What Is Unconscious Bias in Hiring?

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Posted by: David Garcia March 08, 2022

The human brain makes decisions in the blink of an eye. Often this works well for us and helps avoid danger, like getting hit by a car. Yet, while the human brain is often superb with those split-second choices, it also has complexities that can affect our decision-making capabilities.

Unconscious bias is one of those issues. It can affect an organization’s entire structure, from recruitment and hiring to workforce diversity and company culture. 

If left unchecked, it can severely damage a company’s reputation and profit. It constricts an organization and prevents it from achieving its full potential.

The costs of unconscious bias are many. But how do you eliminate an issue that is unconscious and, for the person exhibiting it, probably unseen? 

Here we discuss the problems of unconscious bias and how you can prevent it from impacting your hiring practices. 

What Are Unconscious Biases in Hiring?

We like to think that we all make good decisions based on clear-headed and reasonable choices. Still, the truth is that our mental capacity, and reasoning that accompanies it, are often vulnerable to unconscious biases. 

Also known as implicit bias, unconscious bias is a form of stereotyping or discrimination often based on gender, race, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, or age.

Unlike cognitive bias, in which individuals create their subjective reality of a situation or person, unconscious bias usually concerns the perceived differences between groups and how they align with societal views. 

This bias could manifest itself within an organization that hires only those who share the same socio-economic background or personality profiles as the CEO. Numerous studies have shown it exists within hiring when companies skew their process towards recruiting similar people. 

Whether we mean to do it or are even aware of it, we are often subconsciously drawn towards those who look, think, sound, and act as we do. And the costs can be severe.

Why Addressing Unconscious Bias Benefits Your Organization

Truthfully, hiring decisions often come down to gut feelings. It sounds inefficient and even embarrassing to admit, but the truth is that nearly 30% of hiring managers rely on gut feeling.

Some of this is unavoidable. When you have ten candidates who are all perfectly well qualified for a position, the selection process comes down to a decision taken by a single person or group. 

If that is always the case, unconscious bias plays a role in the hiring, whether desired or not. As a result, the company will consist entirely of those who think, act, and even look like the person who makes the hiring decision. The lack of diversity has a domino effect as it creates an echo chamber. Homogeneity can stifle ingenuity and progress.

But that’s just the start. Unconscious bias negatively affects hiring and promotion. This usually leads to problems with retention and general employee satisfaction. If this continues unchecked, it’s easy for this kind of unconscious bias to shape a company’s culture, leading to a myriad of issues.

The issue also can have broader implications that spread outside the company. Reports of unconscious bias can become viral, leading to adverse media reports and potential legal ramifications.

By addressing unconscious bias within your organization, at the very least, your hiring can help foster a more diverse workforce. When a team with more varied backgrounds works together, research suggests it makes smarter, more innovative decisions.

In turn, you can create a company culture where each employee feels valued and knows that their path forward isn’t contingent on factors outside their control. Addressing unconscious bias at the recruitment stage also will most likely lead to better retention rates and almost certainly better staff productivity.

How to Remove Unconscious Bias From the Hiring Process

Considering how deep-seated unconscious bias can be, completely removing it from the hiring process can be difficult but certainly not impossible. Here are five ways your company can remove unconscious bias from the hiring process and realize its full potential.

Removed Biased Language From Job Descriptions

Before we even come to the hiring process, it’s essential to be aware of what factors could influence and attract potential candidates. The wording in the job description can have a significant effect on who applies for the job.

One prohibitive element in job descriptions can be gendered language. Words such as ‘competitive,’ ‘dominant,’ and ‘determined’ can act as a not too subtle indicator towards masculinity that could lead to women questioning whether the position might be right for them. 

On the other hand, words such as ‘collaborative,’ ‘interpersonal,’ and ‘cooperative’ might have the opposite effect.

When setting out your job description, it’s important to use neutral words wherever possible. It might take some practice. After each group of applications, it’s always worth going through to see what kind of diversity is present and whether the job description wording has anything to do with it. 

Expand the Hiring Pool

Organizations that only advertise and search for talent within a specific pool will struggle with diversity and inclusion. 

The problem with hiring only from the most well-recognized colleges or institutions is that you risk overlooking excellent talent who might fall outside the traditional constraints. Who’s to say that a candidate with a four-year degree and no real-world experience is better than someone who dropped out of school but created their own company from scratch? 

Expanding your hiring pool might take a little nerve, but the potential upside is enormous. Non-traditional candidates are often overlooked, but frequently come with attributes invaluable to any company.

Blind Resume Reviews

A name says a lot about a person, but should it? Hiring bias against racialized names is now well documented, with “European-sounding names” on average still receiving 50% more callbacks than “Black-sounding names.”

Blind reviews of resumes without names or other information can help check that. It can eliminate the likelihood of a recruiter’s unconscious bias concerning gender, religion, or socioeconomic background. You are focusing simply on the candidate’s talents and abilities rather than their background.

Blind hiring can dramatically increase diversity by simply removing the information that isn’t needed, but that drives much of our unconscious bias.

Standardize Interviews

It may be fun and seem like a good representation of the company culture to conduct interviews in a relaxed, free-flowing conversation. However, it doesn’t always provide the best or fairest method. 

Unstructured interviews might lead to one applicant answering a series of questions utterly different from another applicant. Research suggests that this method is little better than choosing an employee through a lottery.

The problem is that it gives you minimal data for comparing candidates. It is ripe for unconscious bias if the interview leads to a topic favored by the interviewer. 

A standardized interview needn’t be as tedious as some assume. However, it should allow those interviewing candidates to use the same template from person to person. 

Reconsider the Likability Factor

Humans feel drawn towards people considered likable. We prefer to spend time with those we get on with and have plenty in common. Sure, it works fine for social situations, but not when hiring. 

Hiring someone who is likable or whom you enjoyed interviewing doesn’t necessarily mean that this person is the right candidate for the job. Charisma and likability are undoubtedly valuable factors, especially for particular jobs where they are front and center. 

However, the fact that we tend to like people who share similarities to ourselves leaves this open to unconscious bias.


Unconscious bias exists in every person, and it’s almost impossible that we’ll ever be able to eliminate it entirely. However, it is possible to reduce its influence on the hiring process.

By addressing unconscious bias that has been rampant within hiring processes for so long, hiring managers can begin to confront the problem. In doing so, you can see returns that have wide-ranging effects. 

Unconscious bias has long been a significant problem across many hiring practices, including the background check. Scout Logic offers a quick and easy way to conduct bulk background checks on prospective candidates that make the recruitment fairer and more balanced. 

We are firmly committed to improving company cultures and hiring practices, one candidate at a time. Reach out today to see how you can transform your company. 

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