Unconscious bias is bad for business because they foster discriminatory decision-making and undermine an organisation’s efforts to be a fair and inclusive employer. Left unchecked, it can lead organisations towards homogeneous hiring and groupthink, and away from building a robust team with diverse perspectives and capabilities, affirm experts from Tripartite Alliance for Fair & Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP).

Do you unknowingly succumb to unconscious bias during resume screening and interviewing?

It is a mental shortcut that the brain develops in order to process information and make decisions quickly. It is typically influenced by social stereotypes as well as personal and cultural experiences. Often, what we perceive as intuition or gut feeling is in fact judgement shaped by our unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias is bad for business because it fosters discriminatory decision-making and undermines an organisation’s efforts to be a fair and inclusive employer. Left unchecked, it can lead organisations towards homogeneous hiring and groupthink, and away from building a robust team with diverse perspectives and capabilities.

To overcome unconscious bias, it is imperative for employers to recognise its various forms and take pre-emptive steps to counteract it in daily decision-making processes.

Here are some ways to manage it.

How does unconscious bias arise in the recruitment process?

Faced with limited time and resources to make decisions, we often fall back on unconscious bias to make snap judgements and jump to convenient conclusions. We are even more susceptible to unconscious bias when experiencing stress, a time crunch, or decision fatigue.

For instance, hiring managers, who need to sift through a thick stack of resumes, may resort to scanning them for specific key words and phrases that validate their assumptions. This may cause them to miss out on relevant information that give a more accurate and holistic view of the candidate.

What are examples of unconscious bias at play during recruitment?

While there are over 150 types of unconscious bias, these are some of the more pervasive types that employers should guard against when screening candidates. 

Affinity bias: Preferring candidates who share similar interests, experiences and backgrounds, based on an assumption that they present a good "fit" with the current team.

Confirmation bias: Seeking evidence that confirms our opinions and rejecting evidence that contradicts our assumptions, e.g. assuming that a candidate is a sloppy worker based on their appearance, thereafter ignoring other evidence that they are in fact diligent and fastidious.

Halo effect: Allowing one positive trait to affect our overall perception of a candidate, e.g. a well-dressed, well-groomed candidate might be deemed to be more competent than another.

Horns effect: Opposite of Halo effect; allowing one negative trait to affect our overall perception of a candidate, e.g. short job stints on the resume interpreted to mean that the candidate is an unreliable job-hopper.

How to prevent unconscious bias from affecting the recruitment process

Recognise your biases. Examine what you like or dislike about a candidate. Base your assessment on objective information and probe further to seek clarification, to avoid making decisions based on personal assumptions. 

Create a structured process. Use a set of objective criteria and an evaluation form to shortlist candidates. Conduct structured interviews using competency-based questions to ensure that candidates are fairly assessed based on the selection criteria that focus on skills, knowledge, experience, abilities and attributes that are critical for incumbents to do the job. 

Increase accountability.  Appoint a diverse panel to minimise bias during resume screening and interview. Having to justify decisions to the rest of the panel will help to unearth unconscious bias and ensure fair judgements rooted in objective facts.

Don't rush to decide. Treat interviews as a data point for final decision-making. Take into account the full range of information available and avoid hastily deciding to hire or reject a candidate.

Overcoming unconscious bias is key to strengthening your ability to make fairer and more informed decisions during recruitment. By recognising and guarding against it, you will be able to recruit employees objectively and build the best team for your business.

Download the infographic on 6 types of unconscious bias to avoid when recruiting for more examples of unconscious bias and ways to overcome them.

TAFEP provides information and resources to help employers and HR professionals keep abreast of HR best practices. Visit tafep.sg to find out more.


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