17 Ways Recruiters Can Reduce Hiring Bias

“Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.”

William A. Foster

The quote makes me think of diversity efforts in that companies can try pretty hard, but still fall short of their diversity goals. Recruiters could often contend that they can’t find diverse candidates for interviews. It could be news, but the US is having a Census for 2020 and diversity should not be something anyone claims is hard to find. The data directly contradicts the position that there are just no diverse candidates applying!

Could the data be true? Is there a deeper, underlying reason that a recruiter would not necessarily see a candidate?

Unconscious biases are often the explanation for why more diverse candidates are passed over for job openings by recruiters. We can call these many different terms: profiling, mental heuristics, prejudice, unconscious bias, the list could go on in either a negative or positive tone with many synonyms. The semantics point to a correlative factor: we are only human and as humans there are certain shortcuts our brains take to make our productivity more efficient.

For diversity efforts to succeed, hiring teams need to recognize and reduce hiring bias through practice, use of tools, and a deeper understanding of the factors behind unconscious bias for each recruiting and hiring individual.

This article will take a swing at showing you how to overcome unconscious bias in your recruiting and hiring practices.

What is inherent bias or hiring bias or unconscious bias?

Unconscious or implicit bias describes associations or attitudes that reflexively alter our perceptions, thereby affecting behavior, interactions, and decision-making. 

Basically, you didn’t MEAN to think that.. but you did, and you can’t really go backwards from that.

Hiring bias occurs when unconscious bias affects the hiring process. Unconscious biases affect our judgment in many ways, some helpful and some not-so-much. They can cause recruiting and hiring teams to make emotional decisions when they should be making logical ones.

Recruiting leaders need to be intentional about finding ways to reduce hiring bias. There are many more candidates with incredible skills and incentive to succeed, but you are missing them! Hiring bias hurts not only your recruiting efforts, it prevents workplace diversity (this really hurts problem-solving), and even weakens retention efforts.

How does bias enter the hiring process? 

Bias can enter your hiring process through your hiring team, through the software processes (Facebook target Ads saw this before), or through the semantics in the job order itself. Hiring bias, like many biases and mental heuristics, are often expressed unconsciously.

Hiring teams have no idea they are using it to evaluate candidates. 

3 Benefits of Reducing Hiring Bias 

  1. Diverse companies perform better and grow faster. McKinsey studied 366 public companies and found those in the top quartile for ethnic and gender diversity were more likely to have financial returns above the industry mean.
  2. Diverse teams are smarter and more innovative. Nearly half the revenue of companies with more diverse teams is generated through innovation. At less diverse companies, innovation only contributes to 25% of revenue. 
  3. Diversity makes recruiting easier. 2/3rds of job seekers use diversity to evaluate companies and job offers.  Millennials also value workplace diversity strongly.  They are the majority in the US workforce and the most diverse generation in U.S. history

1. Remove biased language from job descriptions 

Carefully examine your writing. You may have language that is gender-biased in your job descriptions. For example, everyday words like “guys” are acceptable in speech. However, using the word “guys” in writing creates bias in job descriptions.  

Biased language has serious effects on diversity. In fact, Daniel Gaucher’s research showed that gendered language in job descriptions prevents women from applying.  The solution here is easy. Use some simple tools to prevent and reduce gender bias. 

2. Tap new sources for talent

The affinity bias makes us like people who we perceive as similar to us. Affinity bias can easily sneak into recruitment & sourcing efforts. A diverse company starts with a diverse talent pipeline.

Source more intentionally. Widen the lens through which you seek out talent. 

Try sourcing from universities you haven’t looked at in the past. For example, as part of its intentional diversity program, Google partners with HBCU’s

3. Restructure your referral system

More than a third of U.S workers are hired through a referral. Referrals are great. They convert to hires faster. They perform better. They retain longer. The drawback? They’re very susceptible to unconscious bias. 

Typical referral programs produce typical results (good and bad). Diverse candidates are much less likely to come in through a referral program. Counter bias in hiring by restructuring your referral program to reward diverse referral candidates.

4. Reduce hiring bias with AI for recruiting 

You can use recruiting AI to run an AI pre-screen where it asks objective qualifying questions directly related to a specific job role.

L’Oreal deployed AI in recruiting to prescreen 12,000 applicants for 80 internship positions. The result? L’Oreal hired their most diverse intern group to date and saved 200 recruiting hours. 

Recruiting AI can be a great tool to reduce bias in the hiring process. Conversational AI for recruiting can free your recruiters to engage candidates in more meaningful ways. With more time, hiring teams can do more to prevent bias and improve diversity.

5. Combine structured and unstructured interviews 

Unconscious bias can happen during interviewing as well. You can reduce it by being more intentional about how you design your interview process. In structured interviews, every candidate is asked the same questions. Unstructured interviews feel more personal and are left up to the discretion of the interviewer. 

If an interview is too structured it hurts the candidate experience. Too unstructured? Likeability bias enters the frame. This bias causes us to hire people we’d feel comfortable spending time with. 

Try combining these concepts together. Have each interviewer ask a certain amount of pre-planned questions. Then alot a set time for unstructured discussion as well. 

This way you balance consistency and candidate experience. 

6. Ask better interview questions 

Thinking carefully about the questions you ask is critical to removing bias from interviews. Here’s an example.

When we think about ourselves, we attribute our achievements to our merit and personality. We attribute our failings to external factors.

But when we think about others, we do the opposite. We think their achievements are due to luck. We think their failings are caused by their behavior. This duality is called attribution bias. If you don’t ask the right interview questions, you won’t understand the reasons behind a candidate’s wins and losses. 

Asking behavioral interview questions is a great way to reduce attribution bias in your hiring process.

7. Several interviewers and several interviews 

Your first impression of someone colors all of your following impressions of the person. Doesn’t sound so bad right? The problem is we form a first impression within the first 15 seconds of meeting someone. Far too quickly to really know a candidate.

Then the primacy effect kicks in. It’s a hiring bias that makes our first impression carry more weight than subsequent interactions. 

Have your candidate interview with a few different people one at a time over a few interviews This creates more chances for the candidate to make an impression on different people. Multiple interviewers and interviews reduce the primacy effect bias in hiring.

8. Find better predictors of performance 

Often times we unknowingly attribute meaning to meaningless predictors. Like GPA for example. It’s been proven that GPA is not a strong predictor of career excellence. Yet, many hiring teams still use it as an anchor. 

In anchoring bias, an irrelevant reference point influences our decision making because it is among the first pieces of information received. Before recruiters meet with candidates they scan resumes. Eye-tracking studies show recruiters spend 7 seconds per resume, and 80% of their time is spent on name, academic info, and the previous title. 

Its likely GPA is being used as an anchor by your recruiters and is influencing their decision making. How can you prevent this? 

Suppress information from the recruiting process that hasn’t been proven to be a strong predictor of job performance.

9. Deploy skills assessments to fight unconscious bias 

Skill assessments help hiring teams to evaluate job candidates. They can add another quantitative measure for your hiring team to consider. Using skills assessments can help hiring teams focus on more job-relevant criteria about candidates. 

Skills assessments can create fairer evaluations of candidates and reduce the effects of hiring bias.

10. Create weighted evaluations 

The halo effect is a type of unconscious bias that makes us judge someone as fundamentally good based on a single good quality. For example, a recruiter could be interviewing a candidate who was a pleasant conversationalist. The halo effect could make that recruiter overwhelmingly perceive that candidate as better than others. 

The Halo effect is tricky. Part of good interviewing is making a subjective assessment of a candidate. Try pairing rating scales to your most important behavioral interview questions. Combining quantified and qualified assessments will help prevent the halo effect bias from affecting your hiring.

11. Consider equitable hiring practices 

Equitable hiring practices involve providing salary transparency, not inquiring about salary history, and instituting fair chance practices. Providing salary transparency reduces the effect of gender and racial bias in negotiations. Not asking for salary history helps women, people of color, and people with disabilities close the wage gap. Finally, fair chance practices give a fair shake to candidates with criminal histories.

12. Provide a salary range 

Applying the concept of transparency in the workplace to your recruiting strategy is a powerful and underused tool. 2/3rds of job seekers say that seeing a listed salary range in job descriptions is very important. Candidates want to see this information. 

Providing it reduces the likelihood that hiring teams will have unconscious bias impact the hiring process during salary negotiations. In salary negotiations, women and minorities can fall victim to gender bias, racial bias, and other types of unconscious bias. 

Something the government has gotten right, wow I never thought that could be said in a blog post for RapidHire, is making salary guidelines standard and available as public information. Why isn’t this a standard for all companies? You’d be surprised how loyal your employees become when you treat them loyally in turn.

13. Don’t ask for salary history

While progress has been made, unconscious gender bias still creates pay inequity to this day. Asking for salary history furthers this. It can turn a salary that was potentially a result of gender bias into an anchoring bias. 

Many states in the US  have passed laws making it unlawful to ask about salary history. Not asking for past salary history reduces gender bias and reduces anchoring bias in your hiring process. 

14. Institute fair chance practices 

More than 1 in 4 adults in America have a criminal record. Candidates with any criminal record, even minor nonviolent offenses like a misdemeanor conviction, are 50% less likely to get a callback than a similar candidate with a clean background.

Criminal records can make a strong first impression. Knowing about them too soon invokes the primacy effect. By inquiring about criminal history later in the hiring process, you give candidates with criminal records a fair shake at being considered for their skills and ability. 

15. Use diversity panels 

Affinity bias makes us favor people who we feel a connection or similarity to. Look for it the next time you meet someone. If they went to the same college as you, don’t you suddenly like them a little bit more? 

Prevent affinity bias by having multiple people from varied backgrounds interact with candidates during the interview stage.  

Intel uses diversity panels to reduce unconscious bias. Each hiring panel is required to have 2 women and underrepresented minorities. Panels are easy to put together and powerful tools. Intel improved diversity by 15% in just 2 years. 

16. Try blind hiring to reduce hiring bias

Simple information like knowing a candidate’s first and last name can trigger unconscious bias in hiring teams. Recent research shows that applicants with foreign-sounding names were 28% less likely to get a callback.

This happened even though they had an identical country of birth, similar educational backgrounds, and work histories as anglo named applicants. 

A small hiring team at a museum experimented with blind hiring. They replaced names with numbers on resumes. They found they invited more diverse candidates to their interviews as a result. Processes to prevent bias don’t have to be complex to be effective.

Another way to use blind hiring is to use conversational AI to pre-screen candidates. Using recruiting AI for blind hiring has been proven to improve diversity.

17. Get “bias in hiring” training

At any moment, our brains are receiving 11 million pieces of information. Many experts have compared brain-processing to computer RAM, we can only process 40 items (bits) consciously, or something like that. You know you’ve felt this before when you have to rewind your audio-book because the driver in front of you did something whacky, drawing your focus!

When it comes to building awareness of unconscious bias in hiring, I’m sure your recruiting team’s brains would welcome some help! Look to a diversity and bias training organization like Paradigm. They have several offerings for diversity and bias training including events, team training, and online training. 

Keep learning & taking action to make a better world of work for all 

We’ve got some great free resources for you to teach you more about unconscious bias and diversity in hiring. I’ve got content ready for you with info about tools to prevent bias, information about diversity panels, and research on gender bias. 

Keep reading, educating yourself about bias, and continue to be intentional about diversity.

Together, we can all do our part to create a better world of work for all. 

Additional Sources

Green, K. A., López, M., Wysocki, A., & Kepner, K. (2002). Diversity in the workplace: Benefits, challenges, and the required managerial tools. University of Florida, 1(4), 1-3.

Prieto, L. C., Phipps, S. T. A., & Osiri, J. K. (2009). Linking Workplace Diversity To Organizational Performance: A Conceptual Framework. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM)4(4), 13-22.

The Journal of Infectious Diseases, Volume 220, Issue Supplement_2, 15 September 2019, Pages S62–S73

Original, edited heavily from the original article to reflect a less biased standpoint.


RapidHire Tool is a mobile-friendly web-based application for recruiters and staffing agencies.  This pay package calculator allows customizable and accurate pay package calculations that managers can control, recruiters can access anywhere, and RapidHire expedites the entire offer process to increase SPEED to market – and we all want to feed our hungry recruiters with good PBJs.

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