There are several kinds of unconscious bias that sneak into the hiring process, one of which is similarity bias. This can manifest as a preference for people who are similar in appearance, background, or beliefs. It is usually an unconscious bias and occurs because humans subconsciously tend to see themselves and those who are similar in a favorable light. Understanding the existence and nature of unconscious bias is essential when interviewing and hiring potential employees, as it can lead to bad hiring decisions or limit your candidate options during the hiring process.
What are some examples of similarity bias?During the first few moments of meeting a candidate, the interviewer can often feel an immediate connection with a candidate if they discover things in common with them like race, religion, age, or political affiliation. This bias can also include things as obscure as a favorite restaurant, brand of clothing, or owning a dog! As an example:
- You might see a candidate as particularly smart and capable because you both went to the same school / university.
- You could immediately think they are a great fit for a role because you worked at the same company before or share certain professional designations.
- Sharing the same stage of life, i.e., being of similar age, or having the same socioeconomic background can also lead to bias.
Similarity or affinity bias can also inadvertently cause hiring managers or recruiters to neglect or discount information that is different from their own. As an example, hiring managers may avoid candidates who've worked for a competitor, or they may discount an applicant's accomplishments because their experience is in a different industry.
But isn’t looking for cultural fit a good thing?
Who doesn’t want a harmonious and aligned workplace culture? Recent research into workplace culture showed that 95% of employers believe that cultural fit between professionals and employers is critical for the success of the company. There is a positive aspect of seeking those who share our values and beliefs, and certainly taking into account the culture of the organization is critical when considering a new hire. But affinity bias can also lead to the under-representation of minority groups in the company and in positions of elevated decision making, like the C-Suite.
Having overconfidence in one's initial impressions of a candidate and incorrect conclusions about the viability or strength of a person's fit for a given role can result in bad decision making. Next-level hiring managers know that the process needs to go beyond hiring primarily for a cultural fit. In fact, a 2015 report from McKinsey stated that gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity, particularly within executive teams, continue to be correlated to exceptional financial performance across companies worldwide.
3 reasons why affinity bias will cost you time and money
- You could miss out on acquiring skills that are important for your team or organization.
Potential bias in first impressions mean you may gloss over the details when it comes to digging in and asking questions about the candidate’s abilities or proven talent. Taking information or assumptions at face value can have serious consequences – another reason that doing in-depth reference checks is so important. When managers hire the wrong people, there are significant direct and indirect costs, including the cost to replace them down the line.
- It will stifle the creation of innovative ideas.
Strong managers look to their team to provide solutions to challenges. But this approach only works if everyone’s opinion is recognized as having value. Hiring those who think like you already can inadvertently elevate your perception of their opinion versus others, depriving the team and the company of fresh perspectives. Greater productivity comes from a full complement of viewpoints and solutions to problems.
- Future recruiting could be negatively affected.
A positive reputation is one the biggest drivers of recruitment and companies that have a diverse workplace are often perceived as better employers. Potential employees look for organization that includes a variety of backgrounds and who treats their employees fairly.
Great Place to Work reports that when employees feel as if they are treated fairly and without bias they are:
- 9.8x more likely to look forward to going to work.
- 6.3x more likely to have pride in their work.
- 5.4x more likely to want to stay a long time at their company.
What can you do to overcome similarity bias?
- Consider swapping out your tired job descriptions with HireBest Ciphers. These initial documents, and the process to create them, will elevate your hiring approach as well as the potential candidate’s opinion of the business.
- Pressure test your assumptions. After conducting the interview, take a minute to question if you are dismissing or pushing forward a specific candidate. Is your affinity rooted in concrete data from their resume, skills test, or interview, or is it founded on your gut reaction?
- Define inclusion and diversity priorities. Leading companies define their goals of inherent traits (such as gender) and acquired traits (such as work experience) that are most relevant to the business’ needs and culture of the organization. Additionally, they take into consideration elements such as the needs of different parts of the business, various geographies, and local cultures.
- Download our whitepaper: Removing Bias from Your Hiring Process with Data and Structure
In the end, removing similarity bias from the hiring process takes some effort and thought, but will pay off in dividends as you build more diverse, innovative, and profitable teams.
“5 Benefits of Diversity in the Workplace.” 2022. Ability Options. March 8.
Backman, Maurie. 2019. “30% Of Employees Feel Undervalued at Work.” The Motley Fool. The Motley Fool. February 14.
Bush, Matt. “Why Is Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace Important?” Great Place to Work®, 2021,
“How Hidden Biases Can Affect Hiring and Diversity Initiatives - Prosperix: Workforce Innovation Solutions.” 2022. Prosperix. January 25.
Hunt, Vivian, Lareina Yee, Sara Prince, and Sundiatu Dixon-Fyle. 2021. “Delivering through Diversity.” McKinsey & Company. McKinsey & Company. March 1.
“Robert Walters Cultural Fit Whitepaper.” 2022. Accessed March 15.