Avoiding bias and making informed decisions when hiring

two women in an interview

By Amanda Hinojosa, Howard University

Hiring decisions are key decisions that can have a lasting impact on an organization. Choosing who to offer a job to is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Though most managers recognize the importance of this choice, many do not take the necessary steps to ensure they are making a well-informed choice during selection.

Actively doing your part to reduce and avoid bias requires leading with integrity and should be a priority for a business professional or a business owner. There are several things that managers can do to help ensure their hiring decisions are well-informed and effective.

The importance of the job description

First, managers need to have a clear articulation of the job they are trying to fill. A detailed job description that describes typical activities that are conducted as a part of this job should be the first step in guiding the hiring process.

A written articulation of these job requirements provides initial guidance on what indicators should be used to make hiring decisions. A completed job description will outline the types of activities, tasks, assignments, and other behaviors the employee will need to engage in to perform the job. It is critical that managers start with a written job description, even if it feels self-explanatory, because this helps reduce the impact of bias in hiring decisions.

The importance of the job specification

When the job description is complete, managers can write a job specification. A job specification describes the type of knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics that a person in that job must have to perform the tasks that are detailed in the job description. This helps to inform early ideas about what individual characteristics managers should be considered during the hiring process. This turns the manager’s focus toward job-relevant information and away from prejudicial attitudes that could influence a hiring decision.

Determining the essential elements of a job

Once a job description and job specification have been drafted, then it is important to review both to determine which tasks and which individual characteristics are essential to the job. In other words, the job would not exist without these tasks and could not be performed without those characteristics.

After drafting the job description and job specification, you should reflect on how fundamental each is to perform the job effectively. Is it essential? While all things listed impact the job in some way, some are going to be much more important than others. If something is especially important, make note that it is essential.

For example, if you own a store and want to hire another person to work in your store, you might list several work activities in your job description but determine that the most important tasks are “interacting with customers” and “managing the cash register.” Similarly, you might list several skills, characteristics, and areas of knowledge in your job specification but determine that the most important ones are “communication skills” and “knowledge of arithmetic math.”

Making an informed hiring decision

Once you have completed the process described above, using the job description, job specification, and essential elements, you can decide how to measure these elements to inform your hiring decisions. For example, you might have candidates fill out a job application form, come in for an interview, and/or provide evidence of relevant experience and education.

By following these steps, you help ensure that you’re focusing your hiring decisions on the factors that are most important to perform the job effectively and not on irrelevant biases. This helps to reduce the influence of prejudice and bias in the hiring process and helps you and your organization to hire the best people for the job.

Related Resources

Google re:Work’s lesson for writing an effective job description
Google re:Work’s lesson for reducing bias in interviews
Google re:Work’s lesson for unbiasing in the workplace
Society for Human Resource Management’s resources for reducing biases in hiring

Amanda Hinojosa is an assistant professor of management in the Howard University School of Business. She teaches and researches on topics related to leadership, recruitment and selection, and diversity.

The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.

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