Neurosicence helps avoiding bias in recruiting
Updated: Aug 14
Prejudice is difficult to wash away and bias in recruiting – consciously and unconsciously - is a global problem. Unbiased recruitment is about avoiding decisions based on gut feeling and prejudice. Gender, age and ethnicity negatively affect our recruitment decisions more than we want and result in erroneous recruiting, discrimination, high costs, lost income, time and effort as well as lack of development.
On top of this bias, as much as 74% of recruiters admit they have hired the wrong person for a certain position, surely also influenced by the fact that 78% of candidate CVs contain misleading statements while 46% contain actual lies (1,2).
Capturing the bias in the recruiting process
Bias in recruiting happens when an opinion is formed about a candidate based solely on first, subjective impressions or because you personally would more likely prefer or befriend one candidate over another for any subjective reason (3). It comes in any form reaching from gender (e.g. preferring male over female candidates), ethnicity, age, experience, or simply the hometown, the university or college someone previously attended. A study showed that white-sounding names received 50% more calls for interviews than identical resumes of black-sounding names (4).
Recruitment is hard and there is a lack of objective assessment tools
In order to reach higher objectivity when recruiting, 70% of employers do some sort of job skill testing and 46% use some kind of personality or psychological testing (5). Still, while most employers admit they nevertheless have recruited unsuccessfully, 50% of job postings even remain open for more than 90 days because the “right” person is not found. 27% of all recruitments are considered unsuccessful and only 50% are considered successful (6,7). 72% of companies in all sectors say it’s hard to recruit and more than 40 % of the companies claim it is the biggest threat to expansion and development (8). The explanation to these numbers was exposed already in the 1980’s and 90’s, when Schmidt & Hunter concluded that existing recruiting tools just don’t have the power needed to predict job-performance. (9, 10)
The problem should be obvious: There is a lack of evidence-based, objective assessment tools paired with time pressure for recruiters, high number of applications and accompanied manual CV-based interview processes. All of this is triggering bias. Decisions are taken from false subjective interpretations and unstandardized interviews with lacking diversity in interview panels result in subjective selection and assessment processes (11).
Consequently, something seems to be missing in traditional psychological testing.
Neuroscience offers more objective assessments to understand people
Independently of their validity, traditional psychological testing tools like personality tests and intelligence or so called general mental ability tests dominate the assessment market, are used and exist in more versions and varieties than ever - due to lacking alternatives.
What many people do not know is that neuroscience has contributed with sharp and objective assessment tools that support both a deeper understanding of people's inherent abilities and potential as well as objectivity and non-bias. These tools were developed many decades ago after discovering that people with severe brain injuries maintained their IQ but could not live functioning lives. Neuroscience has since then developed fine-tuned assessments of various cognitive functions explaining behaviors. They have been long used by neuropsychologists in psychiatric clinics to help people with cognitive function deficits to lead functioning lives. Lately, scientists have shown that these same assessment tools can be used to understand normal and high functioning individuals and teams and help them to improve job-performance by optimizing and compensating behaviors with deepened self-insight and development (12).
How to avoid the bias with objective neuropsychological testing
Neuropsychological assessments are evidence-based, valid, standardized and normed against huge sample sizes. This means they are performed in similar circumstances every time and that the test result can be compared independently of age, gender or ethnicity in the most objective way available.
In contrast to personality tests, where measuring a vague overt or observable behavior by asking the subject to describe oneself or a small part of a person’s intelligence as a base for performance, neuroscience allows assessment of innate abilities – cognitive abilities. These abilities are called executive functions and reside in the frontal lobe. Each person has a different cognitive profile and the various abilities have different capacities. The set of abilities with different capacities form an individual, unique cognitive profile that to a large extent explains how we see and experience the world around us, incoming information and how we remember and process this information to make decisions, solve problems and take actions. And how we deal with others, handle conflicts, etc.
By understanding these abilities or functions, their capacity and how they interact, we can better understand our own or other people’s behavior performance capacity, talent and potential. And use this insight to secure unbiased recruitment, teambuilding and job performance.
In practice, these neuro-based assessments allow to see a person’s underlying abilities, capacity and potential. Independently of past jobs, competencies, skills and CV. Using this deeper insight into a person not only encourages more unbiased decisions in recruiting that are less triggered by gut feeling, but also better matches and completes people in teams and organizations. It creates more optimal environments for everybody to increase knowledge and optimize personal leadership, well-being and in the end: on-the-job-performance.
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