Interviewer Bias Can Derail Your Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion

Interviewer Bias Can Derail Your Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion

by Sara Bennett | September 29, 2020

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four job candidates with faces hidden to display interviewer biasWhen it comes to diversity, its when the interviewer and interviewee meet that the rubber hits the road!

Interviewer Bias & How To Eliminate It From Your Recruitment Process

Interviewer bias is often at work when an interviewer discredits or ignores a candidate’s skills based on things like body language, stereotyping, and a poor first impression. Not only can this result in your company losing an ideal potential employee, but it can also result in bad hiring decisions when a hiring manager hires someone based on interviewer biases like the halo effect or affinity bias.

To help you eliminate interviewer bias, this blog post will introduce you to six kinds of bias that arise in a job interview and a couple of best practices your hiring manager can follow to ensure objective hiring outcomes.

The Trouble With Interviewer Bias

As recruiters and hiring managers know all too well, eliminating all forms of bias from the hiring process is a lot easier said than done.
While there are many ways to invite diversity thru targeted recruiting initiatives, the rubber hits the road when the interviewer and interviewee meet in an evaluation setting for the first time.

Getting interviewers to understand and counteract the multiple forms of bias that creep into most if not all interview scenarios often requires a lot more training than most companies are willing to provide. And because most hiring decisions are made during or shortly after the interview, it’s the evaluation where the level of diversity and inclusivity your work environment enjoys, is determined.

And if you’re one of those interviewers who believes that you are “bias-free” – think again. Bias is a fact of human existence, and unless specifically counteracted by a change in process or method, it will find its way into your hiring decisions, despite all your good intentions.

Interviewer Bias: 6 Common Mistakes

Check out these common forms of bias and see if at least one of them applies to your last interview:

FIRST IMPRESSION BIAS

This bias happens when an interviewer (or interviewee) makes a judgment about the other in the first 2-3 minutes of an interview and then conducts their evaluation in ways that tend to affirm their “first impression.” The first impression bias is especially faulty because it tends to stem from…

STEREOTYPE BIAS

This type of interviewer bias is based on all those ungrounded beliefs interviewers have about how a respondent of a particular race, age, gender, or sexual orientation etc. will perform in their work setting. Examples of stereotyping include believing that females (particularly working mothers) are likely to have attendance issues; older people are likely to have issues learning new technologies; and thinking that Asian workers will be smart, hard-working, and efficient by default. Instead of seeing if a respondent has the right qualifications for the job description, the stereotype bias causes interviewers to take their eyes off the characteristics of the individual candidate sitting in front of them and get distracted by stereotypes about the person’s appearance, manner, or body language.

JUST LIKE ME BIAS

This interview bias happens when interviewers make judgments about a respondent based on some background or personality trait they share in common. An interviewer who finds themselves more enthusiastic about candidates who went to WSU, as opposed to UW, is indulging their “just like me” and “over rapport” bias which very directly works against diversity and inclusion. Hiring decisions that are skewed in the favor of one race or another are often the result of a “just like me” interviewer bias because the interviewer tends to skew respondent answers in a manner that fits with their bias.

HORN & HALO EFFECT BIASES

These two forms of interviewer bias are commonplace with new interviewers who let one positive or negative factor they uncover in an interview overshadow the candidate’s bigger picture. For example, a candidate that is friendly and attractive may cause the interviewer to indulge the halo effect and over rapport with that person. Horn and halo effect bias often reflect an interviewer’s lack of understanding of the hiring process and a lack of experience with the risks inherent in all hiring decisions.

CONTRAST BIAS

This type of interviewer bias is common in situations where a stronger candidate’s evaluation follows on the heels of a weaker respondent (or group of candidates). Saving the best candidate for last is one way to easily fuel this type of dangerous hiring bias.

2 Easy Steps You Can Take to Eliminate Interview Bias

Letting all these interviewer bias fallacies go unchecked is never good.  Great candidates go unnoticed, opportunities to expand diversity and promote inclusivity get comprised, business results suffer.

The good news is there are a few very simple solutions to counteract each manner of bias. We know all about these solutions as the work of our recruiting team has been structured to make sure that obvious sources of interviewer bias are minimized.  We also know that when some of these processes are mirrored by our clients, they automatically expand the level of diversity and inclusivity they bring to their work environments.

If you’re an interviewer who wants to minimize the impact of bias in your interviews and hiring decisions, here are two simple things you can start doing to help manage your expectations and lead better candidate interviews.

#1 Ask Each Candidate the Same Questions

The first step you can take towards eliminating interviewer bias is asking all interviewees the same questions.

In the world of professional recruiting, this method of interviewing is called the STRUCTURED INTERVIEW  model and it requires a considerable amount of pre-planning in order to execute properly. Evaluation questions must be constructed with specific information gathering goals and whether you’re phone screening or doing an in-person interview, these questions must be asked of ALL CANDIDATES – no matter what!

For an outsider, this evaluation method may sound simple and easy. People new to interviewing, for example, often approach the interviewer role believing that they can find out what they need to know about a candidate simply by developing rapport and asking catchy questions designed to reveal “the real you.”

But, the reality of these free-flow, shoot from the hip style of interviews is that the interviews end up sliding wildly off target, which is one of the primary reasons why at least 50% of hiring decisions end up being hiring disappointments — if not outright hiring mistakes.  

Researchers who study selection processes concur that free-flow interviews lead to impression bias, stating that: “an (unstructured) interview is not only not that helpful, but is also one of the worst predictors of actual on the job performance in most hiring processes.” Oops.

The remedy? Interviewers need to take the time to research and “preplan or structure” their interview questions. They also need to be disciplined in their screening processes, making sure to go step by step through the interview questions, asking the same questions to each candidate.

We know first hand that simply planning your interview in advance and posing the same queries to each candidate will significantly improve the effectiveness of the “interview” as a predictor of future performance.  At PACE we use structured interviews for each job we fill and each company we represent. Each candidate we interview for a specific role gets asked the same questions, allowing a quick easy comparison between candidates and avoiding the interviewer bias of stereotyping based on age, sex, race, or social orientations. For us, it’s not just a matter of being bias-free, but making sure that we find the untapped talents from each candidate we interview – regardless of their age, sex, race, or social orientation.

Structured interviews put all candidates on the same playing field, allows for easy comparison between candidates, and minimizes opportunities for interviewer bias.

A structured evaluation is a process that…

  • Begins with an analysis of the factors most important to job success,
  • Includes the preparation of interview questions designed to assess those factors
  • Asks the same questions to each candidate, and
  • Ends with using each candidate’s answers to compare candidates and their chances for on the job success.

#2 Create Interview Questions Targeted to Reveal Important Information Directly Relevant to “On-the-Job” Performance

Unlike the questions asked in a “shoot from the hip” conversation, in a structured evaluation, the most powerful questions require candidates to provide examples of their behavior in their previous jobs.  These queries lead the people being interviewed to describe their behavior and performance in similar job requirements. While candidates may have had experience with the same or similar workplace scenarios, how they handled those scenarios in work environments in their past will provide a behavioral example of their “fit” for your work environment.

ex. Describe a time when you had more than one “boss” and had to choose how you spent your time between two or more equally important priorities.  How did you handle that situation?

A good behaviorally-based question leads to easy follow-ups that will easily reveal differences between candidates and the candidate who is the better fit for your team and company.

  • When did this situation occur?
  • What did you do?
  • Why did you do it?
  • Who else was involved?
  • What was the outcome?
  • What challenges did you face?
  • What did you learn?

Lou Adler, a leading hiring consultant, once said that if he could only ask 3 questions of a candidate, the questions most likely to reveal candidate differences would be….

  • What do you consider your most significant accomplishment in your career to date? Describe what it was and WHEN it happened?
  • One of the most important results we need the person we hire to achieve in this role is _________________________. Please describe a situation from one of your past jobs where you faced a similar situation or challenge.  
  •  If you were to get this job, what would you need to know in order to create a plan for achieving success?

Notice the emphasis on the candidate’s ability to describe his/her own behavior and how easy it might be to see if the candidate is the “right fit” for your work setting, based on their descriptions of their own behavior. Candidate responses can be rated for each question ranging from “no experience” to “behavior demonstrates a strong fit for our work environment.”

For some additional ideas on “behavioral” questions that might be relevant to the particular job you are trying to fill, check out our e book – “Hiring Smart” Interviewing Guide here.   

In closing, we are writing this blog because we think it important for anyone in the business of hiring to become aware the impact of their oftentimes unconscious bias in hiring decisions. While there are many components of a hiring process that can be redesigned to mitigate each manner of bias, the interviewer and the interview they conduct likely plays the most important role in mitigating bias, supporting diversity and inclusion.

While efforts to reduce all those individual biases that might lead to issues with racial and sexual equity are morally relevant, we think its much easier (and more effective) to impact diversity and inclusion by simply re-crafting the interview process to make it harder for individual biases to skew evaluation conclusions and/or hiring decisions. IOW, if how we define the problem drives the solution, have to say that if our goal is to eradicate all forms of interviewer bias, I am not sure how we would ever do that. If, on the other hand, we decide our issue to minimize the impact of individual bias, it is easy to focus on those elements of the typical interview that allows individual bias to thrive, and purposefully eliminate those elements from the evaluation process. IOW, we can eliminate “shoot from the hip” interviews and replace them with structured interviews. We can replace all those fun, catchy, or gotcha interview questions, with behaviorally based questions that will reveal real differences in how candidates have behaved in similar work environments.

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PACE Staffing Network is one of the Puget Sound’s premier staffing /recruiting agencies and has been helping Northwest employers find and hire employees based on the “right fit” for over 40 years.

A  4 time winner of the coveted “Best in Staffing” designation , PTACE is ranked in the top 2% of staffing agencies nationwide based on annual surveys of customer satisfaction.

PACE services include temporary and contract staffing, temp to hire auditions, direct hire professional recruiting services, Employer of Record (payroll) services, and a large menu of candidate assessment services our clients can purchase a la carte.

To learn more about how partnering with PACE will make a difference to how you find and hire employees,  contact our Partner Services and Solutions team at 425-637-3312, e mail us at partnerservices@pacestaffing.com or visit our website at www. pacestaffing.com/employers.

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