How to Overcome Cognitive Bias in Your Business
Discrimination and bias are quite closely linked. Discrimination is something that is unfortunately ingrained in society and is often caused by people’s perceptions about others. In the workplace, employers should be proactive when it comes to discriminatory behavior, adopting a zero tolerance approach. All employees and candidates applying to work for an organization should be treated equally and decisions about suitability should be made entirely on skills, knowledge and experience.
Within recruitment and selection situations, bias can occur even if it is unintentional, and can result in the wrong candidates being appointed or the strongest candidates being eliminated from the process too soon. Bias can affect key decisions in recruitment, selection, promotion, opportunities for job advancement, retention and job evaluations. But how exactly does bias occur, and, most importantly, how can it be removed from HR to make sure that recruitment decisions are fair and objective?
Unconscious bias is something that occurs naturally and is often triggered automatically by our brain which will make an almost instant judgement about people or situations. These snap decisions are based on existing beliefs, thoughts or socially accepted norms and they disregard rationality or good judgement.
Cognitive bias is an error in our thinking which can have an impact on the judgement or decision that we make. Some of these biases can relate to memory, which can in turn lead to biased thoughts or decision making.
A cognitive bias is a kind of error in thinking which occurs when people are processing and interpreting information and it can occur when the brain is trying to simplify the information that it is processing.

Types of Cognitive Bias

There are many different types of cognitive bias and before we can learn how to overcome them in a HR setting, it is important to understand each of them:
  • Confirmation – Preferring information that fits with your existing beliefs and discounting any information that falls outside of what you believe about an issue or topic.
  • Availability Heuristic – Rather than taking time to consider what you have been told, in this instance you would place greater value on information that enters your head. Greater strength will be placed on this information and you may think that something similar could occur in the future.
  • Halo – Forming an impression of an individual which may or may not be true. These impressions can unintentionally affect the way you feel about the candidate.
  • Self-Serving – When something happens, a self serving bias would blame an external factor and give yourself credit when something good happens.
  • Attentional – With an attentional bias, you would pay attention to certain aspects, perhaps focusing on particular things that the candidate says while ignoring other things that they say.
  • Actor-Observer – Stating that your own actions are a result of external factors while attributing the behavior of others to an internal cause.
  • Functional Fixedness – Believing that something will only work in a certain way.
  • Anchoring – Relying too heavily on the very first piece of information that you discover.
  • Misinformation – Where details you learn after an interview or the selection process interferes with your memory of what the candidate actually said during interview.
  • False Consensus Effect – Placing much greater emphasis on how much others agree with what you have said than what is actually true.
  • Optimism – You are more likely to succeed and less likely to suffer an adverse situation than your colleagues.
Some of the above biases are more applicable to a recruitment situation than others, and in a human resource role you have to be very careful not to use any of the above cognitive biases or let any preconceived ideas or beliefs impact your decisions, particularly when dealing with existing employees or recruiting new staff.
Employees within human resources should be aware of cognitive bias and how it can affect business decisions.
There are a number of steps that you can take to reduce bias, including the following four.

Overcoming Cognitive Bias in The Selection Process For Your Business

1. Evaluating the Application Process

Eliminating cognitive bias starts from the time you draft the job advertisement. The contents of the advert should be relevant to the role and not written in a way that will attract certain groups of people or individual. As an example you should refrain from using words such as “dynamic” or “young” because this is biased toward the younger generation.

2. Shortlisting

During the initial shortlisting process all demographic information should be separated from the application before the process of selecting which candidates have made it to the next stage in the application process. This will encourage recruiters to look at actual qualifications and experience while reducing stereotyping or other forms of bias.
[RELATED: How the Business World’s Denial of Differences Hurts Women]

3. The Interview

Interviews are one of the main areas in the recruitment process which is most susceptible to bias, particularly when recruiters are meeting candidates for the first time. It is for this reason that the interview should not be used as the only factor in deciding the suitability or otherwise of a candidate. Their suitability should be based on a number of different assessments. Sometimes bias can creep into interviews, so it is important to use a set of standardized interview questions which aim to draw out the skills of the applicant. In an interview where questions are flexible, deviations can be made and biases can emerge, leading the candidate to answer in a certain way to confirm the bias. It is also important to ensure that interview conditions are the same for all applicants.

4. Decision Making

To reduce the effects of bias after the interview, the final decision about recruitment should be made by someone who has not been involved in the recruitment process. These decision makers can be given all of the information they need to make an informed decision including the applicant’s information and performance at each stage of the recruitment process.
Bias during the recruitment process is a significant problem. Even recruiters with the best intentions can have a detrimental impact on recruitment decisions. Some organizations are now looking to technology as a way to reduce this in their decision making processes in recruitment. Artificial intelligence is helping recruiters tackle cognitive bias in a number of ways including:
  • Sourcing, screening and completing outreach to identify the most suitable candidates
  • Software that can remove biased wording from job advertisements and selecting language that is more suitable
  • Screening millions of CVs almost instantaneously. Machine learning understands the qualifications of the vacancy and then cross referencing these with data contained within individual CVs
  • Programmed to remove demographic information
Cognitive bias does exist and it is important that HR departments are proactive in addressing it to ensure that all candidates are treated fairly.

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