PrincePerelson & Associates

Improving Executive Search by Removing Unconscious Bias

Beyond their roles as company leaders and key decision-makers, executives play a critical role in defining an organization. The culture, values, and management style exhibited by these top leaders set the tone for impersonal interactions and business relationships at all levels of the organization. Thus, recruiting and retaining leaders with the proper skills, knowledge, and experience is essential.

However, c-suite recruitment is riddled with potential pitfalls. Personal biases can undermine the efforts of well-meaning individuals within the organization. While we may feel we are doing our best to be unbiased and give every candidate the same opportunity to impress us, our opinions are influenced by past experiences. Contrary to what you might think, these biases are not always negative and can be helpful in our everyday lives.

For example, if you observe an unsavory character on the street late at night, your life experience and sense of self-preservation may prompt you to take another route or move to the other side of the street. Yes, your observations and actions may be biased. However, the impact of your actions is nominal, and you avoided any potential danger.

Unfortunately, recruitment bias can have significant impacts and lead to poor hiring outcomes affecting your organization at every level from the top down. Improving your recruitment practices requires removing unconscious biases from your hiring and recruitment methods.

Overcoming Recruiting Bias

Rooting out bias in executive recruitment can be especially challenging, as this type of search happens less frequently, and those involved are often unaware of their tendency to process information through their personal filter of experiences. Evaluating your executive search practices before, during, and after a search can help to remove bias and refine the process, enabling your organization to hire the best candidates and build a diverse team of highly skilled leaders.

1. What are you looking for?

Just as shopping without a list will likely result in impulse purchases of items you never intended to make and may potentially never use, launching an executive search without first defining the qualities and characteristics of your ideal candidate leaves you vulnerable to making decisions based on a feeling or “trusting your gut.” Before you start reviewing CVs or interviewing potential candidates, clearly define the skills, experience, personality, values, vision, and cultural qualities your ideal candidate should have. Making these determinations before you have an intriguing candidate in the interview room allows you to make deliberate decisions based on objective facts. Decide now where you can compromise and what skills are deal-breakers.

Be careful not to let cultural fit become a stumbling block to hiring an otherwise qualified candidate. While cultural fit is essential and enables team members to work together harmoniously, hiring someone like the other team members may not be the wisest decision. One of the great benefits of hiring for diversity is the unique ideas, background, and experiences these individuals can bring to the team. Hiring a unique individual with a unique perspective can lead to more innovation, boost creativity, and increase productivity.

2. Where are you looking?

Searching in the same places you usually look for qualified candidates may have yielded excellent results in the past. However, returning to the same candidate pool time and time again can bring diminishing returns. Candidates from the same pool may come from similar backgrounds and have similar qualifications. Finding a diverse collection of highly qualified candidates for an executive position may require you to cast a wider net and turn over a few new stones. Consider expanding your search network to include new communities, professional associations, networks, or databases.

Executive search agencies are another great resource if you need to broaden your search and increase the diversity of your applicants. Executive recruiters consistently work with qualified individuals. They can leverage their contacts and network to your advantage. Recruiters may even be able to entice those not looking for a new position to consider joining your organization.

3. What is your process?

Does your hiring process change with each candidate who walks through your door? If it does, you may be introducing flexibility into the hiring process and allowing unconscious bias to creep in. Recruitment processes are most equitable and accurate when they are standardized. Deciding how candidate evaluations happen and defining the process ensures all candidates have the same experience. It also enables team members to evaluate each individual’s performance more objectively. Creating standardized hiring practices may include:

  • Creating a set of questions and presenting them to each candidate in the same order
  • Using online tests to evaluate and score candidates’ abilities or personalities
  • Establish a scoring system to evaluate and compare candidates
  • Educate those involved in hiring about the potential for bias in hiring

4. Who is your team?

Involving a diverse group of individuals inherently reduces the risk of a single person’s bias affecting the outcome of the executive search. Choose team members from different departments with different desires and needs. You may even consider involving external partners. A group with various backgrounds will enable all to see the candidate from a unique perspective.

5. Does the process work?

As long as humans are involved in hiring executives, there will be a risk of bias creeping into the search process. The best way to determine whether your efforts to minimize bias in executive hiring decisions are effective is to evaluate the outcome.

  • Is the candidate a good fit for the organization?
  • Do executive hiring decisions support the organization’s goals for diversity?
  • Are there steps in the hiring process where bias still favors a specific type of candidate?
  • What more can be done to improve hiring practices to remove unconscious bias?

Cognitive bias has been a topic of conversation since the 1970s. Many business leaders are aware of the problems these biases introduce in hiring decisions. Awareness alone will not eliminate it and its damaging effects on an organization. Reducing the impact of bias in executive hiring begins with establishing processes that keep bias at bay and encourage recruiters to evaluate candidates objectively.

With years of experience helping companies hire top executives, executive search firms in Salt Lake City are experts in conducting unbiased executive searches to find the ideal candidate to lead the company for years to come. Consider contacting a firm to help improve your executive search practices.