Will Unconscious Bias Drive Your Hiring Decision?

Whether or not you are happy at work begins with your initial interview with the hiring manager.  It is there that you get to assess whether this company aligns with your values.  The hiring manager too has a stake in your ability to be happy at work. He/she needs to determine whether you can do the job well and feel good about doing it for this company.

“I can tell within the first 5 minutes of the interview if this is a person I am going to hire.”  This statement or ones like it make me see red.  I’ve heard it frequently from hiring people.  They wear it like a badge of honor.  To them it means they have a talent for hiring.

Why does it make me see red?  It is because I think it shows unconscious bias on the part of those people.  When I told a friend who was on the hiring committee of her law firm that it was bias she got angry.  She didn’t see it as bias. She said she could tell who would “fit in” at the firm and who wouldn’t.  That is why we end up with businesses that are not diverse.  “Fit in” is code for the person is “like me”.

Not all bias is bad.  In fact, bias is really a short cut so that you don’t have to think something through each time.  It can be thought of as a rule of thumb.  One rule of thumb might be if I see a cayote in my backyard, I don’t go outside and pat it.  I’ve made the decision that cayotes are dangerous once so I don’t have to keep making it again. The decision keeps me safe.

The NeuroLeadership Institute has on its website this quote, “If you have a brain, you are biased.”  We all have biases.

Once when I was a sales manager and we were looking for new sales professionals to hire, we decided that two managers would interview each candidate initially.  At the end of one interview that I was part of the other manager seemed embarrassed when he said to me, “I keep hoping we will get someone just like Tom.”

I knew what he meant but I was surprised he admitted it.  Tom was a top performer (young white male).  The other manager was embarrassed because he knew what he was admitting was a bias.  At least he was aware of it and was honest with himself.  I had a similar bias but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge it.

So, what do you do to ensure that your decision is not based on bias but is a good decision.  The first step is too slow down and become aware of a potential bias in your decision.  Check in with yourself.  Did something trigger an emotion within you like fear, guilt, anger, sadness?  How do you want to feel?  How can you get there?

The next step would be to consider all the information while being aware of the bias.  In the end you might want to check with someone else – someone who thinks differently than you.  It can also help you to pretend you are making the decision for someone else.  This would allow you to take your emotions out of the decision and make an impartial decision.

As I have become more aware of my own bias, I have thought about how I might approach that interview situation now.  What the group of managers and I missed in the hiring process was spending time on outlining the skills needed for the job we were hiring for.  We all were sure we would “know it when we saw it.”

There were 5 managers doing the interviewing.  Perhaps each of us had a different idea of the ideal candidate.  We needed to share our ideas and come to an agreement.

The next step might have been to look at the skills of all the top producers and come up with an agreed-on list of characteristics needed to do the job.  Here I would include using the DISC profile of each top producer to see if there was a particular behavioral style that added to the success of the candidate.

Once we have an agreed upon list of characteristics, behavioral style and skills necessary to do the job well, we could begin the interview process determining how closely each candidate matched our defined requirements.  Candidates would all take the DISC behavioral assessment so that we could know and not just guess their behavioral style.

Finally, we would need to discuss as a group which candidate or candidates matched our requirements.  Our choice would have to be the one we felt we could best work with being fully aware that we can not let bias enter into it.  Would that work?  Would it let us come up with a really good unbiased hiring decision?  I don’t really know.  What do you think?   Does your company have a well thought out hiring process?  Feel free to comment below.


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