5 ways in which unconscious bias is stopping you from getting the interview

Is unconscious bias stopping you from getting the interview? We look at five ways that unconscious bias plays a part in the hiring process and what you can do about it.

It’s a logical assumption that the person with the best match of skills and experience is most likely to get an invitation to speak to the hiring manager. However, unconscious bias may be stopping you from even getting the interview – even when you’d be brilliant at the role.  

We like to think of ourselves as logical creatures. Yet, our human brain works in a very different way. 

Unconscious bias goes further than the big diversity issues, like race, religion and background. It’s in the words we use on our CV, the way in which technology is built to read and filter applications and, it exists in the people who decide which applications are worth following up with. And which are not. 

It’s a mind bogglingly complex issue. And one where there are no easy answers (although here at Zigzag we’re trying to make an impact). So here are some ways that unconscious bias is stopping you from getting that interview. 

Your potential employer has confirmation bias

In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman talks about our having two sides to our brain. The logical side which does all that lovely problem solving. And the intuitive side which takes shortcuts, and makes assumptions. 

It takes a lot of energy to engage the logical side of our brain. And often the intuitive side takes over. For example, it’s harder to solve maths problems when driving because you need to use some of that brain power to keep your car moving safely on the road.

But what has this got to do with recruitment?

In Kahneman’s book he explains the ‘Gorilla Experiment’. Subjects are asked to count how many times a ball is passed between two people. In the middle of the video, a man in a gorilla suit jumps out. As the test subjects were busy counting the passes, hardly anyone notices the gorilla. Even though it’s clearly there on the screen. 

You see, our brains don’t work on logic. We work on what we want to – or have been told to – see. We look for information that confirms what we already know. 

So if the HR person is looking for a certain person to fill a role, they will be looking for certain aspects of your application that confirm this assumption. And they won’t realise they are doing it – they won’t see the Gorilla because they are not looking for it. Moreover, if your application doesn’t fit this confirmation bias, you won’t make it to the next stage. 

Gorilla Suit

Your application has been pre-screened

One of the ways in which this is being tackled is to pre-screen CVs and applications.  AI can search for keywords and filter out applications that don’t include these. It presents only a selection of applications to the hiring manager. 

At early stage recruitment, it can mean taking out the human element of the selection process. We know that algorithms, when programmed by us complex humans, can be done with bias. The programmers of the AI, while meaning to fix the problem, may tell the system to not look for the gorilla. So, it creates a ‘black hole’ of worthy applications that are not seen. 

But new studies show that this concern can be overcome. 

And it’s one of the reasons that Zigzag is different as a recruitment site. Our technology is developed to match more than your skills and experience. We can match your career goals and values to the culture of the employer. Which means you’re more likely to find a job that’s in tune with you.

You’ve not applied for the job in the first place

It might seem blindingly obvious but if you don’t apply for the job then you don’t get to the interview stage. Yet, the job advert itself is another way in which unconscious bias is stopping you from moving up with your career. 

A study has found that language within the job advert will attract or deter certain applicants.  When the words like ‘active’, ‘confident’ and ‘driven’ are used fewer women apply to the roles. Whereas when more female-coded wording is used it makes little difference to how many men apply to the role. 

Words you use in your application

Likewise, the words you use in your application will be coded without your realising it. And in turn, assumptions will be made either within the keywords used to filter applications or at the point a real life person reads it. 

To illustrate how this works, back in 1952 the Boston Symphony Orchestra held blind auditions to diversify its talent.  Yet their initial results were still skewed to male performers. Why? Because without knowing it, the directors were making decisions based on the sounds of the feet as they walked on stage.

When all the musicians took off their shoes, the bias was removed. And there have been further studies to look at this here. It follows that if the words used in a job application can stop a person from applying, the words in your application can also stop you from being hired. 

Information on your CV

Your CV is a treasure trove of triggers for unconscious bias within the application process. And it starts with your name. You can tell a lot about a person from their name. 

Without even realising it, we can make assumptions about a person’s gender, nationality, race, religion and even their background from a split second of seeing their name. 

And when you consider that the person hiring is more likely to hire someone who reminds them of themselves, you’ve hit an unconscious bias snag from the very line on your CV. 

In fact, when it comes to seeing people who remind us of ourselves, a part of our brain lights up. And because we naturally fill in the blanks to create a story – we are in turn more likely to assume these people have the same experiences, likes and dislikes as ourselves. 

CVs convey a lot of information about who we are and our background, even when blinded. The school you went to and your work history can betray your age, location and whether you’re working- or middle-class. 

Before you’ve even got to the interview stage, the hiring manager has made a lot of assumptions about you without even realising it themselves.

What can we do about this?

We believe that you are far more likely to land yourself in the right role at the right company when we start to remove these unconscious biases. Given that the CV is one of the biggest sources of bias, let’s start by removing that from the process. The same goes for photos and names.

Here at Zigzag, you complete your profile with your skills and experience. No CV needed. And then our smart algorithm makes sure that the right jobs apply to you. This takes away that coded language which might be stopping you from applying for the role. 

Then we can match your values to the company culture. So before your potential employer contacts you, they already know you can do the job and have the right values for the team. 

And because we don’t want our own unconscious biases impacting the work we do, we’re constantly learning, tweaking and improving. So that you have the confidence you’ve done everything you can to get to the interview stage for the right job. 

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