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How To Avoid Interviewer Bias In Your Selection Process

Asavari Sharma

February 08, 2023

Diversity is very much a priority for companies, and talent acquisition strategies are now more focused on specifically recruiting more voices from non-conventional backgrounds who can offer innovative perspectives.

Interviewer-induced bias, however, can skew all of that and hinder the company’s ability to benefit from myriad perspectives at work. According to a LinkedIn report, 42% of professionals agree that interview bias can undermine the entire talent acquisition process.

Given how insidious such interviewer biases can be, therefore, it is vital to pinpoint it early and design processes that enable impartial, merit-based selections.

In this article, we discuss what interviewer-induced bias looks like, why it is so detrimental to your organization, and how you can avoid it when hiring for your next open job. Let us begin:

What is interview bias?

It, essentially, involves an interviewer judging a candidate based not only on their experiences and abilities but also on criteria that may not be relevant to the job at hand.

This leads to an inaccurate picture of the candidate and can negatively affect their chances of selection, even if they are a good fit for the job.

When allowed to influence recruitment decisions over time, interview biases can lead to high turnover rates due to poor hiring decisions, low diversity rates in the workplace, and general dissatisfaction among existing and prospective employees.

10 types of interview bias

Many types of bias are hard to pinpoint in action. Indeed, the interviewer may not even be aware that biases are coming into play, which is why understanding what they look like is so important. Some of the interview biases that often crop up include:

1. Unconscious bias

This has to do with opinions formed about the candidate based on the interviewer’s experiences and perceptions related to cultures, stereotypes, social norms, and so on. This tends to unconsciously skew the interviewer’s opinion against people who may not be like them, making them less open-minded during their evaluation than they might realize.

2. Recency bias

Often, interviewers tend to be biased towards the person they have most recently interviewed, likely because the interview details are fresher in their minds.

3. Gender bias

This causes the interviewer to unconsciously prefer one gender over the other, based on the qualities they tend to associate with that gender.

4. Affinity bias

This entails a preference towards candidates who are most like the interviewer, thus creating an affinity. This affects the ability to see the potential in candidates who are not like the interviewer.

5. The halo effect

This occurs when the interviewer allows one favorable quality in the candidate to overshadow all the other attributes, including negative ones.

6. The horn effect

This is the opposite effect, where the interviewer allows one negative quality to dominate over other positive qualities in the final assessment.

7. Generalization bias

This involves assuming that the candidate’s mannerisms, as displayed during the interview, are indicators of their general behavior. For instance, someone who stammers out of nervousness in the interview might be assumed to generally speak with a stammer.

8. Contrast bias

This involves assuming that a stronger candidate interviewed immediately after a weaker one is the better hire, even if that may not be the case.

Contrast bias in interviews often occurs in mass hiring situations such as campus placements, when interviewers speak to many students in quick succession and are likely to pick people based on prominent traits such as confidence and assertiveness rather than putting their biases aside and delving deeper into actual competence.

9. Attribution bias

This involves perceiving other people’s actions in a skewed fashion, particularly people one does not know personally. The interviewer may mentally minimize a candidate’s accomplishments by attributing them to luck while assuming that any failures or career setbacks are because of shortcomings in the candidate.

10. Confirmation bias

This involves seeking evidence that fits in with the interviewer’s own perceptions or opinions of a candidate instead of considering the whole picture.

Why interviewer bias needs to be avoided

A recent study on employee engagement conducted at the end of 2020 demonstrated that it was a sense of belonging that employees valued the most, above commonly stated drivers such as scope for career growth or trust in the leadership.

Belonging is an accurate indicator of inclusion, as it indicates confidence in one’s ability to thrive and be oneself at work. Studies, moreover, have repeatedly demonstrated the role of diversity and inclusion in improving productivity, boosting financial performance, and enhancing company reputation.

However, when interviewer biases are at play, diversity and competence are frequently side cast in favor of more superficial preferences. There are several reasons why this can be detrimental to the company:

  • First and foremost, the company is biased and misses out on hiring the people with the highest competence.
  • Companies are legally required to provide equal employment opportunities to everyone, and not accomplishing this could lead to legal repercussions.
  • Less diverse teams have been demonstrated to be less creative, driven, and productive than ones with a range of backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Dissatisfied candidates could publicize the biases they encountered during the selection process, which could negatively affect the company’s reputation and dissuade other talented candidates from applying.
  • Biased hiring can lead to the wrong person in the wrong job, leading to termination of employment and the trouble and expense of rehiring.

How to avoid interviewer bias in your recruitment process

As a process that necessarily involves an exchange between two human beings, each with their own experiences, perceptions, and shortcomings, it is evident that some amount of interviewer bias may be inevitable in an interview.

The aim, however, is to minimize interviewer bias so that it does not affect the hiring outcome, and this happens through processes that demonstrate adequately beyond doubt what a candidate’s capabilities are. Here are some ways to accomplish that:

1. Define the job, not the person

This requires the interviewer to take the meaning of ‘job description’ literally by defining an ideal picture of the job that needs to be done. In other words, think of the job description as an impact statement.

The person who can bring about impact most successfully should be the one to get the job, regardless of what that person looks like or what their background is.

Therefore, it is essential to focus on what the candidate has achieved in the past in comparable situations or jobs, more than the number of degrees or certificates they have.

2. Recruit from a wide variety of places

Particularly in an era where remote work is the norm, recruiting only from within a particular neighborhood or city makes no sense. That is why you must advertise your job in other cities or even other countries to get access to the broadest possible pool of talent. This will help you receive applications from many diverse backgrounds.

3. Conduct a phone screen first

A phone interview allows you to get an accurate initial impression of the candidate without judging them based on physical appearance, dressing style, or body language. Here, you should have a structured set of questions that every candidate needs to answer so that you can move faster in the hiring process — objectively.

4. Conduct pre-employment tests for objective evaluation

Research shows that 82% of companies today use some sort of assessment tool during hiring. This allows them to hire strictly based on suitability rather than anything else, thus attracting a broader pool of talented candidates who may otherwise have missed out on.

These tests should include short tasks that reflect the kind of work the candidate will need to do on the job, such as preparing a press release or writing a piece of code. Conduct such assessments after the initial phone screening and before the final interview.

Adaface is the most candidate-friendly skill assessment tool in the market that companies love to use to find qualified candidates.

It reduces the cost per hire and time to hire and removes interviewer bias from the recruitment process by allowing companies to test on ability alone without regarding where the candidate studied or where they worked before.

By keeping the assignment anonymous and judging the entries solely based on merit, recruiters can eliminate most forms of bias.

5. Ask standardized questions in your interview

This provides the hiring manager with a blueprint on how to interview a candidate for a particular role, allowing everyone to have the same structured experience and answer the same questions on competency and experience.

You should have a checklist to resort to — depending on the role you are hiring for, the competencies you need, and any specific requirements that your company has.

Design a set of questions to test for desirable skills and qualities and ask those same questions of every candidate. This ‘apples to apples’ evaluation eliminates the scope for affinity bias and inconsistency bias, wherein you forget to ask someone a question on a specific skill and then reject them for not having that skill.

6. Take notes as you go

The usual practice of making notes on a candidate after the interview is over opens up the risk of halo/horn effect and affinity bias. This is because our memories tend to retain only the strongest impression that a person has had on us.

Instead, make notes of your impressions as you proceed through the actual interview, based on their performance in the standardized questions.

In particular, the notes you make during a phone screening stage will help you form a competency-based impression of the candidate when you meet them in person.

Plus, hold on to those notes even after you have made a selection. They can help with performance evaluations a few months down the line.

7. Have multiple people interview candidates

Panel interviews help to include multiple perspectives within the evaluation process and can mitigate any biases an individual interviewer may hold. Another option is to split the interview process into one-on-one experiences with multiple interviewers so as to get a fuller picture. Here again, make sure that the interviewers themselves are as diverse as possible.

8. Reduce the chit-chat in an interview

While courtesy questions such as “How are you?” or “How was the journey up here?” might seem like ways to put the candidate at ease, it could quickly lead to affinity biases or stereotyping, such as based on which neighborhood the interviewee comes from.

This includes questions about the pandemic and their experience because while your intention may be to express empathy, you might be making them uncomfortable by forcing them to speak of private struggles.

9. Grade candidates on a rubric

Have a clear list of skills that you want to evaluate in candidates and then grade each one on each of those skills. Typically, this will be the same set of skills the hiring manager mentioned in the job description.

Have predetermined criteria for what ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ or ‘fair’ looks like, and stick to those, regardless of whether you are testing for hard or soft skills.

Using a grading system like this avoids the contrast effect and stereotyping biases. Plus, ensure that you fill out the scorecard immediately after the interview to avoid biases creeping in later.

10. Do not use your “gut”

Many interviewers pick a candidate based on a ‘gut feeling’ that they have found the right person. In reality, however, the gut feeling is often just the interviewer-induced biases disguised as intuition. A strictly quantifiable assessment process is the best way to identify those who are actually the best fit for the job.

11. Justify your decision

Understand your own biases. Every individual has their own set of biases that come into play, often unconsciously. Take the time out to understand what makes you instinctively like a candidate, more or less.

Is it similarity to yourself, or first impressions such as hairstyles or handshakes, or a halo/horn effect based on one noteworthy trait? Then, consciously make an effort to avoid snap judgments based on those biases and focus on what the candidate can do instead.

When you confer with other interviewers after the selection process is over, make sure that your notes and your rubric can justify exactly why a candidate was or was not the right fit for the job. Avoid reasons that start with sentiments like “I feel…” and state reasons instead that use objective language such as “The candidate was able to demonstrate that….”

A big part of this is also communicating with other shortlisted candidates and letting them know that you enjoyed speaking with them, even though they ultimately were not the right fit. This demonstrates authenticity and helps candidates feel like they were given a fair hearing.

Keep interviewing bias at bay

Interviewing candidates is an art that requires the willingness to constantly grow and question oneself about growing past one’s own biases. Sure, identifying and avoiding interview biases is hard but it demands practice.

At the end of the day, your objective is to find the best candidate possible — and by being open to discussion and constantly working with one’s colleagues to create processes that put the candidate front and center, you can do precisely that.

Asavari Sharma

Asavari is an EiR at Adaface. She has made it her mission to help recruiters deploy candidate-friendly skill tests instead of trick-question based tests. When taking a break, she obsesses over art.

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