The science behind unconscious bias – and how it affects hiring

As organisations move towards creating a more inclusive workplace, there is an emphasis on hiring diverse employees. Organisations are prioritising diversity and inclusion as an integral part of their recruitment policy.

Although HR professionals focus on unbiased recruitment, bias seeps into the hiring process. Recruiters are oblivious to the fact that their hiring initiatives are biased or carry “unconscious bias.”

A study by SomeoneWho shows that “32% of HR managers felt confident that bias didn’t affect their hiring decisions. And, 20% were uncertain whether they were biased or not during hiring.”

The science behind unconscious bias - and how it affects hiring width=2464

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias in recruitment is when the selection of candidates is influenced by the bias of the recruiter. It is called unconscious bias because it is unintentional and creeps in without the knowledge of the recruiter.

Unconscious bias could occur due to various reasons. Many decisions are made by humans intuitively without awareness. Our judgements and decisions are often influenced by the unconscious activities going on in our brains. Since these decisions take place without our awareness we cannot control them.

Each one of us makes judgements based on our personal preferences. Our personal preferences are outcomes of our interactions and experiences which are hardly neutral. The judgements we form based on our personal preferences are likely to be biased.
Unconscious bias in recruitment is when a recruiter forms an opinion about a candidate based on first impressions.
Often recruiters are influenced by the candidate’s resume photograph, their hometown, etc. Many times, recruiters select candidates based on the “feeling” they have about the candidate.
Such biases are based on criteria irrelevant to the requirements of the job.

How does unconscious bias affect hiring?

Unconscious bias can occur at any stage of the hiring process. It may happen when a recruiter is screening the applications and makes decisions based on how close the candidate comes to their idea of the “perfect” candidate.
If a recruiter decides to overlook the initial biases and goes ahead with a candidate, they will be haunted by their biases through the hiring cycle. They are likely to reject the candidate at a later stage.
Many recruiters are inclined towards hiring candidates who are like them or those they are comfortable with or who look/act in a certain way, etc.
“According to a study published by Harvard Business Review, 85%-97% of hiring managers rely on intuition.”

Why do businesses need to address unconscious bias in hiring?

Biases in hiring create a workplace that lacks diversity. Diversity helps bring different perspectives and experiences into the organisation. “71% of employers say that diversity practices have a positive impact on their company.”

Diversity fosters innovation, better problem-solving, etc. Besides, candidates prefer to work in organisations that have diversity and inclusion. You may lose out on quality hires if your organisation does not have a diverse workforce. Therefore, unconscious bias can prove to be detrimental to the organisation.

How to reduce unconscious bias in hiring?

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Blind Recruitment

Blind hiring is when aspects such as gender, age, race, etc., of the candidate are hidden. The resume is sent to the recruitment manager without the name of the candidate. Another element you can consider obscuring is the education portion. This will reduce the bias towards choosing candidates from top-tier universities. The recruiter can select candidates based on experience and skill sets instead.

Diversify your hiring process

Unconscious bias can also be reduced by exploring new candidate sources. You can try reaching out to those candidates who have the required skill sets but could not make it into your hiring process using your standard hiring methodologies. You need to get creative and think of innovative ways to attract talent.

Look at candidates with non-traditional backgrounds

One common bias is the hesitation to hire people who are trying to resume work after a career break or those who are looking to change their careers. Many organisations are skeptical about hiring women who are trying to resume their careers after a sabbatical. Such biases could make you lose out on some valuable resources. Therefore, it is a good idea to consider all candidates on their merit rather than reject them for such reasons.

Monitor the hiring process

One effective way to reduce bias is to monitor your hiring process on an ongoing basis. Data gathering and analysis help identify the biases. Data on aspects such as what kind of candidates you attract, why candidates drop out at some stage in the hiring process, etc., can provide insights about bias in recruitment.

Raise awareness

You can consider conducting workshops or courses to help recruiters become aware of their biases as they impact hiring.

Avoid social media impact

Social media profiles reveal a lot of details about the candidate that may not be relevant to the job role. However, these details might influence the recruiter and create unintentional bias in their minds.

Create unbiased job descriptions

The first thing that a candidate sees about your organisation is the job description. Make sure that you word the job description such that it doesn’t indicate any bias. Data shows that job listings with gender-neutral wording get 42% more responses.
You can have diverse individuals within the organisation to check the job description before it is published.

Standardise the interview process

Many organisations have a different set of questions that guide the conversation for different candidates which can cause bias. Having a standardised set of interview questions for all candidates helps reduce recruitment bias because these questions focus on factors that impact fitment.

Skill-based assessments

The candidates can be asked to solve a problem similar to what the company may face. Such assessments will remove bias because the candidate will be judged based on their problem-solving ability rather than any bias.

Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO)

Partnering with an RPO agency helps reduce bias because multiple recruiters in the hiring process screen candidates.

Hiring Platforms

Hiring platforms like HirePro minimise unconscious bias in hiring because the recruitment is managed by a robust AI-powered flow. Unlike humans, bots are bereft of feelings and judgements and make decisions based on cold hard facts.

How hiring technology aids bias-free recruitment?

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Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based tools are being widely adopted by recruiters across the globe. Statistics indicate that “67% of HR executives believe that AI is beneficial for different parts of the recruitment process.”

Hiring platforms speed up the hiring process, enhance quality, and relieve staff of routine tasks, in addition to reducing bias in recruitment.

A typical hiring cycle goes through the following steps:

  1. Creating job descriptions
  2. Reaching out to candidates through social media platforms, job boards, etc.
  3. Screening applications
  4. Shortlisting candidates
  5. Conducting skill tests
  6. Interviewing candidates
  7. Selecting candidates
  8. Onboarding successful candidates

In manual systems, there is a likelihood of human bias being introduced at any of these stages. When the hiring process is automated, bots take over different processes. Humans will play their role in the recruitment process by conducting interviews, etc.

Hiring platforms can manage the end-to-end recruitment process and reduce bias.

Some facts about the power of AI in hiring:

  • 58% of recruiters reveal that AI has been most useful for sourcing candidates
  • 56% of recruiters feel that AI is beneficial for screening candidates
  • 55% of recruiters find AI to be effective for nurturing talent

Therefore, leveraging AI to support different tasks in the recruitment process helps reduce bias at every stage of a hire.
AI-based tools focus solely on skill sets and candidate experience. Hence, they eliminate human bias and foster a more diverse workforce. Data reveals that “68% of recruiters believe that AI will eliminate any unconscious bias in hiring.”

How HirePro’s end-to-end platform helps organisations in bias-free hiring

HirePro is a leading recruitment platform that offers several features that makes the hiring process seamless. It provides end-to-end hiring solutions.
The platform streamlines processes like sourcing, screening, assessments, interviews, and onboarding. It prevents assessment fraud by offering auto-proctored interviews and assessments. The platform can be customised according to the specific hiring needs of the business.
Processes such as application tracking, online proctoring, etc., are all performed by bots. Automation not only eliminates human bias but also enhances the efficiency and speed of the hiring process.
The platform helps businesses build a diverse and inclusive workplace that attracts top talent. HirePro platform also boosts candidate experience.


Although different strategies can reduce unconscious bias, it cannot be completely eliminated. While hiring platforms play a vital role in reducing bias, recruitment involves human intervention. The presence of humans in the recruitment process makes it vulnerable to unconscious biases. Organisations need to work on methods to help recruiters become more conscious of their biases and their impact on hiring decisions.
AI-based recruitment platforms work with human recruiters to minimise hiring bias and create a more inclusive workplace.