How to Handle Hidden Hiring Bias? A Short Guide

Volodymyr Bilyk
28 October 2020

When it comes to contributing factors to the recruiting operation’s successes and failures, hiring bias often gets a mention but rarely given proper credit. 

For sure, numerous factors contribute to the success or failure of the hiring effort. That’s why hiring usually veers around a 50% failure rate. But when it comes to costly hiring mistakes, hiring bias is one of the most significant factors.  

This article will explain the dangers of hiring bias and describe several common types of hiring bias. In the second part of the article, the CNA International IT team will share its solution for keeping bias under control.

What is Hidden Hiring Bias?

What is hiring bias?

Like any other type of unconscious bias, hiring bias is a form of a mental shortcut. Bias uses assumptions and beliefs to streamline the interpretation of the incoming information to fit superficial requirements. Usually, it relates to gender, race, or some particular professional background. 

The reason is simple – to narrow down the number of options.

In the recruiting context, hiring bias is a crutch that manifests itself as a needless constraint. In a way, it serves as a makeshift filter. For example, when a recruiter needs to shortlist several candidates with similar profiles. The course of action usually looks like this: “let’s look at superficial aspects and find out something “disqualifying.”

  • In other words, a recruiter’s bias is a means to spin information into a comfortable form at the moment. It accentuates superficial preferred aspects to reduce the amount of required work and simplify decision-making. 

As a result, unconscious bias creates a subjective dimension that diverges from the objective reality. When it comes to decision-making – such bias may lead to inaccurate judgments and, eventually, costly hiring mistakes.

Why should hiring bias be taken seriously?

why take hiring bias seriously

The fact of the matter is – hiring bias is a roadblock to reaching inclusivity and diversity in the recruitment effort. It leads recruiters to make “safe” choices that “don’t rock the boat.” 

  • On the one hand, it is a seemingly reasonable approach, as no recruiter wants to be responsible for a bad hire. However, the definition of “bad hire factors” in this case is flawed and doesn’t help the cause. It just makes it seem like that.
  • On the other hand, such “safe” decisions also take out a considerable chunk of opportunities based on aspects that don’t reflect the candidate’s proper fitness to the position requirements. As a result, the company potentially misses out on a specialist that would have provided a game-changing insight. 

In a nutshell, here’s how unconscious hiring bias negatively affects the recruiting process in broad strokes:

  • Hiring wrong people for wrong reasons;
  • Poor hires result in high employee turnover;
  • High turnover results in rising recruiting costs;
  • Rising costs prevent cost-effective recruiting;
  • Lack of diversity in the organization hinders productivity and prevents fresh perspectives from prevailing.

But if unconscious bias causes so much trouble, why does it happen anyway? 

The Root of Unconscious Hiring Bias Explained

Root of unconscious hiring bias explained

The answer is simple – you can’t control bias. Everybody wants to be objective, and no one wants to admit that bias drives their decision-making. But it happens nevertheless.

Let’s take a look at the hiring process:

  • The workflow contains many moving parts. 
  • Recruiters process a lot of information and consider numerous factors upon working with applications and candidates. 
  • The sheer amount of work creates a perfect environment for unconscious hiring bias. 

Here’s how it hidden unconscious bias sneaks into recruitment:

  • Recruiters base their decisions on implicit concepts (such as the candidate’s experience, expertise, motivation, etc.);
  • However, to understand whether or not the candidate fits the requirements – they need to interpret them. That’s where unconscious bias usually kicks in;
  • The decisions are supposed to be rational, but due to the number of different factors at play (workload, the complexity of the position, etc.), the mind slips back to mental shortcuts and balance swings, leading to bias. 

Imperfect recruitment workflow leads to unconscious hiring bias.

The other reason why unconscious bias affects the hiring process is the imperfection of the workflow. 

The more black box it is, the more undocumented elements, gaps, and unknowns are at play – the more unconscious hiring bias can manifest itself.

  • Lack of standardized procedures for sourcing, screening, interviewing workflows creates opportunities for different kinds of bias. 

On the other hand, lack of transparency creates an attractive environment for all forms of bias to blossom. 

  • Passing judgment and reaching conclusions may run roughshod over the workflow if its description consists of the verb and not a highly detailed sequence.

Here’s an example, sometimes hiring bias sneaks into the company’s presentation – a job description. 

  • These are little things, such as pronouns (use “he” or “she” instead of impersonal “they”). 
  • Then there aspects like age and gender often sneak into the job description for no apparent reason. 
  • On the other hand, the position requirements may suffer from illusory correlations and affinity biases. For example, a candidate with a similar background as a recruiter would probably get on with the team just right. If you stop for a moment and think about it – it doesn’t work like that. But in the heat of the moment – this may happen.

Despite that, one can be aware of bias possibilities and mitigate its influence. 

How to Deal with Unconscious Hiring Bias? 4 Solutions


In one way or another, hiring bias is inevitable. You can’t control the factors that cause it. However, you can mitigate its influence by short charging the mental shortcuts, i.e., enforcing structure and objectivity onto the decision-making process.

Here’s how you can do it:

1 Stick to the facts

Why should hiring bias be taken seriously

A simple way of neutralizing bias in the recruiting process is the so-called “stick to the facts” maxim. 

  • The decision is made based on evidence and not an assumption
  • If there is not enough information – there is space for guesswork – cue bias assumptions.
  • What is evidence in this case? It is information you can verify and validate. For example:
    • Facts in the CV and application cover letter;
    • Information from the candidate references and recommendations;
    • Statements made during the candidate interview.
    • Correlation of data between sources.
  • If the facts match up – then the recruiter can consider them. 

That’s the foundation of fighting bias. It might seem obvious, but in practice, it is tough to keep intact.

2 Awareness Kills Hiring Bias Dead

Awareness kills hidden hiring bias

The unconscious bias’ weak point is awareness. It is that simple. The moment the recruiter starts to think about possible bias makes it ineffectual. 

While it is not a solution per se, it is a viable workaround to lessen a particular bias threat’s influence.

How to pull it off? It is like playing minesweeper. While you can’t find a pattern until you stumble into one, you can prepare yourself by knowing what to identify. 

  • You can minimize unconscious hiring bias impact by identifying the kinds of unconscious hiring biases that may affect candidate consideration. 
  • For example, upon screening candidates for team lead positions, it is crucial to keep in mind that there is a chance of expectation anchor clouding the thought process. Cue “stick to the facts.”
  • On the other hand, when working on a position with diversity as one of the requirements, it is easy to fall back to affect heuristics and illusory correlations simply because an overarching position requirement throws a shade on hard skills and soft skills. 

3 Workflow structure stops hiring bias from slipping in 

Optimized workflow kills hiring bias dead

On the other hand, you can make recruiting workflow bias-proof by implementing a set of reminders into the sourcing, screening, interview workflows that keep the attention on objective facts and well-informed decisions. 

  • For example, you can expressly point out expectation anchors upon sourcing candidates and prevent affect heuristics by outlining the possible causes.
  • Or, expressly point out halo and horn effects during the interview.

The other important aspect is the transparency of the hiring process. It makes any manifestation of bias apparent and thus limits its direct impact.

How to make the hiring process transparent? 

  • Standardized workflows and guides help to sort things out and leave assumptions outside.

Shortlisting the candidates is the part of the recruiting workflow where unconscious bias is at its most subversive, as it is impossible to identify beforehand.  

  • You can mitigate its influence by automating the process and applying specific criteria to shortlisting. For example, use scoring for skills and experiences and apply benchmarks for each aspect of the position. 

In the case of job descriptions, you need to consider how the job description’s target audience perceives the text. Some vocabulary may be deemed confusing or inappropriate. How to deal with it? 

    • The position description revolves around tangible facts about benefits, requirements, and responsibilities—no ephemeral stuff. Stick to objective facts and don’t rely on stereotypical verbiage.
    • Keep pronouns gender-neutral (“they” not “he” or “she”).
    • Avoid age description and other superficial candidate characteristics throughout the text. 

4 Recruitment agency as an anti hiring bias solution

Recruitment agency as anti-hiring bias solution

There is also another way of fighting unconscious bias – by collaborating with the recruitment agency. And that’s not just because that’s a recruitment agency blog. The thing is – the effectiveness of the recruitment process depends on multiple factors. When a partner can take on the load and carry the weight, it makes things much easier, and the results more predictable.

Here’s how a recruitment agency can help with mitigating the impact of hiring bias.

  • Because of workflow specifics, the recruitment agency process usually figures in various bias types due to quality control procedures.
  • On the other hand, the recruitment agency can provide the client with more diverse candidates based on quality criteria due to the work volume.
  • Multiple perspectives are beneficial for decision-making. In this case, there are at least two perspectives at play.
  • If some form of unconscious bias sneaks into the requirements – recruiters can identify it and “eliminate on sight.”


As you can see, unconscious hiring bias is a severe threat, but it is not a death knell of an effective hiring process. If left unaddressed, it can run roughshod over your recruitment effort and cause a lot of headaches.

However, if you take action, you can mitigate its influence and, at the same time, optimize your process for a more thorough flow.

If you need unbiased recruitment or need to mitigate bias possibilities in your hiring process – our HR consultants can help you out.