An unfortunate reality that still plagues recruitment processes globally Is the exerted influence of unconscious preferences in selecting candidates.  Today, many organisations choose candidates for employment without using the right HR tools.


It is essential to know that the more decisions are based on personal preferences, the less emphasis is made to objective selection criteria.  For instance, when recruiters are told, ‘trust your gut, they make decisions based on intuition.  Despite a greater emphasis on strategic talent acquisition processes,  unconscious racism, ageism, and sexism still play a role in who ends up getting the job.


We do not have to think hard about how these biases occur. Our culture, beliefs, life experiences, and the media establish intimate associations in our subconscious. These associations are the areas that make one prone to bias in the course of a hiring process.


Unconscious mental activity plays a significant impact on how we work.  A theory by Sigmund Freud explains that humans are effectively cognitive icebergs with most of their ‘thoughts’ occurring below the waterline”. Perception below the waterline refers to our subconscious. With this explanation, we can say that people make decisions based on their judgment, and this often leads to subconscious bias.


Research shows that 59.9% of recruitment decisions are made within the first 15 mins of meeting a candidate. Often an HR specialist who picks candidates based off from human instinct are convinced that the decision they made is the right one.  While this action may be acceptable because of experience, the big question remains; Will the hiring decision be the same if handled by another hiring manager?


Let’s consider this situation: After an extensive search, a hiring manager narrowed her choice down to two candidates and scheduled them for a chat with the CEO. Sequel to the conversation, the CEO initially disqualified his least preferred candidate. He also gave feedback to the hiring manager that they would also not be hiring his preferred candidate.




The hiring manager was shocked and eager to know his reason. From discussions with the CEO, she discovered new selection criteria were introduced in-between and after the interview.  In this case, proper grooming was set as a measure for employment after chats with the candidates. While proper grooming could be a valid criterion for hiring, it is crucial to ensure the new recruitment criteria were not introduced based on bias.


However, HR Professionals need to use the right criteria when picking a candidate for a job.

To avoid unfairness in the recruitment process,  HR experts should clearly state the  Selection Criteria to minimize bias in the recruitment processes. Selection Criteria are created to guide recruitment decisions. The choice of candidates moves from the basis of personal opinions, which could largely be influenced by unfairness, to the extent to which a candidate meets the criteria set. The Selection criteria-based process would produce ample evidence and data that can be used to compare candidates.


Recent research has shown that “the use of employee data to optimise business and management decisions,” is strongly related to better talent acquisition outcome.  Talent acquisition is more effective than decisions based on opinion. Likewise, similar research from Cornell University shows that hiring managers’ awareness of competences across job applicants benchmarked with the selection criteria helps reduce prejudice in recruitment.


A critical approach to maximising the benefits of selection criteria is to;


  • Design it before a recruitment exercise commences and ensure it meets the defined assessment need.
  • Its administration must also happen the same way for all the candidates examined.
  • To further strengthen the process, seek professional support, especially when psychometric assessment tests form part of the selection criteria.


Nevertheless, while selection criteria have been proven to improve the hiring process, it is essential to know that it does not entirely shut the door to bias. Therefore caution and professionalism are required.  It is also vital to note that maximizing data to help with decision making is a great idea, but it can backfire if the information provided is unfair.

Bias can set in if the humans gathering the data are partial. In this case, favoritism can be at the stage of preparing the selection criteria or at the point of considering candidates.


In conclusion,  we are humans, there would always be an exertion of unconscious bias in our opinions for hiring, but this can be avoided and managed. The best way to prevent this is to consult a professional to guide the recruitment process and strategy since they have the training and experience in avoiding unconscious bias.


Written by:

Kelvin Chiazor