10 Keys to Hiring the Best Candidate While Reducing Biases & Building Partnerships

Think about the last time you interviewed a potential new hire. Did you get excited to see someone who went to your school or knew one of your friends? It’s normal for things like a candidate’s degree, alma mater, or mutual connections to influence you; however, those factors may not have anything to do with the job they’re applying for.  

The most sincere commitment to inclusion and diversity may be derailed by biases that hiring managers don't even realize they have. In addition to more obvious examples like gender, race, and age, unconscious biases deep inside of us often influence our judgement whether we like it or not. Biases are like gravity: powerful and unseen and require a concerted effort to control – but we can with awareness and intentionality.

Bias awareness is especially important for hiring teams and it is becoming more common for organizations to dedicate resources to diversity hiring. The goal of diversity hiring is to identify and remove potential biases – age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and other personal characteristics  unrelated to job performance –  in sourcing, screening, and shortlisting candidates so the process is based on merit.

Some of the most common types of biases to diversity hires include:

  • Confirmation Bias: looking for ways to make an initial judgement come true
  • Effective Heuristic: judgement based on superficial factors like a person’s weight
  • Expectation Anchor: adjusting expectations based on an initial (and favored) candidate (the anchor)
  • Gender Bias: judging a person’s capabilities on their gender
  • Intuition: “gut” feeling

The first step is to understand that these biases exist and to develop strategies for reducing them. Here are ten steps organizations can take to standardize the process and reduce biases in the hiring process:

  1. Establish hiring goals based on your organization’s mission and diversity strategy. If inclusion is a core value, it must be interwoven throughout the talent management process.
  2. Increase minority candidate pools by developing partnerships with underrepresented affinity groups and establishing a pipeline to schools, community advocacy groups, professional associations, chambers, etc. Research featured in Harvard Business Review found that when the final candidate pool has only one minority candidate, he or she has virtually no chance of being hired. If there are at least two female candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a female candidate are 79 times greater. If there are least two minority candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a minority candidate are 194 times greater.
  3. Engage and encourage minority employees to make employee referrals. People’s social and professional networks are made up of people who are demographically similar.
  4. Define the job description as a series of performance objectives rather than a list of skills and competencies. Determine which job skills are essential and have a way to measure them.  
  5. Counteract the effects of unconscious bias during résumé review by clearly defining the qualities you’re looking for in candidates. Decide whether you’ll prioritize experience, education, or specific hard or soft skills and stick to that decision!
  6. Use a blind, systematic process for reviewing applications to help improve your chances of including the most relevant candidates in your interview pool. It can be done the old-fashioned way by asking someone outside the decision-making circle to hide demographic information or use technology to assist.
  7. Conduct structured panel interviews, whereby each candidate is asked the same set of defined questions. A collaborative hiring process helps people to check their biases and uncover blind spots. 
  8. Have candidates submit work samples or take a skills test. Skills tests force employers to critique the quality of a candidate's work versus unconsciously judging them on appearance, gender, age, and even personality.
  9. Use an interview scorecard as an objective method of evaluation in which candidates' responses are measured by a well-defined five-point or letter-grade scale.
  10. Provide training. Are your hiring managers aware of their biases and are they creating cultures of belonging for your employees and customers? Are they prepared to meet the needs of a rapidly changing and diverse community? Trainings like the Diversity & Inclusion Conference expose participants to best practices in diversity hiring and share information about unconscious bias.

And for employers who think they may be free of unconscious biases, try Harvard's free online Implicit Association Tests.  

– Gracie Johnson-Lopez is president and diversity strategist at Diversity & HR Solutions.