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The top five dangers of recruitment bias

We are all a product of our experiences – good or bad. These experiences shape our opinions and we can be blind to them. Imagine discussing the name of your first child with your partner. The chances are there will be a hefty number of potential names that you both immediately rule out because of a past association! ‘No way can we call our child that – it reminds me of…’.

This is why everyone should start from a viewpoint that however objective you think you are, unconscious bias is almost certain to play a part in your decision making.

Recruitment bias
Now imagine a recruitment scenario: You interview two candidates; equally experienced and with a similar CV, but in the first interview there are a couple of touch points between you and the candidate. You discover they support the same football team as you. During the interview they talk about a conflict scenario very similar to one you’ve experienced. As they leave, they mention they are going on holiday next week – somewhere you went last year, so you have a conversation about that.

You then interview the next candidate. The interview process is exactly the same but there’s no connection. Which candidate are you most likely to hire? And if they are both equally qualified for the job then does this matter? Maybe not in this case, but if one person was actually a better candidate how often does your unconscious bias over-rule your objective criteria?

Research shows that when it comes to recruitment, people tend to gravitate towards people like themselves. This type of unconscious bias is often called an affinity bias.

Danger #1 of recruitment bias: Missing out on skills
Missing out on talent is one of the biggest dangers of recruitment bias if it overrides your objectivity. It’s easy to convince yourself that the candidate you like – or the one that’s most like you – will ‘fit in’ better with you and your team. However, if you find yourself placing that above all else when recruiting, then you risk missing out on valuable skills by rejecting worthy candidates.

Furthermore, if you don’t try to find out how someone would approach fitting in to your business culture, you deny them the opportunity for them to make their case. By asking: ‘How will you approach getting to know the team?’ you might find that actually, yes, they will fit in!

Danger #2 of recruitment bias: Missing out on experience
If you are recruiting a new member into a team whose average age is say, 28, and you interview a 50-year-old for the job, you might well wonder if they’ll fit in. But just because someone is older, it doesn’t mean they have old-fashioned views or are unwilling to learn. With age comes experience – which could prove to be an asset to a younger team.

Another bias can be towards a candidates’ previous place of work. Beware of automatically dismissing someone because you don’t like a company they have worked for – it could be that they don’t either! Similarly, be aware of positive bias you might have towards a candidate from a company you admire – particularly if it’s at the expense of another, better candidate.

Danger #3 of recruitment bias: Lacking diversity
If you continually recruit the same time of person then over time, you will have a team that lacks diversity. You risk a ‘nodding dog’ scenario where you all say the same thing and no-one is challenged or suggests a different approach. Other, perhaps better, ways of doing things are never even suggested, let alone discussed.

Research shows that diverse teams create the best thinking and the most challenging perspectives to give the best outcomes. Diversity might not necessarily be in terms of gender, ethnicity or age, it might just be diversity in thinking. If your team members all have similar strengths, it’s likely they will potentially have similar weaknesses.

Danger #4 of recruitment bias: Lacking potential customer/market knowledge
The more diverse your staff members are, the more likely you are to reflect not only your customer base but also to have the diversity of thinking within the team to potentially enable you to reach out to new customers, create new products and align branding to customer needs.

If you’re trying to make a customer decision or see things from your customers’ point of view and you don’t have anyone in the room who can think like that customer would, you’re missing out on vital information.

Danger #5 of recruitment bias: Becoming unattractive to potential talent and customers
If you have a team that lacks diversity you might find that great candidates rule themselves out of the running, because they cannot see themselves fitting in. ‘If I can’t see someone here like me… is it the right place for me?’

Similarly, you might be projecting an image to your customers that you only deal with one type of person. This could limit your market spread.

How can I overcome recruitment bias?
The first step to tackling recruitment bias is to acknowledge it. If you know you have a particular bias, be up-front about it; if you can recognise it then you can watch out for it.

The second is to implement ways of addressing it. Set up a recruitment process that is fair and objective to all candidates. Be clear on the criteria for the role and that you test everyone against that. Ask questions around competence, skills and other verifiable criteria. Ask the same questions to all candidates so you can compare like for like.

Lastly, challenge yourself and involve other people who can pick up on things you might miss.

If you’d like help recruiting top talent into your team, People Puzzles is here to help. Find out more about our recruitment services or give us a call on 020 3239 3307.

Lynn has been a fantastic support to us and an ongoing fountain of knowledge. If you have a business and/or staff you need to take care of, you need a Lynn on your team!

Kerry Berry, Director, S&K Berry Associates LLP

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