6 ways to remove unconscious bias in your recruitment process

Posted on:

31st January 2023

Unconscious bias is part of human nature. Meeting new people, learning new information and other life experiences shape our perception of the world around us. 

As our brains make thousands of decisions every day and process 40 bits of information in one single moment, we take unconscious shortcuts to reach quicker conclusions. Some of these may be true, whereas others may be inaccurate and rooted in systems of marginalisation. Some of these shortcuts can often lead to unintended consequences, also known as unconscious bias.

​Unconscious bias isn't always a bad thing. You may have deeply-held beliefs (that you are not aware of) that lead to a positive behaviour in your life. For example, a deeply-held belief that people deserve to be treated with respect, you may not be aware of your belief, but if this means that you treat everyone you meet respectfully, your bias is working positively.

If you have a belief that disabled people are less able to be in employment (but you aren’t consciously aware of this) then you may overlook those disabled candidates who have amazing skills. This is when a bias becomes negative, because it has a negative impact on your behaviours, and other people’s experiences. 

​Table of Contents
How our brains process information
How does unconscious bias show up in the recruitment process?
How can you reduce unconscious bias in the recruitment industry?
1. Implementing new processes
2. Develop inclusive job adverts
3. Use objective evaluation criteria and structured interview processes
4. Diversify the hiring committee
5. Ensure diversity and inclusion in your recruitment sources
6. Regularly review and assess your recruitment process
Our Commitment to diversity and inclusion

How our brains process information

Daniel Kahneman’s theory, thinking fast and slow, explains how our brain's decision-making is split into two systems.

System 1 is a fast and emotional response. This sort of decision is basically your autopilot. Things like when to turn the tap off as your glass is full or when to press the brake in your car.

System 2 is a slow and conscious response. This part of your brain is used for more important decisions such as booking a holiday or applying for a job.

​With the thousands of decisions we make every day, system 1 usually deals with the majority of them so we reserve our capacity for those more important decisions. It’s system 1 that takes those shortcuts formed by past experiences to draw conclusions, when in fact, realistically it should be system 2 in some cases, particularly when recruiting. 

How does unconscious bias show up in the recruitment process?

Unconscious bias plays an inevitable role in the recruitment industry as it can impact our judgments throughout the recruitment process. According to BrightTalk, 79% of recruiters agree that unconscious bias exists in both recruitment and succession planning decisions.

Let’s take CVs. The moment a candidate's CV lands in front of a recruitment consultant, it can take just a couple of seconds to make a decision on whether they continue reading. Seeing a candidate went to university might make you think they’re smart. If someone is a little older you may think they’re not fit for the role. Even someone's name can form a judgement. 

Most businesses will agree that a diverse and inclusive culture makes for more innovative, engaged, and happy teams. To improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace, these unconscious biases need to be removed.

There are many different biases that can creep into a recruitment process so let’s look into some of them.

of recruiters agree that unconscious bias exists in both recruitment and succession planning decisions.


Confirmation bias is when you seek or favour information that agrees with what you already believe to be true, rather than evaluating all available data objectively. As a recruitment consultant, if you have an initial perception of a candidate and then you unconsciously focus on information that supports that belief - this is confirmation bias. It can lead to discrimination in the recruitment process because of preconceived ideas. 


The halo effect happens when we allow a positive attribute about a candidate to influence us from noticing other important characteristics, commonly these are physical. One example is making a judgement based on the firmness of a candidate's handshake; they give what you think is a ‘good’ handshake, and as such, you are more likely to respond positively to their subsequent behaviours. The opposite of the halo effect is the horns effect, where you create a negative perception of someone due to being influenced by a single negative trait. For example, if someone doesn’t easily make eye-contact, you could assume they might have confidence issues, rather than a dislike of eye contact.  


The affinity or similarity bias is like the halo effect whereby you favour a candidate because of a shared similarity, trait or characteristic. Psychologically, this familiarity makes us feel more comfortable, and the more comfortable we are the more attractive something becomes. The problem with this is when it comes to building diverse teams, whilst potentially replicating strengths, you'll only be compounding the weaknesses, limiting the opportunity for fresh perspectives, different viewpoints and increased innovation. To add diversity to a business, you recruit for culture add and not culture fit. As a recruitment consultant, building relationships is key! But never let your connection or bond with a candidate cloud your judgement.


Stereotype bias plays a significant role in how we perceive and characterise others. It’s an over-generalised belief about a particular group of people. These stereotypes may be racist, sexist, ageist or cause other offence.


Groupthink is when an individual suppresses their own opinions in favour of group harmony, sometimes without even realising it; the power of the group is profound! You may overlook a qualified candidate as the other people on the hiring committee believe a different candidate is more suitable. A lack of diversity on the hiring committee can also mean other valuable perspectives are missed. 

How can you reduce unconscious bias in the recruitment industry?


The first step to reducing biases is to work on processes that remove opportunities for them. As a recruitment consultant, you need to make unconscious bias conscious! Creating this awareness and implementing processes that will reduce the opportunity for bias means you’re actively taking steps to prevent them from creeping in.

We mentioned before that the moment a CV is in sight, a judgement can be formed. So a simple solution - remove the CVs. This enables you to focus on behavioural and technical skills, as well as understanding if there’s an alignment between values. Here at Austin International, we’ve taken this step to improve our recruitment process.

You can assess candidates anonymously through conversation and asking the right questions and assessments. Not only does this reduce your unconscious bias creeping in, but it’s a much more effective way to get to know your candidates and assess their potential.


Job adverts are sometimes the first touchpoint a candidate has with you. Whether they’re scrolling on a job board or it lands on their social feed, this first impression makes a huge difference! 

There are several biases you need to avoid when considering your job adverts.

Women are unlikely to apply
for a job unless they meet 100% of the requirements, while men will apply at 60%

Gender bias: Research from Harvard Business School shows that women are unlikely to apply for a job unless they meet 100% of the requirements, while men will apply if they meet 60% of the requirements. Identify which requirements are essential and eliminate the ones that are nice to have or could be subjective.

Be mindful of your choice of words as this can have a strong impact on the talent you attract. For example, research shows that masculine language, such as “competitive” and “dominate”, results in women feeling they would not belong in the work environment. 

The word ‘ninja’ has increasingly appeared in job descriptions in high tech. While the word may make the job sound exciting, it may also discourage women from applying, as society tends to regard ‘ninja’ as masculine. Other words like ‘guru’ or ‘superstar’ can also deter candidates who feel they do not fit in with this image.

Use a tool like Gender Decoder to identify gender bias in your word choices.

Racial bias: Racism remains a significant cause of discrimination for candidates in the recruitment process and you need to ensure you do everything to prevent this from happening. If you’re recruiting for a role where you need to speak a certain language you should put “Italian speaking” rather than “Italian”, for example. Requirements like being "clean-shaven" are unacceptable as this is not only sexist but can limit certain faiths from applying.

Age bias: Age bias is when you are treated unfavourably because of your age. Time is a poor metric to assess skill, because time passes regardless of performance or outcome. Just because someone has 20 years of experience, does not mean they’re more suitable for a role. By putting requirements like this in your job advert, you’re preventing the younger generation from applying. Similarly, using words like “young and energetic” or “hit the ground running” means other generations may feel they don’t have the same opportunity. You can still ask for a date of birth to check if they’re over 18, for example, but this shouldn’t be used as a deciding factor for someone getting a job.


When assessing candidates suitability for a role, we add our own subliminal and emotional criteria to the decision. Criteria we might not even be aware of and which may have no facts to support. This is known as subjective criteria. Objective valuation, on the other hand, is based on arguable facts. Using this kind of evaluative criteria means you keep the hiring team objective and the candidates are assessed on the same criteria.

Similar to using objective evaluation criteria, structured interview processes means all candidates go through the same process. By standardising the interview process, you can focus on the factors that have a direct impact on performance, rather than the emotional connections. You can also build work samples, role plays or scenario based / practical tasks into your process to assess skill, this means you're not just focusing on experience, but enabling candidates to showcase their skills, and showcase their potential.

For example, imagine that you are interviewing a candidate. You may unintentionally ask questions that play up their strengths rather than asking questions that encourage them to showcase their skills. By going through the set of same questions, it prevents you going off track and it’s easier to compare candidates more fairly at the end.​


Collaboration is a great way to bring together people with different perspectives, viewpoints, experiences, knowledge and skills, in order to accomplish common goals. We mentioned before that groupthink is a type of bias where people suppress their own opinions and go with the majority of the group. By taking time to reflect before discussing an interview with other people means you can form your own solid opinion without being influenced by others. Having diverse opinions from your peers and clients means you can work together to ensure all voices are heard.


As candidate behaviour evolves, you need to intentionally widen the gate and diversify your candidate sources. These range of sources will help you seek new incredible talent. With advanced filters on platforms such as Broadbean or LinkedIn, you can find the right skills and candidates suitable for the jobs. Using these filters creatively and thinking outside the box means you can ensure diversity in your candidate search.


Removing biases may seem fairly straightforward at first glance, but it’s easy to slip back into old ways. To stay on top of this, you need to monitor your recruitment process on an ongoing basis, gather data and pinpoint where the problems are. From this you’ll be able to ensure you offer a diverse, inclusive and equitable approach to recruitment. You’ll also be able to support your peers and help them identify any biases they may have and ways to overcome them.​

Our commitment to diversity and inclusion

Here at Austin International, we’re committed to prioritising diversity and inclusion for our people. We pride ourselves on having a culture that makes everyone feel welcome and we celebrate our people for being their true authentic selves. With a dedicated DE&I Advocate and DE&I charters in each of our countries, our aim is to ensure everyone experiences that welcome home feeling. By meeting regularly to discuss key topics, the DE&I team is committed to building an inclusive workplace for everyone at Austin International. Together, our diversity makes us stronger.