‘I need someone in their late 20’s or 30’s with 40 years’ experience and wants the salary of a graduate’.

It’s always interesting coming into a recruitment exercise when the employer has a very clear idea of what they are looking for in their desired candidate. Clients usually have lists of ‘must haves’, which helps narrow down the application pool. They might be focused on experience, what the last person didn’t do, what they want done better, or why they must have a certain fit. However, after talking through the situation and understanding their core issues, we often profile someone completely different than what the client had initial thought they needed.

But what about the preconceived ideas we are less aware of? What if we subconsciously dismissed people based on snap judgements or mental shortcuts we made without even realising? These biases can be hard to recognise, and therefore hard to overcome in the profiling process.

I was having this conversation with someone recently and we began talking about unconscious bias, and how prevalent it is, even when we don’t know it is (that’s the problem). Unconscious bias, or implicit bias, refers to the involuntary assessments or judgements an individual makes that influences their opinions and decisions.

Unconscious bias when hiring

As outlined in this article, we often come across hiring bias without even realising it. “Hiring bias is an inclination, opinion, or feeling about a person that we make when we’re trying to decide if they’re right for a job. Those opinions and feelings could be based on anything from the clothes they wear to their accent to the neighborhood where they live”. We might find ourselves favouring one person over another because they attended the same university we did. Or we might feel like we click with another candidate better because we like the suburb they live in. Or, despite our best efforts, we might have a feeling that a role would best suit a woman or a man. Without realising it, we might shy away from a candidate because they seem “too different” to other members of our team, or too different to what we originally had in mind. And in doing so, we are likely to be accidentally rejecting quality candidates.

Challenge your initial reaction

When you are prepared to open your mind to employees who might not match the idea you initially had in your head, you have the potential to bring something new and exciting into the business. Recently I was engaged to find a Logistics Manager to create a contemporary supply chain environment. Historically the client had always promoted from the floor up, upskilling someone with a more outgoing nature. Hiring someone established and well-liked created an engaged workforce, however they always got a similar result in terms of new ideas and strategy. We profiled what the ideal person would look like in terms of experience, personality, and ability to lead and engage a team. During the interview process I had two very strong candidates who could both do the role.

What surprised me was the client was willing to recognise that their traditional approach was not working and try something different. The successful candidate had immigrated to Australia approximately 15 years ago and was very humble and quiet, quite different to the outgoing candidates who had been promoted in the past. The new candidate had the right experience, but I could see they didn’t interview very well. They came across as quite shy and seemed to prefer to let their work do the talking. I had to encourage him to use work examples to demonstrate his proficiency, to talk almost in the third person, promoting himself as if he was talking about a colleague he respected. Fortunately, the client could see the individual’s unassuming nature would be a strength, enabling the candidate to build trust and respect within the team.

Recognise your own biases

It is difficult to mitigate our bias (and we all have them) as they are developed over time and based on our past experiences. Being aware of and understanding the different types of biases that exist can help us to find ways to combat them, as explained in this article. Unconscious bias may exist around temperament, gender, skin tone, religion, age, weight, sexuality and physical abilities. “As you start becoming aware of your biases, you are more likely to recognise them when they crop up”. Once you recognise these biases you may experience embarrassment or even shame, “but remember everyone has biases. Apologise, rephrase, and move on. Keep challenging your stereotypes”. There are real benefits in learning to overcome your initial unconscious bias. Workplace diversity brings diversity of thought, new ideas and innovations.

Enlist the help of a diverse interview panel

One impactful way to keep our biases in check through the interview process is to engage an interview panel, making sure that panel has diversity also will allow for a more balanced view on your next employee. Another effective strategy is adopting behavioural-based interview questions, allowing you to focus on whether the individual’s behaviours, actions and decisions are aligned to your organisational culture and the role, which enables you to look beyond just the individual sitting in front of you.

Check yourself, check others and have the conversation to ensure you are not discounting anyone due to your unconscious bias.

Happy recruiting,

Andrew Hill

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash