Why you need to consciously fight your unconscious bias when hiring


Many companies are deep into hiring entry-level college graduates by now. As you are going through the hiring process, it's tempting to let the pedigree of the candidate’s education sway you. This is fairly common - a recent survey from Indeed showed a pronounced bias towards graduates of top institutions among hiring managers. That bias is magnified among managers who graduated from a top college themselves, and among those hiring for entry-level and executive positions.

Thirty-seven percent of managers who self-identified coming from a top school said they like to hire candidates from top institutions only, versus just 6% of managers who did not go to a top school. Conversely, 41% of managers who did not graduate from a top college find experience more important than the degree, versus just 11% of managers who said they went to a top school.

We are facing the problem that managers, consciously or not, look to hire people that are similar to themselves. Ultimately, this contributes to a lack of diversity and many qualified candidates being overlooked.

This is a problem because the survey also shows that when it comes to actual workplace performance, attributes such as working well with others (75%), strategic thinking (71%)  and self-direction (66%) ranked much higher as indicative of top workplace performance than a prestigious college diploma. Only 35% of managers agreed that top performers generally come from top schools.

Consciously we know that top performers don’t necessarily have top degrees, but it doesn’t prevent our biases from sneaking in. Here are some ways to combat bias and build more diverse teams:

  •    Include a diverse set of candidates for every job - and be generous with how you define “diverse.” Diverse candidates are not just different genders. Age, race, ethnicity, education and career path are other ways to bring in different types of candidates.
  •    Instead of focusing on the college degree for entry level grads, look at what else they did when going to school. Were they able to successfully balance school with a job or volunteerism? Are they able to demonstrate a strong technical ability for your role? Ancillary activities are often good indicators of someone’s work ethic or personality.
  •    Train your managers regularly. It’s easy to fall into bad habits during the hiring process, especially if you are hiring a large volume of people. That’s why it’s important to properly train your managers for hiring. Invest in and require unconscious bias training for hiring managers and offer it at regular intervals. It takes time to change the way we look at the world. 

It’s a tight labor market with plenty of competition for talent. It’s more important than ever to be open-minded about the type of people you bring into your organization. The most successful teams and companies have true diversity of thought, and you can’t build that without real diversity of experience. 


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