Selection bias graphic

What is selection bias and how to avoid it?

We all make thousands of decisions every day. To do so, we bring in all the knowledge we gathered from our upbringing, education, exposure to diversity, encounters in personal and professional life and habits we developed over time. Most of the time, we are not even conscious about the fact that we are making a decision.

A lot of these decisions are influenced by subjective factors, and there is a risk that we also apply these processes and this subjectivity in the recruitment process. This is what we call selection bias. But how can you recognize it? What are potential risks and consequences of hiring bias? And what can you do to avoid it?

Different types of hiring bias

There are numerous ways to be influenced (for better or for worse) when interviewing candidates. We have listed the most important ones.

Halo or horn effect

If the candidate scores strongly (halo) or poorly (horn) in one area, you might have the tendency to focus on this area and generalize it for the entire person, without paying attention to other skills or competencies to make a balanced judgement.

First impression

People might prefer people coming in with confidence and with a firm handshake. Unless you are looking for a business developer, this might not be an important criterion to judge your candidate, but based on this, you could eliminate some high-quality candidates from the process.

Intuition or gut feeling

The risk exists that recruiters base themselves on irrelevant factors such as beauty, intellect or others, instead of focusing on actual competencies and skills.

Affinity bias or similar-to-me effect

People tend to favor who look like them or who are more similar to them. If an interviewer feels they could get along well with the candidate, this can put the candidate in a preferred position.

Confirmation bias

We all are quick at passing judgement, recruiters just alike. We make snap decisions based on perceived truths and then spend the rest of the time, subconsciously or not, trying to justify our bias. We then tend to ask irrelevant questions to elicit answers to confirm our initial assumption about the candidate, because we are only looking to hear what we want to hear.

Affect heuristics

The affect heuristics describe how we often rely on our emotions, rather than concrete information, when making decisions. This allows us to reach a conclusion quickly and easily, but can also distort our thinking and lead us to make suboptimal choices. 

    Risks of interviewer bias

    Recruitment is never a totally objective process, but too much personal interference during interviews leads to bad hiring decisions followed by high turnover rates. It also has a negative impact on the efforts of organizations to build a diverse workforce. This would mean that recruiter bias could lead to a workforce which lacks complementarity.

    If recruiters do not use a structured and standardized way to conduct their interviews, there are also other risks:

    • They might get distracted. If questions are not prepared in advance, they might forget something or miss a critical element for the job.
    • They might also misjudge the candidate during the interview.
    • Selection bias and subjectivity make the candidate's job performance unpredictable.

    How to avoid selection bias

    We are all human beings, and using our intuition is not a bad thing. However, for recruitment decisions, making mistakes can be a rather expensive matter. So here are some tips on how to avoid selection bias:

    • Consistency and transparency will be key in your hiring process.
    • Look for factual evidence to make hiring decisions, rather than trusting subjective assumptions.
    • Be aware of unconscious hiring biases within your team or for yourself, and take a moment to overthink them.
    • Let candidates be interviewed by different people. But then again, make sure that other people involved in the recruitment process are also aware of these hiring biases.
    • Focus on the expected behavior for the job role on top of skills and experience. Skills and experience alone are generally poor predictors of candidate success; in fact, skills are the easiest to train for. Instead, organizations should check whether the candidate fits the company culture and has the right mindset, based on a structured behavioral interview designed to evaluate alignment against the values.
    • Use test assignments. Present them a short case and judge the answers to get insight in their way of working and problem-solving skills. This can help you see clearly in the strengths and development areas of your candidates. Check out our suggestions on how to set up a business case for candidates.
    • Takes notes during interviews. Nobody is capable to remember all the nuances of an interview later on. So get back to your notes later to check, and to objectify the answers of your candidate.
    • And last but not least, working with a structured interview guide makes sure you ask every candidate the same questions that truly matter and help you make an informed decision. If you follow the script, you will be less distracted by personal opinions, emotional interference or other biases we summed up before. 

    Benefits of a structured Interview Guide

    You might not conduct recruitment interviews every day, but we can support you in becoming an expert at it. Thanks to a structured interview guide, you will

    • Save money, by keeping your recruitment process in-house.
    • Professionalize and standardize your interview process, tailored to the needs or your organization.
    • Win time, because you don't have to prepare 2 hours before the interview.
    • Make a professional and structured impression on your candidate, which will impact your employer brand in the long run. 

    You don't need to enroll in a time-consuming training, the template is immediately available and can be used for all types of profiles. 

    So to conclude...

    Eliminating interviewer bias entirely is impossible – as human being always have their own preferences.

    But there are ways to reduce your company’s bias significantly by having straightforward interview and evaluation practices.

    It's important to have in place clear instructions for everyone before interviewing candidates. The HR Design Toolkit interview guide is here to serve this purpose.