Is Unconscious Bias Hurting Your Chances of Getting a Job?

Nancy Anderson
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Unconscious bias happens every day, and it can hurt your chances of getting a job. Employers and candidates don't even realize it's happening, which is why experts refer to this type of bias as something that happens outside of someone's conscious awareness. Discover examples of these stereotypes and what you can do to combat them during your job hunt.

1. Unemployment

Employers may show unconscious bias against someone who is unemployed. Not having a job or facing long-term unemployment can make a candidate less desirable, even if the person has great qualities and experience and meets the job qualifications. Overcome this negative stereotype by showing you remained active during your unemployment by volunteering or taking to enhance your skills.

2. Location

Employers may discriminate against candidates who live in low-income areas. The Voice of the Job Seeker, a popular podcast, explains that one manager showed a bias in favor people who took taxis to work versus public transportation after he asked how people get to work. Mitigate this issue by simply explaining the importance of arriving at the office on time and ready to work each day.

3. Ethnic Names

Ethnic names may present a problem in terms of unconscious bias. One story explains how a person with an advanced engineering degree used her legal name, "Latoya," on resumes. She stopped using her legal name and began using her nickname, "Toni," instead, and she quickly advanced in her career.

This stereotype sounds similar to Google's diversity problem, brought to light during the summer of 2017. An employee blogged about how the tech giant has a stereotype against women, and the blogger railed against Google for having diversity training as part of the corporate culture because Google's employees failed to effectively put the training to use. Google's problem brought to light the struggles that many people face.

Examples of Unconscious Bias in Action

Watch out for these examples of unconscious bias by recognizing statements employers may use during interviews.

1. "Hard Work"
Employers may make statements about the importance of hard work when speaking to people who live within inner-city neighborhoods. It's not an employer's place to pass judgment on why someone lives in a certain place. Leverage your previous work experience to break through the stereotype that employers may have against people who live in poorer areas of the city.

2. Using Cultural Fit to Exclude People

Employers may use the excuse of a lack of a cultural fit to exclude people who don't have the same characteristics as everyone else. When someone says to you, "We just don't think you're the right fit for us," ask for a specific reason. The person should be able to refer to an answer you provided to an interview question when describing why he thinks you're not a good fit.

3. Accents

Interviewers who have an unreasonable attitude towards accents show this by asking someone to speak up, slow down or repeat themselves. The interviewer might also raise his voice. This behavior is rude and intolerable because it's disrespectful to the candidate.

Getting a job is challenging for someone facing unconscious bias. However, overcoming stereotypes makes you a better candidate because of your patience, perseverance and persistence, even though it hurts when you realize people are prejudiced against you.


Photo courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • Billie M.
    Billie M.

    This information was very insightful. Thank you for your advice.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Katherine Daugherty thanks for your comment. No it's not rude to tell someone that you can't understand them. In today's job world, the larger percentage of recruiters are from other countries making job searching even harder. I, too, have encountered the same issue. I would thank them, politely, for contacting me and ask that they send me an email instead of trying to have a phone conversation where I am constantly saying please repeat or I am sorry but I didn't understand you. So no it's not being rude to tell them that you don't understand them. More than likely they have heard it all before.

  • Katherine (Kat) Daugherty

    Am I being rude if I tell someone that I can't understand what they have said to me? How should you respond if you don't know what you're responding to?

  • John C.
    John C.

    An emerging bias of my own: I don't categorically rule out job postings that include the word 'culture,' but I'll put it back in the pile behind a culture-free posting I can fill out first. It saves HR folks time by looking for certain keywords in talent-management systems, and I am sensing that 'culture fit' postings are more likely to intersect with age discrimination. 'Culture' combined with 'ping-pong' is a veritable red flag. Tempting as many of the job descriptions are, I try not to spend too much time on them.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Daniel D thanks for your comment. Well said.

  • Daniel D.
    Daniel D.

    This kind of bias is ignorant. Hiding it is the act of a liar and a coward. And bristling at that thought is both stupid and arrogant and not the behavior of a competent or reasonable or mature or ethical person, So, then, the question arises whether such a person would even be worth working for if the company can be so stupid as to hire or retain such a pathetic manager. Such managers may be the kind who would put you down and keep you down and perhaps feel threatened by your own success or the company's success for that matter. Choose a manager, a mentor, a sponsor who would have a vested interest in your success. Not a bigot caught up in racism, ageism, sexism, or hatred for people of faith or anything else. The laws of physics don't care. Computers don't care. Things affecting your success on the job don't care what race or age or gender you are. Work for someone with a brain--not someone who tries to implement bigotry and hides it.

  • Sylvester C.
    Sylvester C.

    ThAt was very helpful and tips I will use in the future

  • Cluet B.
    Cluet B.

    I dealt with this myself on a daily bases be it my age or the way I look or if I didn't smile and the sad part of it all it takes one person to not like you for whatever reason they say something negative about you and it take off like wildfire. People tend to hold on to bad press quicker rather than get to know you for them self.

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