Can Background Screening Help Reduce Hidden Biases in Your Hiring Process?

Reduce Hidden Biases in Your Hiring Process

It is assumed that hiring decisions are based solely on the professional skills and qualifications of each applicant. In practice, however, our decisions can be influenced by many other factors that we may not even be aware of.

Hidden biases can be particularly dangerous in the hiring process as they may cause you to inadvertently dismiss a candidate in a manner that perpetuates certain stereotypes or otherwise unfairly excludes them. For example, it’s shown that people tend to gravitate toward others who are similar to themselves. This might seem fine until you consider the biases that creep into your hiring decisions when you unknowingly act on this phenomenon. The negative consequences of this issue of bias becomes even more pronounced when you consider research which suggests a workplace is more successful when individuals within the workplace are diverse in terms of backgrounds and perspectives.

While employers desire to look to qualifications and fitness for a role, it is common to subconsciously judge a candidate on unrelated qualities, such as age, gender, or physical appearance. A recent study found bias in resumes with “white-sounding” names where the applicants were 50% more likely to receive interview invitations than those with “African-American sounding” names, even when resumes were otherwise identical. A Columbia Business School study found hiring managers are twice as likely to hire a man for a STEM job due to biases that men are stereotypically thought to be more capable in math and science subject areas.

Tying these factors to employment screening, here are five key ways to use this critical juncture of the hiring process to reduce hidden biases and promote fairness and objectivity in your hiring decisions:

1. Establish clear hiring criteria for every role.

Standardized hiring criteria for every role is important for preventing hidden biases from influencing the hiring decision. These criteria should be modified within a rigorous framework involving Risk-Security, Legal and HR departments. A level playing field is only possible if all candidates are evaluated against the same standards with an established and agreed upon process.

2. Ban the box in your job applications.

More than 1 in 4 U.S. adults has a criminal background, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP). 31 states have put in place legislation to “ban the box,” which requires employers to assess candidate qualifications before dismissing them solely on the basis of their criminal history. This is intended to truly give second chance workers just that, a second chance, rather than allowing biases to interfere with a candidate’s job prospects. You can elect to “ban the box” on your job applications and give all your applicants a chance to prove themselves through a thorough, standardized process.

3. Perform a comprehensive background check.

When it comes to making your hiring selections, background screening can prove a useful tool for reducing your bias all the way down to selecting the final candidate. This can be achieved by taking a holistic look at your candidates and looking at the full extent of an individual’s background experience to evaluate them through an objective lens. This is particularly important after you’ve already met them in person, as it can help overcome initial impressions to paint a more complete picture about their fitness for a given role.

4. Involve a third-party background screening company.

There is the possibility of unintentional hiring bias if the hiring committee or hiring manager is also responsible for conducting the background screening process. Perhaps certain background screening fields are not as carefully scrutinized, or perhaps the hiring staff subconsciously evaluates a candidate’s background more favorably than others. To mitigate the potential for this bias, a third-party background screening company with no role in the hiring decision can provide valuable, objective insight. A third party can enable managers to assess candidates from a neutral, fresh perspective by returning reports that are comprehensive and void of any pre-existing judgments.

5. Rely far less on your “gut feeling.”

Data tied to a candidate’s qualifications should be assessed objectively, not subjectively. This is sometimes easier said than done, especially if the hiring staff has a personal affinity towards aspects of a candidate that shouldn’t factor into the hiring decision, which could bias them to prefer a lesser qualified individual.

Explained by Dawn Smith, Chief Legal Officer at VMWare, “unconscious biases are so deep inside of us.” Smith notes that she addresses this issue by requiring her hiring staff to justify their input. For example, when discussing a potential hire, she sometimes gets subjective feedback, such as whether or not a candidate seems like a “cultural fit.” She counters this input by asking her team member to justify their reasoning. If they can back up their conclusion with facts or objective observations, she considers it. Otherwise, she dismisses such input to prevent subjective reasoning from playing a role in the hiring decision.

Hidden biases can certainly creep into your hiring process, but they don’t have to. Hiring managers can proactively put in place processes to reduce the risk of biases playing an influential role in hiring decisions. By enabling hiring staff to focus on the facts, rather than subjective interpretations about a candidate’s qualifications, background screening can equip companies with the data required to make the most informed hiring decisions. Explore background screening options to focus on what matters by keeping hiring biases at bay.

About Michael Gaul

Michael is a results-oriented marketing executive with over two decades of experience in employment screening, physical security, and business process management. Michael has deep experience in human capital risk management and a passion for educating business leaders and HR professionals on strategies that tangibly protect their interests. Michael serves on the Board of the Secure Cash and Transport Association (SCTA) and is a member of the National Association of Professional Background Screeners (NAPBS), and the American Society of Industrial Security (ASIS).
View all posts by Michael Gaul →