Cognitive biases and how they affect our hiring decisions


Our brain is amazing – but it often takes us on shortcuts and fast tracks through our subconscious that can negatively affect our decision-making. Recruitment is an area where we are particularly vulnerable to cognitive biases, but there are methods and tools that can help.  

– Swedish employers have a pressing problem to solve in order to tackle the skills shortage in the labor market, says psychologist Alex Tidgård.

A cognitive bias is a systematic error in thinking. It sounds quite scary, doesn’t it? But biases are natural, they are a product of human nature!  

Even though our brain is a powerful machine, it has its limitations. Cognitive biases occur when we process and interpret information around us, and they affect the decisions and judgments we make. Cognitive biases are often a result of our brain trying to simplify or categorize information we need to process. These types of biases are automatic processes designed to help us make quick and easy decisions in an efficient way. They tend to make us lean in favor or against something, for example, a person, a group, or an idea.  


Here are 5 practical ways to reduce bias in your hiring process.

Conscious and unconscious bias

Conscious bias

  • Conscious bias, or explicit bias, is intentional. That means that you are aware of your attitude and the behaviours that result from them. Conscious biases can be positive as they can help you make good decisions, for example by being biased towards healthy foods. However, it is important not to forget that these biases can be very dangerous, for example when they cause us to deliberately judge and stereotype others.

Conscious bias

  • Unconscious bias, or implicit bias, is far more prevalent than conscious bias. It is often incompatible with one’s conscious values. You can never get rid of your unconscious biases, as they are running silently in your subconsciousness.

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Cognitive biases can be caused by several different things, such as mental shortcuts, social pressures and emotions. Some biases relate to your memory – how you remember a past event can be biased, affecting how you view future events and what decisions you make based on them. Some biases relate to our brain’s ability to focus on several things at once. Attention is a limited source, leading our brain to sort certain things out. This can be done without you consciously thinking about it.   

Bias in the recruitment process

Recruitment is an area particularly vulnerable to discrimination. This is because our cognitive bias leads us to assume things about candidates and judge them according to our own worldview. 

There are probably very few recruiters and hiring managers who start a recruitment process with the idea that they will act in a discriminatory way. Yet that is what happens every day. In order to make objective assessments and informed decisions in recruitment processes, we, therefore, need tools and methods to help us.

How to reduce bias in your hiring processes

The very first step to overcoming bias in your recruiting process (or in any other area of your life!) is recognizing that they exist. No one, no matter how well-experienced, educated, or open-minded they are, is free of them.
Educate yourself on when and how you are affected by bias. In which situations are you particularly vulnerable? Do you have any personal triggers?
Once you have opened the door and increased your awareness of your unconscious biases, you can correct their impact. Today, there are many modern methods and independent tools to help you disconnect your biases when assessing job applicants, such as screening tools, interview guides, and digital reference checking.

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