Interviewer Bias Can Derail Your Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion

Interviewer Bias Can Derail Your Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion

by Sara Bennett | March 20, 2021

0 Author-Jeanne, Candidate Sourcing Strategies, Hiring Strategies and Tactics, Thought Leader / Featured Blogs* get connected, main whats happening


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!

Two easy “must dos” for interviewers who want to eliminate “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 interview 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 interview 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.

Typical interview biases are not only commonplace, but actually have names!

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

A FIRST IMPRESSION bias happens when an interviewer (or interviewee) makes a judgement about the other in the first 2-3 minutes of an interview and then conducts their interview in ways that tends to affirm their “first impression.”  First impression biases are often based on…

STEREOTYPE biases which are all those ungrounded beliefs interviewers have about how a person of a particular race, age, gender, or sexual orientation etc. will perform in their work setting.  Females, particularly working mothers, are likely to have attendance issues;  older people are likely to have issues learning new technologies; Asian workers will be smart, hard working and efficient, etc..  All stereotype biases reflect the personal beliefs of an interviewer that if left unchallenged will tend to take their eyes off the characteristics of the individual candidate that are much directly linked to future performance.

A JUST LIKE ME bias happens when interviewers make judgements about an interviewee 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” 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 a “just like me” bias .

HALO and HORN biases are commonplace with new interviewers who let one positive or negative factor they uncover in an interview to overshadow the candidate’s bigger picture.   Halo and Horn biases 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 biases are also common in situations where a stronger candidate’s interview  follows on the heels of a weaker candidate (or group of candidates).  Saving the best for last is a process strategy that can easily fuel this type of hiring bias.

Letting these types of biases 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 all these biases.  We know all about these solutions as the work of our recruiting team has been structured to make sure that obvious sources of 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’s two simple things you can start doing now….

#1 Ask All Candidates the Same Questions.

In the world of professional recruiting, its called a STRUCTURED INTERVIEW which is a model of interviewing that requires a considerable amount of pre planning.  Interview questions are constructed with specific information gathering goals and are asked of ALL CANDIDATES – no matter what!

Sounds simple but the commitment to a structured interview process isn’t alive or well in most hiring settings.    For an outsider, the interview process can look simple and straight forward.  People new to interviewing, for example,  often approach that 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.”

Unfortunately, the truth most interviewers uncover over time is that those “free flow”, “shoot from the hip” interviews end up being seriously off target – the reason why at least 50% of hiring decisions end up being hiring disappointments if not outright hiring mistakes.   Researchers who study selection processes support that learning –  “an (unstructured) interview is not only not that helpful but 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 “preplan or structure” their interview  questions, and be disciplined in their screening processes to ask the same questions of all candidates.

We know first hand that doing these two things will significantly improve the effectiveness of the “interview” as a predictor of future performance.   At PACE we have structured interviews for each job we fill, 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 biases of age, sex, race, or social orientations.  For us, its not just a  matter of being bias free, but making sure that we find the untapped talents from all the candidates we interview – regardless of their age, sex, race, or social orientations.

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

A structured interview 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 of all candidates, 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 interview the most powerful questions require candidates to provide examples of their behavior in their previous jobs.   What behaviors are most important to “on the job” success and require the candidate to describe their behavior in similar scenarios.  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, your 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 biases in hiring decisions.  While there are many components of a hiring process that can be redesigned to mitigate these biases, 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 interview 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 individual 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 interview process.  IOW, we can eliminate  “shoot from the hip”  interviews and replace them with structured interviews.  We can replace all those fun, catchy, or gothcha  interview questions, with behaviorally based questions that will reveal real differences in how candidates have behaved in similar work environments.


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 or visit our website at www.

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