Recruitment bias – the danger and the cure

Human Resources 15th October 2019

In the world of recruitment, there’s a commonly used metric that is used arguably more often than any other. It’s called ‘time-to-fill’. This is the number of days it takes to fill a vacancy – from the time the opening occurs to the time the candidate accepts the job offer. A 2017 report by the Society for Human Resource Management, states the average time-to-fill as 36 days. You’d be forgiven for thinking, ‘Hmm … that’s not so bad’.

However, this is something of an over-simplification. Let’s look at the facts a little more closely. The average length of the job interview process is 24 days. So – we’re left with just 12 days for the rest of the recruitment process. That’s 12 days to plan, source, select, background check, etc. Doesn’t seem quite so appealing now, does it? You spend two-thirds of your time interviewing candidates, so surely you should dedicate a similar amount of time and effort to making the correct decision. After all, getting the selection part of the hiring process wrong can be pretty costly.

Employee turnover is expensive

Clearly, your business needs to avoid high employee turnover. With the cost of a bad hire ranging from 1-3 times annual salary, let alone the impact on employee engagement and morale, it’s something you need to avoid.

Here’s the point – rushing the selection process can result in opening yourself up to bias – showing irrational prejudice for or against a particular candidate.

Here are a few common instances of recruitment bias – conscious or otherwise –

1. Contrast effect

This occurs when you compare candidates to each other rather than to your company’s performance standard. “Sean is a better candidate than Joe” instead of “Sean fits the parameters we’re looking for more closely than Joe”.

2. First-impressions

Never base your opinion of a candidate on their first impression. It’s so easy to do. It could be a judgement you make based on the way they dress – or tattoos even. “Martin turned up in jeans. Clearly, he’s not serious about this vacancy.

3. The Halo effect

This happens when you allow a single positive qualification or trait to take precedence over everything. “Janine has so much enthusiasm. She’s ideal for the job.

4. The Horn effect

The exact opposite of the Halo effect. In this situation – one negative trait leads you to unfair prejudice towards the candidate. “Linda seemed really nervous during the interview. She’ll never be able to handle the pressure of working in our company.

5. Negative emphasis

When you make assumptions about a candidate based on minor negative responses to your questions. A candidate confesses that they “failed” at something or made a “mistake”. You suddenly decide that this disqualifies them.

6. Non-verbal bias

You become over-influenced by body language. For example, the room is cold. The candidate folds their arms and you conclude that they’re no longer interested in the role. Or perhaps the candidates is simply showing understandable nerves.

7. ‘Just like me’ syndrome

This occurs when you rate the candidate based on characteristics that you see in yourself. “I’m good at my job, so someone who’s like me will also be good at their job.” Of course, what your business should be looking for is someone who has different qualities from you and will, therefore, be bringing these qualities to the workplace.

8. Stereotyping

You assume that a candidate has specific traits because they’re a member of a particular group. “Oh, these people are great workers but they’re never great at independent thinking.

Here to help

As employment specialists, we understand the pitfalls of bias in the recruitment process. We’re here to support you in every aspect of people management.

For straight-talking advice, call us – 01604 763494

Or email –

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