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How to minimise bias among candidates when hiring

By Maggy Mushira | April 23rd 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Think about the last time you carried out a recruitment exercise,  did you rely on your gut, or did you use a more scientific approach to guide your decisions?

During a recent workplace debate organised by Both Sides Debates in collaboration with Shortlist and attended by Human Resource (HR) practitioners and business leaders,  I was surprised to learn that 56 per cent of HR leaders rely on their intuition when selecting their candidate of choice.

While following your gut has its merits when it comes to decision making in general,  it is risky for an HR professional to rely solely on this determinant when making what could be arguably a company’s most crucial decision.

Data must have a place in the recruitment process because it guarantees objectivity and counteracts the conscious and unconscious biases we all inevitably hold. How then,  do we eliminate biases?

Use recruitment software

Recruitment software will help you streamline or automate some parts of your recruitment process including sourcing, selecting, screening, and interviewing candidates. In Kenya, a single job post attracts thousands of CVs, making the screening process extremely laborious. Filtering through the myriad of CVs is a near impossible ask that can result in hiring managers overlooking great talent.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) allows recruiters to easily sift through multiple CVs and guard against locking out candidates based on demographic data such as age, marital status and name. AI has been proven to minimise biases in the hiring process by up to 70 per cent.

Structure your interviews

A structured, competency-based interview ensures that every candidate is asked the same questions, in the same order and ultimately grades them on a standardised rubric. It means using predetermined criteria to craft questions that test the skills needed to succeed on the job.

I also recommend including a likability score as a key metric factor on your checklist. This method allows you to compare candidates fairly against the role (rather than each other) and leaves little room for biases to creep into the final decision.

Diversify the interview panel

Many of us fall into the common trap of scanning a candidate’s CV and then drawing conclusions based on shared experiences and similarities. Perhaps you went to the same university or started your career at the same company. Or maybe the similarities are broader but no less powerful - you are both male, or millennials, or privileged. When a candidate’s background, credentials or even appearance resembles your own, you are more likely to have a positive bias towards them.

According to research by Forbes, diverse teams have an 87 per cent chance of making better business decisions more often than homogenous teams. When conducting panel interviews, it is important to invite a diverse selection of people from your company to help you arrive at a decision.


The right assessment tool for candidates will help you evaluate applicants based on their experience, skills, cognitive ability, personality among others. This works to save time and resources since only the best talents will make it to the interview stage. The different assessment tools that intuition cannot replace include:

Knowledge-based tests

A candidate’s past work experience is important since it helps us assess the applicant’s technical and theoretical expertise. Questions asked of the candidates should relate to the role you are hiring for.

Personality tests

You want somebody who’s going to fit into your company culture. If you are hiring for an event manager in a startup business,  you may want an extrovert who is able to work autonomously. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a Finance Manager you may need someone who is naturally detail oriented. The aim of a personality test is to ensure the right fit for the company from the start.

Cognitive ability test

Cognitive ability tests pose questions designed to estimate an applicant’s potential to use mental processes to solve work-related problems or to acquire new job knowledge.

These tests are scientifically known to be the biggest predictor of performance in the workplace. According to research by Frank Schmidt, hiring candidates with high cognitive ability gives you 65 per cent assurance that they will perform well in their role. Skills assessment tools such as creative problem-solving skills, science will serve you far better than your gut.

-The writer is an executive recruiter and an ICF-accredited executive coach

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