A line of people in neutral-colored businesswear sits front of a concrete wall. From left to right, the people are a young bearded man in a wheelchair looking down at his smartphone, a young woman in high heels, an older short-haired woman in a gray pantsuit, a young man in jeans, a young woman with her legs crossed, and a young man in glasses. Everyone in the line is looking down at a smartphone, a binder, or an electronic tablet, except for the woman with her legs crossed, who is looking at the man in glasses next to her.
Asking the same set of questions to all of your job candidates allows you to evaluate potential employees with one standard set of criteria. — Getty Images/skynesher

The hiring process is full of unconscious bias that affects decision outcomes. Our brains are quick to assess and rate candidates based on our perceptions. Indeed, research published in Nature said humans tend to "underestimate how prone they are to error in inferring people's intentions, skills, and mental states during interaction[s]."

Undoubtedly, you've gone with a gut feeling when making a business decision. That's not to say that you shouldn't listen to your intuition, more that it's important to balance these feelings with data and standardized methods when comparing job candidates. Here are five ways to assess job applicants and make better hiring decisions.

Use structured interviewing techniques

Structured interviewing involves asking all job candidates for a position the same questions, allowing you to compare and rank applicants objectively. This method can use a predetermined order for further standardization. According to McGill University research, "structured interviews are much more effective at accurately predicting a candidate's job performance."

Standardized questions should focus on factors that directly impact job success, such as hard and soft skills. SCORE offers a downloadable job interview worksheet to help you develop a list of questions to ensure consistency in your approach.

[Read more: 5 Important Interview Questions Every Business Should Ask]

Create an interview scoring sheet

Evaluation forms and scorecards help you take a uniform approach to comparing job candidates. They're also useful for tracking scores across multiple interviews and interviewees. These can be simple or complex, but all should refer to clear, objective criteria. Typically, assessment tools list the questions, and you can circle or fill in the box for the rating. The forms also have space for notes.

In addition, you can add more subjective ratings if the position requires it. According to Harvard Business School, if the "likeability factor" affects employee success and matters to your organization, "give it a direct score as part of the interview process so that it can be rated alongside other skills."

Customize a free template to use for hiring. Fit Small Business rounded up eight free interview templates for Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Microsoft Word, and PDF. Also, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has a candidate evaluation form you can cut and paste or download as a Microsoft Word document.

According to HireVue, "over a third (38%) of hiring teams report continuing to make hiring decisions based on gut instinct. Another third (31%) hire based on personal connections."

Request a skills test or work sample

According to HireVue, "over a third (38%) of hiring teams report continuing to make hiring decisions based on gut instinct. Another third (31%) hire based on personal connections." Neither of these methods provide total objectivity or support workforce diversity goals. Work sample tests allow you to assess job candidates' work side-by-side without bias. These mimic the tasks required for the role and indicate future performance.

A personality quiz also helps test for soft skills and traits like stress tolerance, reliability, and risk aversion. However, Harvard Business Review said, "personality tests are most effective when combined with other measures with higher predictive validity, such as integrity or cognitive ability."

[Read more: 8 Personality Tests to Help You Hire the Best Candidate]

Take a team approach to interviews and post-meeting evaluations

People in a workplace have different perspectives, and it can be advantageous to involve more than one person in the interviewing and evaluation process. Group interviews with preplanned questions spread objective analysis among team members and reduce the effects of bias or first impressions.

Alternatively, you may conduct two or more interviews to assess job candidates and review scorecards or evaluation forms together afterward. Use a formal evaluation form, so everyone is on the same page during interviews and when providing feedback about the candidate to the group.

Train interviewers to compare job candidates objectively

It can be hard to stay objective, and many small businesses simply don't have vast resources to spend on technologies and third-party assistance. But you can improve your approach through education. Training enhances your hiring process by reducing bias and legal risks.

Consider virtual training programs, such as:

  • Cornell University: Effective Hiring and Interviewing.
  • Udemy: Interview Training: Ask Better Questions, Hire Better People.
  • LinkedIn: Hiring and interviewing courses.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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