Bias is one of the biggest source errors in the recruiting process.

We are very easy to influence when it comes to recruiting. The classic recruiting process builds on irrational decision criteria and a problematic assumption. This unfortunately means that we often are mistaken when we follow our gut about a candidate and their ability to realize the company’s overall goals. In the recruiting process this leads to wrongful hirings, and at the same time it affects the company’s diversity strategy.

By Per Bergfors

Per has 20 years of experience within management, sales and marketing in companies. I also work as Assistant Professor at CBS, and therefore have solid experience as educator and communicator.


Unconcious bias affects your recruiting

What is bias? Bias are unconcious prejudices and stereotypes around for example gender or age, that overshadows the candidates suitability for the job and lessens the likelihood for finding the right match for the job role. Bias is tied to previous experiences, your own or others. Bias occurs because our brains wish to use as little energy as possible. To take point of departure in what we know, are used to or have experience with is easier than having to try something new and different. When things need to move fast and we are pressured, we fall back into what we are used to, and thereby we become affected by bias.

How does bias affect our recruiting?

Research is increasingly pointing towards our current methods not finding the best candidate for the job – but the exact opposite. More well documented studies show that most of us go into the job interview with instinctive and unconcious assumptions. This results in candidates being wrongfully judged and as a result the company misses out on diversity. It has been known for long that diversity in the work place increases effectivity and thereby increases the company’s earning capacity. Therefore hirings first and foremost need to rely on competences and not on our own bias.

One of the problems that have occured in 2021 is the fact that more danish company’s are missing qualified labor. The solution is in part hidden in the companies’ own recruiting processes. The classic hiring patterns make an error with their irrational decision criteria and assumptions – we are way too affected by our own bias and we are not at all aware of it. Therefore it is important to put focus on what unconcious bias we need to be aware of and how we avoid unconcious bias in all phases of the recruiting process. We have gathered 8 relevant bias that often affect the recruiting process.

attraction- and similarity bias

We favor candidates that look like ourselves. We do this completely unconciously and often under the excuse of the person having a cultural fit in the organization.

Attraction- and similarity bias is one of the reasons for discussions about quotas occuring. When leaders can see themselves in their employees, they get an unconcious wish to take care of their potential. Other examples can be that you see the person as more suitable because you went to the same university, or because the candidate has worked in similar positions and you share the same professional qualifications.

Confirmation bias

We judge way too quickly. A study shows that 60% of all interviews, the decisions around a persons suitability for the job are made within the first 15 min. Confirmation bias makes it so that we unconciously (or conciously) attempt to confirm existing perceptions and ignore the opposite.

For recruitment purposes it leads to irrelevant questions that only have the purpose of confirming our beliefs. In the worst case, confirmation bias leads to uncritical and shallow decisions based on our first impressions. We end up with missing out on good candidates and hire the wrong ones.


Recruiting is often centered around gut feeling. We base the choosing of candidates, and decisions about a hiring around intuition; this means factors like feelings, experience and intellect, as opposed to a persons real abilities and possibility for lifting the position succesfully. Intuition is for the most part a good thing, but unfortunately our intuition is often misleading in relation to the actual goal.

If you want to validate your own intuition, there are two things that you can ask yourself:

  1. How much experience do you have in this field?
  2. How big a part of your surroundings can be predicted with certainty? (High-validity-environment)

As a fire marshal your surroundings can be predicted with high certainty, given that events as a result of fires have a pattern. As the recruiting leader you often operate in a changing and dynamic environment and this requires many years of experience before your intuition will guide you to the right result.

illusory correlation

What connections do you see and do you make the right conclusions? Illusory correlation makes us see connections where there aren’t any. This affects our ability to hire the best candidate for the job. In recruitment we can often put too much weight on the interview questions, that have the purpose of predicting a candidates behaviour, without there being a real connection between questions and future job performance.

Conformity bias

This bias is most easily translated to: agreement bias. This form of bias is centered around social group pressure from your colleagues or maybe from superiors. Other peoples behaviour and expectations form how we think and act in daily life. What we observe between others, teches us what is normal and expected from us.

Therefore it can also be extra difficult to be alone around a certain opinion, especially if you want to be seen as a part of a specific group. Imagine that you, along with other respected leaders need to pick out a candiate, but you are the only one who likes a specific candidate. Would you say it out loud? Do you dare to stand by what you think, or are you immediately brushed along with what the rest think?

Our need to fit into a group, makes it so that good candidates don’t get the chance that they deserve. Maybe you have enough experience to see talent that is invisible to others and thereby can create value for the company. When you are aware of this bias, then it hopefully gives you the courage to think independently and press on for your viewpoints to be seen and heard.

The Halo and Horn effect

The Halo- and Horn-effect are too closely related bias’ Both bias’ can twist our perception of a person. The Halo-effect occurs, when a specific thing colours the evaluation of a person. It can be where they went to school or what sports they do. This one thing is glorified for our general perception of a person.

On the other hand, The Horn-effect is when something bad about a candidate catches our attention and overshadows everything else. We think that our candidate are bad at A, so therefore they must also be bad at B and C. Or maybe you don’t like their personality and that overshadows your ability to judge their suitability for a job.

This is how you avoid bias in all phases of the recruiting process.

A good place to start when you want to improve your recruiting, is to be aware of your own bias. But it’s not always about your own bias – it can also be about bias that are placed in the culture of the company or your team. Therefore it’s important to share this knowledge with your colleagues. You can for example start with sending them this article. Other than that there are many tangible pieces of advice that will help you on the right path.

Use “Blind recruiting”

When you start anonymization in recruiting processes, in part by hiding name, gender and ethnicity for those that need to evaluate applicants for a position, you secure thatpreconceivedopinions and views aren’t getting in the way of the best suited candidate.

Use a neutral language in the job posting

Make sure that the job and positions demands are described in a neutral language. Studies show that there is a big link between the use of stereotypical masculine and feminine words in job postings and what postings, men and women find interesting. In this way you can unconciously end up discriminating for example specific genders. But also age groups. For example, we saw a sentence from a company that wrote: “we are a young company, with the average age being 29”. Would you apply for this job if you were 50?

Avoid screening on the wrong criteria

If you use your screening in your recruiting process, then make sure that the screening criteria are relevant and based on evidence, for example driven by data on job performance or company culture. You can also use a “contingency table”. This easy test shows easily and in a managable way the connection between 2 events and can be usable when you need to secure your screenings on the right parameters.

Use tests and job profiles

You can minimize your own bias when you use valid tests in connection with job profiles, that build on predefined and job relevant criteria. By using valid tests and job profiles you increase the likelihood of finding the right match and choosing the right candidate for the position outside of your own bias. We recommend that you recruit on the basis of potential and talents. When you recruit on the basis of talent, you secure that the candidates talents and personality traits match the job role and the company’s overall strategy and culture.

We probably can’t completely avoid bias in the recruiting process. But if we work with our own bias’, make an effort and use tools such as tests, we can minimize the risk of bias.

When you think of these different types of bias through your own context, then attempt to be concious of what role bias plays for the conclusions you make and the decision basis’ you create. To use a new tool or a new process can be a good way to work with this.

Does your bias stop you from recruiting the best candidates? We hope that the blog above has inspired you to work with your own bias. Remember that it is often the combination of multiple bias’ that affect us – and in the crossover that we find the best solutions.

REMEMBER to share the message – in this way we all become better.


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