Interview Bias is More than Skin Deep


The #1 cause of hiring mistakes is bias. No matter how much sensitivity training provided you won't eliminate it. However, based on 40 years of successful results, these 12 techniques will work by systematizing it out of your hiring process.

What I've discovered over the past 40 years is that strangers get a bad deal when it comes to being accurately assessed during the interview. People who are known to the hiring manager are assessed on their past performance while strangers are judged on their motivation to get the job, a bunch of generic competencies, the depth of their technical knowledge and the quality of their presentation skills.

Worse, this assessment is biased at the start. If a candidate makes a positive impression for whatever reason, the interviewer looks for facts to justify the candidate as strong. And if the candidate makes a negative impression for whatever reason, the interviewer looks for facts to justify excluding the candidate. Not surprisingly it's easy to find facts to justify either bias. It's also easy to eliminate many hiring errors due to bias with some of the following simple steps.

12 Ways to Reprogram Yourself to Overcome Interviewer Bias

Get a better measuring stick. Defining a job using a laundry list of "must-have" skills and a bunch of generic competencies is the cause of the problem, not the solution. These are not job descriptions; they're person descriptions. As a result, interviewers are forced to judge a person on their perceptions of the job and their own biases. Consider that a true job description is a list of things people need to do, not a list of things they need to have. Eliminating bias starts by assessing people using this type of objective standard.

Systematize the processEliminate yes/no gladiator voting. where the manager with the biggest thumb wins. Instead require interviewers to provide evidence of competency and motivation to do the work defined by the new measuring stick.

Use panel interviews. As long as the interview is semi-scripted and the interviewers on the panel are assigned roles, it's difficult for bias to overwhelm the process. Here are the basic guidelines.

Bring your biases to the conscious level. People tend to relax when they meet a candidate they instantly like and get uptight when this instant reaction is negative. Make a note about this every time you meet a candidate. A pattern will soon emerge. Controlling your biases starts by recognizing you have them.

Do the opposite of your typical first impression reaction. Most people seek out positive confirming facts for people they like and negative facts for people they don't like. You can neutralize your biases by doing the opposite.

Treat candidates as consultants. We initially give someone who is a subject matter expert or a highly regarded consultant the benefit of the doubt. If you give every candidate the same courtesy - whether you like them or not - the truth will be evident by the end of the interview.

Measure first impressions at the end of the interview. If first impressions are important for job success, assess them at the end of the interview when you're not seduced by them. Then objectively determine if the person's first impression will help or hinder on-the-job success.

Listen to the judge. The judge's instructions to the jurors are always the same: Hear all the evidence before reaching a conclusion. Every interviewer should take the same advice.

Conduct a phone screen first. The less personal nature of a phone screen naturally reduces bias by eliminating visual clues and focusing on general fit and the person's track record of growth and performance. By establishing this initial connection with the candidate based on his or her past performance, the candidate's actual first impression - strong or weak - is less impactful.

Wait 30 minutes. Force yourself to wait at least 30 minutes before making any yes or no decision. During this time collect the same information from each candidate whether you like the person or not.

Use a scripted interview. Football coaches script the first 20 plays of every game. By using pre-scripted questions - and giving them to the candidate ahead of time - you reduce the chance of going off-script due to the interviewer's emotional reaction to the candidate.

Take a walk. Don't start the interview right away. A tour or a trip to the café will neutralize bias and help reduce any candidate nervousness.

What's surprising (or not), once you get to know someone, few are as bad or as good as you first thought. Unfortunately when you hire someone with inflated expectations you're bound to be disappointed. What's worse is not hiring the best person you should have due to your bias blinders. In this case you'll never know what a huge mistake you've made.