Hiring Managers Cannot Suppress Their Biases in Job Interviews, Study Finds

It’s illegal, yet usually a subconscious act. So how can we scrub bias from the hiring process? 

Woman at an interview.
Interviewers have an inherent bias, whether they know it or not. Getty Images.

Say you go to a job interview and sometime after, the interviewer sends you a friend request on Facebook. Would you accept it? The question gives us pause. It’s a paradox, really. On the one hand, not accepting might mean you have something to hide. On the other, if you accept, you could be evaluated on far more than your CV. Though the unemployment rate just took another dip, it’s still hard to find a good job nowadays, one that can sustain us and lead to a solid future.

Unfortunately, more and more interviewers are sending friend requests, giving candidates the jitters and leaving them wondering if they made the right choice, either accepting or rejecting. By law, it’s illegal to ask about one’s religion, sexual orientation, or marital status at an interview. Unless you’re wearing signifiers like a hijab, a cross, or a wedding ring, the interviewer may never pick up on these things. But on social media, the information is just a few clicks away.

So what’s the big deal? Evaluating someone on the basis of say religion is illegal, right? The problem is, these decisions are often made subconsciously. The hiring manager may not even know they are doing it. After all, don’t we go with our gut in such situations? And doesn’t that allow for inherent bias to slip in?

This all rests on social identity theory. We, each of us, identify with certain groups. This theory states that we, overtly or subconsciously, value and put our own group above others. The in-group we identify with could be a social class, an ethnicity, religion, one’s own family, a sports team, and more. A study, recently published in The Social Science Journal, found that people naturally use race and religion as part of their interpersonal judgments.  

A new study shows that an applicant’s religion and race played a role in whether they were hired. Getty Images.

Here, researchers set out to know if a job candidate’s religion and/or race, played any role in if they were hired or not. 175 participants were recruited for this study. All identified as black and Christian. They each viewed five possible job applicants for a fictitious position. Candidates were identified as either black or white, and Christian, Muslim, or atheist.

32% of participants said they used an application’s religion to evaluate them. There was overwhelming support for Christian candidates, who researchers reported were in the participants’ “in-group.” Muslim or atheist candidates therefore, constituted the “out-group.” Only 1% used race as a factor.

What scholars found compelling was that those who didn’t lean toward a candidate because of religion, in other words less religious candidates, showed an in-group bias for race, instead. A study out of Carnegie Mellon University supports this one.

It found that nationwide, Muslim applicants received 17% fewer callbacks than candidates of other faiths. But it may not be that interviewers are exercising bias on purpose. Several studies point to hiring managers subconsciously selecting those in their in-groups over out-groups, when making hiring decisions.

Race is a hard thing to cover up. But one’s religious or ideological bend isn’t always picked up, offline. Online, scanning ones social media pages can quickly give away their faith or outlook. You could just get off social media altogether, however unlikely that sounds. But you’d be hurting your prospects.

77% of employers today use it as a recruiting tool, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Several large firms have banned the use of friend requesting candidates. Congress is even weighing whether or not to make such a ban federal law.

Yet, currently, the rules on friending someone up for a position haven’t been spelled out. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has, to date, avoided weighing in. For now, be careful what you put on social media, if you’re looking for a job, because legally, the issue remains stuck in a gray area.

This is just another example of technology darting past the law. One answer might be intermediary firms, who can search for illegal or disturbing behavior applicants might post online, but block out any illegal considerations from hiring managers’ eyes. Social Intelligence is one firm doing exactly that.

To learn more about our inherent biases, click here: 

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This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.


"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.


If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."