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Unconscious bias in recruiting

02/05/2024 2024/05

Unconscious bias - almost unpronounceable, yet widespread - is also known as unconscious prejudice. These are patterns of thought that influence our behaviour and decisions without us being aware of it. In the context of the recruitment process, these biases can lead to distorted assessments of candidates and thus undermine diversity and inclusion in organisations. 

The nature of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias is a phenomenon that is inherent in everyone, regardless of their intentions or beliefs. Each of us has an imaginary chest of drawers in our head. Organised thinking helps our brains to sort through the complex, ever-changing world and reduce the information overload. There is a predetermined level in the hierarchy of thought processes that acts as a mechanism. The effectiveness of this mechanism can vary, depending on factors such as age and, presumably, the flexibility of the brain. Another level concerns the specific content that the brain categorises. This content changes throughout life and is acquired and trained through individual experience. Our brain initially categorises everything it comes into contact with, whether it is a dog, cat, mouse or plant. Soft factors, such as social behaviour or traits that are thought to influence social behaviour, are also categorised. 

You may have noticed this about yourself: We tend to find people who resemble our own nature automatically likeable and perceive them more positively. The resemblance to our own person gives our brain a feeling of familiarity and security. 

The impact of unconscious bias in recruitment

The impact of unconscious bias in recruitment is diverse and can have negative consequences for both organisations and candidates. Biased assessments and selection decisions can disadvantage under-represented groups, leading to less diversity in the organisation. In the long term, homogeneous teams and organisations lead to a reduced ability to innovate, which can have a negative impact on competitiveness. In addition, unconscious bias can affect the company's image and have a negative impact on workplace culture, as employees may feel that they are not being treated fairly. Declining employee satisfaction weakens the employer brand

Examples of unconscious bias in recruiting

To better understand the impact of unconscious bias in recruitment, it is worth looking at some specific examples. One such example is the tendency of many recruiters to favour candidates with an accent-free language or a certain educational background, even if these criteria are not relevant to the job. Valuable skills in others are sometimes overlooked, so these preferences can exclude talented candidates who may not fit stereotypical expectations. 

Strategies to overcome unconscious bias

In order to overcome unconscious bias in recruitment, it is important for companies and recruiters to be aware of their own biases and take targeted action. These include, for example:

  • Awareness and training: Provide training and workshops for recruiters and decision makers to raise their awareness of the existence of unconscious bias. This training should encourage them to identify their own thinking patterns and understand how these can influence the recruitment process. This will enable them to make more targeted and fairer selection decisions.
  • Define objective criteria: Establish clear and objective criteria that are independent of personal preferences or prejudices. These can include the qualifications, skills and experience required for the job. This will make the selection process more transparent and fair.
  • Use standardised procedures: Use standardised procedures throughout the recruitment process, from application assessment to interview questions. This helps to ensure a consistent assessment of all candidates and minimises bias due to individual preferences.
  • Anonymised application procedures: Consider using anonymised application procedures, where personal information such as name, gender and origin is removed from the application documents. This ensures that selection is based solely on qualifications and skills.
  • Promote diversity in the selection process: Ensure that selection committees and interview panels are diverse to include different perspectives and experiences. 
  • Use of technology: Use technology such as AI-powered screening tools to support the selection process and minimise bias. These tools can help to objectively evaluate candidates and facilitate selection based on relevant criteria. However, AI is not unaffected by unconscious bias. Although it does not recognise differences between black and white, men and women, or young and old, it can be taught to do so. The data used to train the AI therefore plays a key role. Read this article to find out whether AI in recruiting is an opportunity or a risk.
  • Implement feedback mechanisms: Implement feedback mechanisms in the recruitment process to ensure that all candidates receive fair and constructive feedback. 
  • Monitor and evaluate: Monitor and evaluate your recruitment process regularly to ensure it is bias-free and inclusive. Analyse data such as candidate feedback, recruitment rates and employee satisfaction to identify potential issues and take appropriate action.

When it comes to selecting cultural fit candidates, it is common to look for candidates who you think will fit in well with your existing culture and way of working. While this is not a bad practice, it does run the risk of introducing unconscious bias into the recruitment process.


Unconscious bias in recruitment is a challenge that many organisations face, but it is not insurmountable. By consciously raising awareness, providing training and implementing objective selection procedures, organisations can help to reduce bias and create a more inclusive recruitment process. Ultimately, both organisations and candidates benefit from a bias-free recruitment process that fairly evaluates and hires talent regardless of background or identity.

As an experienced recruitment agency with years of recruitment expertise, we can help you identify unconscious bias in recruitment. Our extensive training catalogue includes a range of HR development such as leadership coaching or recruitment training for HR professionals

We have been in the HR business for over 20 years, helping our clients meet their people and organisational challenges in the areas of recruitment, employer branding, HR marketing, HR services and HR development. Contact us today and join us on the road to a successful future!

Sources: Ruhr Universität Bochum | Charta der Vielfalt

About the Author
Julia Kajdasz
Recruitment Consultant

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