Medical Recruiting Insights

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Recognizing Unconscious Biases When Recruiting and Hiring

Adaptive Medical Partners | Healthcare Administrators, Physician Recruiting

When recruiting for a new physician to join your team, you must evaluate the candidate’s technical expertise and experience as well as assess soft skills, interpersonal abilities and likelihood of a good fit with your organization’s culture. Your evaluation of the candidate’s qualifications, however, will undoubtedly be influenced by an assortment of unconscious biases. These biases can skew your judgment and lead to unfair decisions, overlooked talent and potential discrimination. Though elimination of these biases is unlikely, awareness can help minimize their impact on your hiring decisions.

Explanation of Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, refers to when you form a quick opinion about a person based on social stereotypes without being consciously aware of that opinion. These biases can stereotype based on an array of attributes, including group associations of race or gender identities, or based on characterizations related to height or hair color, for example.

Our brains form biases from a combination of our knowledge about social situations, attitudes, cultures, emotional reactions and more that we learn through personal experiences and from exposure to media. These biases allow our brains to process a large amount of information quickly by relying on mental shortcuts categorizing people. Much research has been published demonstrating that unconscious biases have real-world impact on behavior. Research also teaches that though unconscious biases develop at an early age, emerging during middle childhood, you can take steps to minimize the influence of unconscious bias.

Common Unconscious Biases Found in Workplace Hiring and Recruiting

Though more than a hundred unconscious cognitive biases have been identified, several in particular appear frequently in the workplace, especially during recruiting and hiring situations.

  • Affinity Bias: Those perceived to be like yourself are viewed more favorably. Interviewers tend to warm more to candidates who share qualities with them or with someone they like. The affinity bias favors those who seem similar in some way, such as an alumnus from your medical school, someone of the same gender or a transplant from a shared home town.
  • Confirmation Bias: People tend to seek out and remember information that supports their initial opinion.
  • Halo Effect: This bias is the tendency to believe everything about a person is good because you like that person, where you overlook flaws and overemphasize the positive. The opposite bias is known as the horns effect, where you tend to think everything about someone you dislike is bad.
  • Stereotyping: The tendency to expect someone to have certain characteristics because that person belongs to a group is known as stereotyping.
  • Group Think: Known also as bandwagoning, the group think bias is the tendency toward conformity. You might stifle your own opinions about someone in order to go along with the majority.

Other hidden biases many face during the recruiting process include the preferential treatment often given to more attractive people and the tendency to associate leadership ability with height.

Minimizing the Impact of Unconscious Biases

Everyone has unconscious biases; awareness of these biases is necessary when making decisions. Awareness training for employees remains one of the most recommended methods for minimizing the impact of unconscious biases. Additional recommendations include the use of structured interviews that ask candidates the same set of questions and the blind review of resumes in which any demographic attributes, such as name or address, are removed so bias based on gender or assumed ethnicity, for example, don’t seep into assessment.