The Secret to Overcoming Unconscious Biases When Interviewing Candidates

Face it—when you hire someone, you’re judging them on a multitude of characteristics: what employers they’ve worked for, what experience they gained from those employers, how they answer your questions, the tone of their voice, the outfits they’re wearing, the way they do their hair…

Yeah, that’s right, and you know it. You’re totally judging candidates during an interview, and that judgment extends from their relevant qualifications to the more physical aspects that indicate the type of person they might be. Because, let’s face it, are you really going to hire someone who couldn’t manage to comb their hair the morning of their interview?

So, broadly speaking, most of your judgments placed on a candidate are within the realm of fair.

But, one big, glaring spot of judgment that every recruiter and hiring manager‚Äîand, really, every person in general‚Äîhas that is most certainly not in the realm of fair, is unconscious biases.

What is an unconscious bias?

Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute defines unconscious bias as, “…the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.”

Typically, when we speak about unconscious biases, it’s related to demographics, such as unconscious biases towards certain races, genders, or even those at certain physical attractiveness levels. And, as far as the actions and decisions they can influence, a big one in the workplace is hiring.

How do unconscious biases affect recruiting?

There are going to be those few recruiters out there who harbor outright prejudices—those who won’t want to hire someone because of their gender or race, or even because they aren’t physically attractive enough (and I’m talking beyond reason, not just because the candidate didn’t comb their hair). But then there are recruiters and hiring managers, ones that are much more in the majority, that won’t even realize what they’re doing when they pass by a female candidate for an engineering role, not even realizing what they’re doing might be from an unconscious bias.

Unconscious biases affect every bit of recruiting, because we all have an idea of what a candidate for certain roles should look like, but those conceptions are buried so deep within the way we all perceive the world, that it‚Äôs hard to fight against them.

Which begs the question…

What can recruiters and hiring managers do about unconscious biases?

No one (or at least very few people) want to play into stereotypes, but unconscious biases can be so subversive that you’re playing into them without even realizing it.

So, is there any hope?


There’s one thing—and it’s much easier said than done—that you can do to combat against unconscious biases: make your unconscious biases conscious.

Confronting yourself is the only thing you can do to fight against unconscious biases. It’s not easy to do, because we don’t like to think we might be acting prejudiced towards someone, but it’s an effective way to bring these unconscious thoughts to light.

So, whenever you reject a candidate, step outside of your point of view and see if there’s anything under the surface that might be affecting your decision. I’m not saying most of the time you’ll have an unconscious bias coming into play when you decide to reject a candidate, but it’s a prevalent enough issue that it won’t hurt you to do a little self reflection.

Try making your unconscious biases a little more conscious‚Äîyou‚Äôll be aware they are there and can actively combat them. And, if you want to learn more about the biases that plague recruiters and hiring managers, check out our thought leadership article, Hire More Ugly People: Performance Is More Than Skin Deep.

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