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Division of Human Resources

Unconscious Bias and Assumptions

Because everyone has unconscious, or implicit, bias, it is important to establish strategies to mitigate implicit bias from influencing our hiring decisions. 

What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious biases are the automatic assumptions or stereotypes we have about certain groups of people outside of our conscious awareness that influence our attitudes and behavior. Unconscious bias, often referred to as implicit bias, is pervasive and often does not align with our expressed or declared beliefs. 

Types of Unconscious Bias

Involves forming generalized opinions about how people of a given gender, religion or race appear, think, act, feel or respond. Example: Presuming that a woman would prefer a desk job over working outdoors is stereotyping. 

How to Mitigate:

Do not make assumptions. Use job related interview questions to assess whether a candidate can successfully perform the job. 

Confirmation bias is the inclination to draw conclusions about a situation or person based on your personal desires, beliefs and prejudices rather than on unbiased merit.

How to Mitigate:

Ask all candidates the same questions other than follow-up or probing questions 

The tendency people have to act similarly to the people around them regardless of their own personal beliefs or idiosyncrasies. 

How to Mitigate:

Establish a standardized process for evaluating candidates. Have committee members write and submit opinions of candidates after the interview before discussing candidates as a group. 

Asking different questions of candidates. Example: Inconsistency in questioning might involve asking only Caucasian male candidates to describe their successes on previous jobs. 

How to Mitigate:

Use a structured interviewing process. Ask all candidates the same questions. 

A social behavior where people believe that attractive people are more successful, competent, and qualified. 

How to Mitigate:

Screen candidates based on established job-related criteria. Conduct a phone 
interview to identify top candidates prior to an in person or virtual interview. 

The interviewer allows one strong point that he or she values highly to overshadow all other information. When this works in the candidate's favor, it is called the halo effect. When it works in the opposition direction, with the interviewer judging the potential employee unfavorably in all areas based on one trait, it is called the horn effect. 

How to Mitigate:

Remove the one strong or negative point and then review the candidate’s qualifications and skill sets as it relates to the qualifications of the position. 

The failure to recognize responses of a candidate that are socially acceptable rather than factual. Since the candidate wants the job, he or she will be reluctant to tell the interviewer unacceptable facts about himself or herself. The candidate may give responses that are "politically correct" but not very revealing. Example: An employer may comment, "I note that you are applying for a job that has a lot less authority than the job you currently hold. How do you feel about that?" The applicant might say that this is fine even though this is not the case. 

How to Mitigate:

Ask probing questions. When applicable, conduct approved testing to assess 
skill set. Conduct reference checks to confirm experience communicated during the interview.

The tendency to judge individuals by their names or prefer individuals with certain names. 

How to Mitigate:

Assign a neutral party to remove the candidate names. Candidates will then be assessed based on experience and educational background. 

How to Overcome Unconscious Bias

  • Learn the types of bias and ensure hiring decisions are not based on those assumptions.
  • Develop a safe space to identify bias or the potential for bias.
  • Establish a diverse search committee.
  • Establish criteria for evaluating candidates and apply them consistently to all applicants.
  • Do not introduce new criteria once the interviewing and selection process is underway.
  • Have objective, justifiable reasoning for a decision to reject or retain a candidate.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.