying the experiences, educational qualifications, competencies — both technical and ‘soft’ and other traits and attributes that are important for optimum success. The last are elements such as, “Willingness to stand with courage”, “understanding of team dynamics”, “creative thinking”. These should be converted into a behaviorally anchored structured interview format.
    As other people have already mentioned, a panel tends to be more objective than a single manager. I encourage my clients to include the hiring manager, (also the matrix manager if there is one), the HR business partner, and potentially a key internal customer, if this makes sense. The panel should thoroughly review the position description and the structured interview. They should agree on what answers/responses they are looking for. Some clients like to assign a numerical rating for each answer. I think this is ok, with the caveat that they all have to agree on a rating, they can’t just take an average.
    This group process generally avoids the “I don’t care, I want this person — or don’t want that person, anyway’ issue with the hiring manager that frequently crops up if you do separate interviews and consolidate the feedback and impressions.

  • When most organisation would aim to achieve excellence as their prime goals, the biases would automatically vanish. An average company would always prefer average people over talented professionals as it suits them. And in the average zone you could hire people from your race, family, friends etc. Wow!
    We live in a world riddled with biases based on religion, color of skin, race, ethinicity, castee etc, therefore it is bound to get reflected in the corporate hiring & promotion too. Some of us must have experinced it up close & personal. While all parts of the globe are affected by it some regions are more affected than others.
    Respect for the talent could become the centrepiece of hiring policy only when most of the corporates aim to achieve excellence as their prime objective. Its a reality that a vast majority of the companies are their to do a job and make a pile by hook & crook than pursue the idea of excellence. Therefore they have more use for fixers than talented professionals. Excellence gets trampled under the feet of biases masqurading as organisation culture.

  • Most of the time when we call a candidate we expect him to sell his/her abilities in a presentable way. The first step is to judge the candidate by the resume and second step is when we actually meet the candidate in person. I have seen talented people coming without any strong reference and I genuinely find them suitable for the position they are applying. There is no predefined format for selection, it is just the right candidate for the right position available and above all for the organization. I personally believe the organizational factors are vital for any recruitment, i mean you cannot just hire some who cannot add any value to the organization. It is often the case where you evaluate the candidate based on your previous experiences and you feel the candidate’s long term plans does not blend completely with your organization vision. Gender is one of the biggest issue, normally female candidates cannot work too late due to their family problems and it obviously restricts our choice especially in Software Development team. But if the timing suits the female candidate, there should not be any bias or reason for not selecting them. More importantly religion or ethnicity should never be considered to limit ourselves in recruiting the bright people. I have built a team from various cultural background and it benefited our organization.

  • Salima you have some good advice so far. Yes people are biased and in fact tend to hire in their own image. One of the things we suggest is that you dont do as many companies do and delegate hiring to someone who is not busy. Rather you choose someone on board whom you would like to “clone” and use biases to your advantage. If you want fast-paced big picture outgoing find that person and let him/her lead the hiring effort.

  • It’s very rare for a candidate to be selected solely because of their competence and experience other than for contract roles.
    Permanent recruitment is often about selecting from a range of candidates, all of whom are capable of doing the job itself, which is precisely why prejudice is such a spectre.
    Unfairness can be moderated by having a structured interview process, by offering full feedback on the reasons for the candidates de-selection and by enforcing internal policies to ensure that prejudice in interviewing is, at the very least, hidden from view.

  • I suspect you’d be amazed at just how similar the problems experienced with recruitment biases are in the HR function compared with supplier selection biases in the Purchasing function!
    In fact, there is a great deal to be learnt by both parties so if you ever want to wander down to your Purchasing Departments for a chat I would highly recommend you do that.
    Over the last few years I have been working with our Marketing Department in their selection of various agencies and if there is one industry where any biases are going to rear their ugly heads it’s got to be in Advertising and Marketing. You will even find a number of marketers who will acknowledge this openly. The successful approaches I’ve taken therefore include a first stage “White Pitch” where the submitting agencies are not able to give their name or company identifying details. Their submissions are then assessed against a very clearly defined criteria of pre-qualifications that are as objective and relevant as possible. Only once a short list has been produced do Purchasing then “reveal” to the internal stakeholders who the agencies are.
    Sounds weird but believe me it works a dream. It removes a great deal of biases at the early stage and hopefully leaves you with at least a number of contenders who can all deliver a service but who then need to “sell” themselves in one-on-one meetings and presentations, etc.
    Just a thought.

  • I am reminded of a saying I am fond of – “A players hire A players, B players hire C players.”

  • There are 2 types of Bias:
    1. Totally Personal – Manager of one community/ location/ country/ Gender hiring a candidate from his community/ location/ country/ Gender
    2. “Bias” due to strong positive perception/ conviction in the panel
    To avoid 1, we should always conduct a 3-1 interview i.e., line mgr > LoB mgr > HR
    For 2, it is good that the candidate has generated a debate between the grey cells
    In both the above situations, we should define the competencies objectively in line with the JD and assess accordingly to come to a conclusion.

  • Arti Dhar koul

    Yes you are right on this applicants having strong references are preferred over the deserving candidate so companies are more becoming interlinked families than independent organizations. Now who can reap the fruits?…employees and their close relatives and friends can reap the fruits and organizations are also getting benefited because people are becoming more loyal to the companies which are keeping their friends and relatives. Finally companies are benefiting with this close association recruitments. Now who is in trouble who are not the part of these families and though they know, we know they are more deserving we cannot help them. As i said in businesses nothing is completely authentic so not only ‘equal opportunity act’ but many other acts are only for name sakes. Even when i heard there are shortage of talents and less retention rate i wonder how is this the case. We can only provide the solutions for those which solutions are not hter but for these issues solutions are already there and companies don’t want to implement because for them benefits are more important than acts and most of the time is true money speaks louder.

  • Judith Angell

    The one factor not mentioned is the personal fit for team synergy with the hiring manager and other staff. Somtimes the personality of the best candidate or the chemistry will reduce productivity–and some of that will be due to those who are already on staff, like the manager whose confidence does not seek to recruit folks more skill than him/herself and let them loose to do so the manager looks good or other biases. The best person on paper is not necessarily the best or right person for the job. One manager I respected used to say they looked most for the people skills because the rest could be trained .

  • Sidika Jaffer

    I don’t give too much attention to references, because they will say good things about the candidate anyways. Obtaining a reference isn’t that difficult. I like to at education, projects, work experience. I also think it’s important to have a diverse workforce, which is important for the overall growth of the firm (untapped markets, no need to hire translators etc…)

  • Muhammed Umair

    Firstly this interested should come from the higher management. If that culture (merit) exist in an organization, Aptitude test and all can be most simplest and straight forward way to avoid bias and select candidate on the bases of merit.
    But if management does not approve and believe in refereed candidate, HR dept. cannot help it and it becomes unwritten norm on company.
    Umair Sayyed

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