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How to Drive Bias Out of Recruiting, Hiring

A group of people standing in front of a wall that says shrm inclusion.

​AUSTIN, TEXAS — The past year has seen more organizations set hiring targets for a diverse array of candidates. Many organizations have taken an interest in building more inclusive recruiting processes, but Judy Ellis, the head of the diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) consulting practice at AMS, a global recruiting firm based in London, believes that more—specifically a mindset shift—is required to truly drive bias out of recruiting and hiring.

Diversity and inclusion are more than just tactics and processes; even though it's important to get the processes right, winning hearts and minds is also important, she said Oct. 26 at SHRM INCLUSION 2021, held in Austin, Texas, and virtually.

"After conducting DE&I recruiting audits for several organizations, I have found that some companies had great tactics and processes and yet those involved in recruiting and hiring didn't really understand the value of DE&I," she said. "Part of our goal as DE&I professionals is thinking of our work as organizational change work, communications work and education work in addition to working on systemic practices to eliminate bias from the end-to-end recruiting process."

Common Biases

Ellis said every individual in the hiring process helps create the system that exists and each recruiter and hiring manager can contribute to more inclusive recruiting.  

The first thing to do is examine your own biases, she said. "We are working for courage over comfort when it comes to recruiting for DE&I."

Typical biases in recruiting include areas such as:

  • Education. "Elite school bias is dominant in certain industries," Ellis said. "There is a strong belief that people who go to XYZ school are smarter and better."
  • Affiliation with certain companies, like Google or Amazon. "If you always go to the same pools, you will turn up the same fish," she said. "Many companies are moving to skills-based success criteria because experience-based criteria is difficult to find for certain underrepresented groups."
  • First impression. The candidates who are dressed well, charming and interview well often get good marks from interviewers, even if someone else is more qualified, Ellis said.
  • Stereotypes based on demographics. For example, thinking that women won't want to do certain roles.
  • Affinity with hobbies and interests.
  • Recency. "The last person you interview can seem better than everyone else," Ellis said. "You may have forgotten how you felt about someone you saw two weeks ago."
  • Confirmation bias, or the tendency to favor information in a way that supports one's prior beliefs.
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Overcoming Workplace Bias

How to Fight Against Hiring Bias

Ellis said the first step is to accept that everyone has biases and to gain self-awareness of your own. "Be mindful of when bias affects you, and then make consciously inclusive choices," she said.

Using consistent, structured and fair methods and tools when attracting, assessing and interviewing candidates is crucial to inclusive hiring.

"Our audits have found that the most consistent thing about recruiting processes is inconsistency," she said. "How consistent your process is will have a direct correlation to how many diverse candidates are able to get through."

Ellis provided the following tips for behavioral and process changes to deliver an inclusive candidate-selection process.

Intake Meetings

At the initial meeting with a hiring manager, be mindful of how "fit" and "ideal candidate" are defined, she said. "Fitting the values of the organization is important but fitting the person who had the role before is not a good practice. Trying to fit to your culture is fine, but be open to value-add candidates who will add to your culture," Ellis said.

She advised that candidates should be evaluated based on knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), as much as possible, and "must-have" job requirements, rather than nice-to-haves.

Consider location-agnostic roles, "a massive way to increase underrepresented candidates," she said.

Job Ads

Job ads carry your message and are used as an attraction tool.

Ellis said research shows that women can be turned off by job posts that list traits normally associated with men, such as "independent" or "aggressive." Make sure you are not using coded language that may not be attractive to all, and only list essential criteria, rather than everything on your nice-to-have list. "Go over your ads with fresh eyes or have someone else look at them," she said. "Running a free, linguistic gender decoder can also lead to more women applying."


Recruiters and hiring managers should strive to judge candidates only on the factors that will make them a success in the role and avoid biased or irrelevant factors.

"Give all candidates the opportunity to perform at their best during the interview," she said.

For example:

  • Interview consistently. Each candidate should have the same number of interviews, be asked the same questions and be given the same amount of time to respond.
  • Be open-minded about how and where candidates developed their KSAs.
  • Take notes to ensure that evaluation is evidence-based.
  • Stay curious about your gut feeling to determine if your decision is role-related or based on a bias. Stay especially mindful of your own biases. Ellis said she recommends that interviewers give candidates a likability score to proactively address any likability biases.

When it comes to the types of questions to ask, Ellis said that while behavioral-based questions are good, strengths-based questions—which encourage a candidate to talk about something they are good at—are often a way to support underrepresented candidates who may not have the experience to talk about.  

Hiring Decisions

At the final stage of the process, be wary of reverting to what feels familiar and comfortable.

Some tips include:

  • Remind yourself of your intention to be fair and inclusive.
  • Use diverse hiring panels. "Hit up your employee resource groups for help," Ellis said.
  • Compare candidates to the role's requirements, not directly to other candidates.
  • Consider KSAs in a balanced way. "Is it more important to have a particular skill in a particular role? If so, weight them appropriately," she recommended.
  • Consider what skills can be developed on the job.  
  • Don't let hiring pressure influence your decisions. "It will likely take longer to find underrepresented candidates for a role, because there is often less supply, and recruiters will need to get more diligent and creative," she said. 


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