Hiring Biases

Top 10 Hiring biases that you should avoid in 2023!

Published on December 2nd, 2022


Hiring Biases can affect your company’s health in ways you cannot imagine. You probably would've heard your colleagues or co-workers say this at least once around you: “Why am I not getting a promotion?” or “Why is my hard work not acknowledged?” or even worse “Is it because of my educational background?” These are but instances of conscious and unconscious biases that float around in your workspace polluting the peace and harmony of working as one cohesive unit. 

It goes without saying that, biases can greatly affect the way your company functions and operates. It is one of the main reasons behind a sudden raise in attrition rates. It all begins right from the start- interviews. Although you, as a hiring manager must make several judgements during this stage, how do you make these judgements without being biased and in a dispassionate manner? 

Before we dive right in, let’s understand the term first.

What are Hiring Biases?

Simply put, it is when your personal opinions, inclinations or preference takes over and let you decide whether the candidate is the right fit for the job. These opinions can be based on the most juvenile things ranging from the way someone speaks or carries themselves or to some serious grounds like the candidate’s caste, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

It is a tricky situation to be in because even at times we unknowingly give into biases too. And that’s why we put together a list of hiring biases you need to be wary of while recruiting. 

Here are 10 biases explained with examples so that you can find the right hire

1. Halo Effect

A halo effect is a form of cognitive bias where a certain aspect of the candidate’s personality, resume, or response has been exaggerated in the mind of the recruiter. This ends up trumping any other attribute of theirs, taking over the recruiter’s opinion.

Example: A recruiter hiring a writer for their company, notices that an applicant has worked at a prestigious journalism institute and fixates on it when reviewing their application. 

They ignore the fact that they worked there for 3 months as an intern and instead focus entirely on the name of the institute and in the end hires the applicant over another who worked for 3 years as a writer in a local newspaper.

As is in this case, the bias works out for the candidate. It is generally a favourable aspect of theirs that can come up at any point during recruitment. The cause of bias may be irrelevant to the job but despite that, the recruiter ends up favouring them over other candidates. Therefore, to avoid accepting unqualified candidates, it is a hiring bias that needs to be eliminated

2. Horn Effect

On the other end of the spectrum we have the horn effect. Much like the halo effect, a recruiter develops a cognitive bias regarding a single attribute of the applicant and prioritizes it when assessing them. 

Example: A recruiter notices that a candidate does not have a Masters's degree and gets distracted by it, perceiving all their other attributes negatively. The candidate’s three years of work experience are ignored and they are rejected from the job position.

As this case illustrates, the horn effect is a hiring bias that results from a recruiter directing their attention to a negative attribute of the candidate and making their judgment solely based on it. The cause of bias might be irrelevant professionally but it taking precedence over the rest of the candidate's application is a cause for concern. Primarily because it can be the reason behind rejecting a qualified candidate.

To put an end to this, recruiters need to be aware of when a single aspect of an applicant is dominating their opinion and start viewing the applicant from an objective perspective. 

3. Confirmation bias

This is a hiring bias that develops as soon as a bias forms within the recruiter. It is detrimental to the recruiter as it reinforces the existing bias and hampers the entire process of hiring. The recruiter becomes more driven to prove that their bias is justified, leading them to frame their questions and the applicant's responses in a way that strengthens the bias further.

Example: A recruiter sees that the respondent is shaking their legs during the interview. They believe that shaking one’s legs is a sign of nervousness and proceed to ask them questions geared towards “exposing” their nervousness. 

The candidate, now subject to more intense questioning than before, starts shifting in their chair. This affirms the recruiter's bias and leads them to reject the candidate.

The issue with this is that an interview can induce nervousness in a person as would intense questioning fully intended to make them nervous. An applicant responding in this manner is to be expected but the existence of confirmation bias displaces that expectation. 

In this case, the initial bias was a conscious one, where the recruiter was aware of their bias but not the fact that they were reinforcing them unjustly. However, confirmation bias can develop through unconscious biases as well. In this situation, the recruiter might frame questions that solicit a type of response without even realizing it. Therefore, a recruiter needs to be aware of hiring biases in general to avoid confirmation bias as a whole.

4. Name Bias

This is a hiring bias that develops when a recruiter notices an applicant's name and develops a bias as a result of it. Names are often indicative of a person’s race, gender or ethnicity and the biases associated with these can reveal themselves as soon as the person sees the individual's name. 

Example: A recruiter hires Noah Rod over Dewayne Johnson, even though they both have similar resumes.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that applicants who had names common in the African American community were offered half as many jobs as those with stereotypically white-sounding nawhite-soundingf having identical resumes. A candidate should not be eliminated solely off on arbitrary factors and biases at the root of the problem should be addressed promptly.

5. Affinity Bias

Affinity or similarity bias is a hiring bias that develops as a recruiter finds an attribute in an applicant that they possess as well. This causes the recruiter to see the applicant as a like-minded individual and favour them over other candidates who have similar applications.

Example: A recruiter notices that an applicant went to the same college as they did. They interview the applicant, and a good portion of the interview is spent talking about the college the applicant ends the interview with a very good chance of being hired.

The issue with this type of hiring bias is that the need to find like-minded people might not always work out in the best interest of the company or the role that needs to be filled. By fixating on the similarity between them, the recruiter is unable to view the applicant from a neutral perspective. Establishing common ground with the applicant has no benefits from a hiring perspective. It is important to keep that in mind even if the recruiter and applicant are alike in more ways than one. 

6. Anchoring bias

Anchoring or expectation bias is a hiring bias that arises when a recruiter starts the hiring process with an ideal candidate or set of attributes in mind. This causes the recruiter to divert from questioning what the candidate can bring to the company. They instead, prioritize sorting out the pool of candidates by relying upon the ideal candidate they have visualized.

Example: A recruiter is tasked with hiring an applicant to fill in the position left behind by an employee who was promoted. They knew the promoted employee personally and greatly respected their work ethic. 

In the process of hiring they focus too hard on trying to find an applicant who is a carbon copy of the promoted employee rather than finding someone who would be able to do the job reliably.

The dilemma arising from this hiring bias is that the pool of candidates goes down arbitrarily and the applicant who is chosen in the end has been chosen for their resemblance to another employee without any consideration of how they would perform in the workplace.

A more subtle issue that can develop is that of a lack of a new perspective for the company. By hiring individuals based on their similarities to one another, we limit the entry of fresh ideas and new ways of thinking for the company. 

7. Affect heuristics

Heuristics are mental shortcuts that every individual takes in the process of decision making. They are useful on a day to day basis where they allow us to associate known knowledge within a context and make quick decisions. However, when we need to hire competent candidates, they can have an adverse effect on the choice of recruiters as they lead to a hiring bias known as affect heuristics.

Example: A recruiter rejects applications from candidates who have tattoos. The recruiter does this due to a personal opinion that those individuals with tattoos  have a rebellious nature and are less professional.

The bias can be established due to a valid personal experience, but the aspect of neutrality is vital for a successful hire. Since most of these happen subconsciously, a recruiter must actively keep their biases in check as they go about the hiring process.

8. First impression bias

It is a popular assumption that the first impression is the one that matters the most. This might apply to personal relationships but should not receive much importance in the start of hiring an applicant. Interviews and job applications can put those on the receiving end under a fair bit of stress, leading them to make a bad first impression. The first impression bias is a hiring bias that amplifies the effect of this bad first impression in the mind of the recruiter

Example: An applicant upon entering the interview call, refers to the recruiter as “Mom” in place of “Ma’am” when greeting her for the first time. The recruiter is put off by this blunder and proceeds to disregard the applicant's interview due to the bad first impression. 

This hiring bias stems from human nature to judge people based on our first interaction with them. The candidate needs to make a good first impression but a recruiter should not develop a bias due to the lack of one 

9. Gender Bias

Gender bias is a hiring bias in which a recruiter displays a preference or preconception towards a particular gender. At this point, the debate surrounding gender has become more nuanced and the nature of the bias has also evolved. People of all genders still face disc 

Example: Due to widesprad prejudice, women are often overlooked when applying for positions in the IT field.

Recruiters favor women over men in the case of the hospitality or caregiver industries. This is due to preexisting notions of men not being suited for the nurturing role in society.

Women are severely underrepresented in STEM fields and research has revealed that in a pool of applicants where the male to female applicants are 3 to 1, the woman has a statistically null chance of being accepted for the job.

10. Intuition Bias

Intuition bias or overconfidence bias comes forth due to an abundance of trust that the recruiter has in their skills. If a recruiter has had a high number of successful hires in the past, their choice of applicants can get skewed based on the hiring biases they develop through their hires. 

Example: A recruiter judges applicants based on the firmness of their handshake. They subconsciously believe that it is a good indicator of their ability to cope in their work environment. 

Of all the employees they have hired, the ones with firm handshakes have been ideal for their positions. This has resulted in their ideal group of candidates being heavily skewed towards the male gender. The position has no gender specification but the shortlisted pool of candidates is primarily men.

A lot of recruiters rely upon a gut instinct when choosing between candidates. It is emotion-driven or can be based on a set of data that is completely invalid in reality. It is a hiring bias that develops over a recruiter’s career.  It cannot substitute the ability to gauge an applicant’s skill or capabilities.

Moreover, an adept recruiter must learn how to adapt to the shifting needs of the market. A gut instinct cannot help when job roles have evolved to the point that the recruiter must leave behind their instinct and understand what exactly the position requires.

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Radhika Sarraf

Radhika Sarraf is a content specialist and a woman of many passions who currently works at HireQuotient, a leading recruitment SaaS company. She is a versatile writer with experience in creating compelling articles, blogs, social media posts, and marketing collaterals.

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