What Is Conformity Bias and How Does It Affect Recruitment?

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
May 27, 2021
min read

Debiased Hiring Bundle

We all want to feel accepted in the workplace, and it’s only natural for people to try and weave into circles in which they will gain a sense of ‘belonging’. Conformity, to different extents, is basic human nature. However, as a manifestation of unconscious bias, this can hinder our ability to make fair and impartial decisions. Therefore, if undetected or unaddressed amongst leaders, it can narrow our vision and limit company growth.

What is conformity bias? 

Conformity bias is when our deep-seated need to belong causes us to adapt our behaviours to feel like part of the group. Rather than using personal and ethical judgment, people imitate the behaviour of others in a bid to toe the party line. This type of behaviour may be unintentional but can have a powerful impact on our ability to make unbiased decisions.

Psychologist Soloman Asch famously investigated how the social pressures of others could cause someone to conform. Over twelve critical trials, a staggering 75% of participants conformed at least once. Participants stated they weren’t certain of their conformed answer but stuck with it for fear of being judged by their peers.

Conformity bias in the workplace 

There are times when conformity may help you get ahead professionally, such as adhering to a certain code of conduct or embodying a particular set of values. But when team members and candidates conform to what they feel is expected, rather than what they believe is right, it restricts creativity and innovation. In other words, how can businesses grow and improve if no one is willing to rock the boat?

Companies that allow employees to be their authentic selves and freely express their opinion often benefit from a well-rounded range of perspectives and insights. This acceptance and acknowledgement of varying opinions can drive employee engagement, harvest creativity, and boost customer satisfaction—a win-win for any company. 

How does conformity bias affect recruitment? 

Conformity bias is one of the major hidden slip-ups when it comes to recruitment. 

Take interviews for instance. Once a candidate has left, a panel of interviewers will likely group together to share their immediate thoughts and impressions. People rarely want to be the ones with a dissenting opinion - either they don’t want to cause a fuss or they second-guess themselves upon realising that they’re in the minority. When recruiters lean towards the consensus, the candidate is no longer fairly assessed. This creates the risk of hiring the wrong candidate for the job. 

Individuals who share an interviewing panel can be easily swayed by others through the desire to conform. It creeps into the interview room as recruiters follow the lead of the ‘strongest’ panel member, who may be the most opinionated, respected, or senior member. Candidates face an unfair evaluation of their abilities as their assessors opt for the majority vote, resulting in an imbalanced decision. 

Using score-based assessments to avoid conformity bias

Businesses need to make hiring decisions based on an objective understanding of skills and abilities, rather than the overriding temptation to follow the crowd. This can be achieved by creating a simple numerical scale (from 1 - 5, for instance) for each interview question. By rating each person’s proficiency in an essential or desired skill, interviewers can create a process that is as objective and free of bias as possible.

Essentially, no one can argue with clear-cut figures that show who is best for the job. This creates an inarguable consensus, free of any external influences. It should be noted, however, that for this system to work there cannot be any discussions or conferring before each interviewer decides on their final scores.

We rarely make decisions in a vacuum, and hiring is no exception. However, we must acknowledge how we can be psychologically swayed to prefer one candidate over another. By keeping things fair and objective, leaders stand the best possible chance of hiring the right person for the job - an outcome that everyone can agree on.

Applied is the essential platform for fairer hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring ethical and predictive, our hiring platform offers uses anonymised applications and skills-based assessments within the applicant tracking and applicant screening process to improve diversity and identify the best talent.

Start transforming your hiring now: book in a demo or browse our ready-to-use, science-backed talent assessments.