How to Overcome Hiring Bias

Brick WallManagers and recruiters make quick decisions when scanning candidate resumes. So unless you go out of your way to anticipate their concerns and launch a preemptive strike, you may be passed over simply because of their preconceptions and hiring biases.

Some managers, for example, won’t consider a candidate who’s been unemployed for more than six months. They fear their technical skills and knowledge have eroded during the lengthy hiatus. Other managers assume that veteran contractors will become restless and quit after enduring the humdrum of full-time employment.

“IT professionals have to go the extra mile to overcome negative perceptions,” says J.T. O’Donnell, a career strategist and workplace consultant based in North Hampton, N.H. “Otherwise, you allow yourself to become a victim of covert discrimination.”

 Anticipate and Address Concerns

To start, put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes to identify your possible flaws. Then look at the top third of your resume as prime real estate — the place to present facts and evidence to negate their concerns.

“There’s nothing wrong with being unemployed,” says Jeff Lipschultz, co-founder and owner of Southlake, Texas, recruiting firm A-List Solutions. “But hiring managers want to know that you’re not just sitting around waiting for the phone to ring.”

Lipschultz says out-of-work professionals should list current technical courses and pro bono work at the top of their resume to prove that they’re actively involved with technology and not entirely unemployed.

And since managers perceive that companies shed lackluster workers when the economy takes a dive, out the best spin you can on your exit (without lying!). For example, explain how your project lost funding or finished ahead of schedule. That shows why you’re out of work and proves you’re a top performer.

Take a Strategic Approach

You can’t overcome hiring bias by responding to thousands of job postings. Instead, focus on 25 companies that need your skills and preferences, then use strategic relationships to break down their barriers.

“Unemployed candidates tend to focus on the low-hanging fruit where the competition is formidable,” notes O’Donnell. “Non-traditional candidates need to use non-traditional means to circumnavigate hiring biases.”

For instance, its common knowledge that some companies won’t consider unemployed candidates. But when a colleague hands your resume to a manager and vouches for your capabilities and character, concerns about your employment status will diminish.

 Offer Value and Validation

Once you make it through the initial screening process, you still have to squelch the manager’s secret fears to advance to the offer stage. During interviews, Lipschultz says you should employ a subtle approach by deliberately weaving facts and anecdotes into the conversation to counter possible bias.

Managers tend to think that only rogue professionals choose self-employment. So independent contractors should use “we” when answering questions about recent projects to prove they’re able to work on a team, and explain how contracting helped them acquire additional skills.

If the manager still seems skeptical, offer facts and examples to back-up your arguments, but remember your ultimate goal is to steer the conversation away from the past by describing the value you offer now and how you intend to meet the company’s needs.

“Watch their body language, and if the interviewer seems satisfied with your answer don’t mention the issue again,” says Lipschultz. “Like a good salesperson, you have to know when to put down the pen and be ready to move on.”

4 Responses to “How to Overcome Hiring Bias”

  1. Elaine Manfredi

    In these extremely economically challenged times, one would think that hiring managers would gauge their “assumptions” about a candidate accordingly. It is a fact that many times when a company needs to downsize, they axe the last one hired first. I worked for a company that did that very thing. My manager was not consulted with by upper management. He commented to me that he would have kept me on had they done so. He was so angry with the decision, that he left the company two weeks after the layoff. And, no..he was being honest with me, he was not “trying to be nice”. I knew him well enough to know that.

  2. It’s also a fact that folk at the top could probably absorb a financial hit, that would not effect their quality of life, and retain a few productive folk who occupy lower position. The goal however is always about increased profit, and the quickest way to increase profit is to decrease expense.

  3. Worked on difficult IT projects that other teams wouldn’t touch.
    Then the workforce reduction started and was let go. A few months
    later I received a call from a co-worker who worked in IT finance.
    The cost was $1.5 million. Was that the cost savings? No, that was
    the collateral damage done and assessed when the projects stopped.
    That was the negative cost for one employee. Three thousand were let go.

  4. Considering that current stats show that the majority of unemployed workers in all occupations have been out of work longer than 6 months, this bias will need to change unless we are to become a two part society of the employed and the permanently unhireable.
    Worse is age bias that insists that only young (and coincidentally lower earning) tech workers are better at technology and that career experience does not count. Too bad the article did not address that head-on.