11 Ways to Avoid Interviewer Bias in Your Selection Process

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Job candidates want to be selected when they interview. Hiring managers and recruiters want to find the right person as fast as possible and fill the position. However, the “right person” can sometimes be lost through interviewer bias. It’s a problem for candidates and hiring managers alike. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at interviewer bias, what it is, the different types of bias, and ways to avoid interviewer bias as much as possible in your selection process.

Contents
What is interviewer bias?
Types of interviewer bias
Ways to avoid interviewer bias in your selection process
1. Use an interview guide
2. Use standardized questions
3. Take notes as you go
4. Grade candidates on a rubric
5. Require anonymous test assignments
6. Have multiple people interview candidates
7. Reduce the chit-chat in an interview
8. Leave politics out of it
9. Don’t use your “gut”
10. Recruit from a wide variety of places
11. Build a diverse shortlist
Wrap-up
FAQ

What is interviewer bias? 

Interview bias occurs when the interviewer judges a candidate not only on their skills and competencies but on unspoken (and sometimes, unconscious) criteria hence making the interview less objective.

For instance, an interviewer may reject a candidate based on the simple fact that the latter didn’t have a ‘good handshake’, didn’t make enough eye contact, or because they kept their arms crossed during the interview.

This kind of unconscious bias in interviewing often leads to bad hiring decisions followed by high turnover rates. As such, it has a negative impact on the efforts companies make to bring more diversity to their workforce and become more inclusive.

Types of interviewer bias

Interviewer bias can show itself in many different ways and, as a consequence, influence the selection process. The Society for Human Resources Management identified ten different types of interviewer bias.

  1. Stereotyping. This is when you judge someone based on their group, rather than their individual characteristics. For instance, you reject a male candidate for a receptionist job because women are more friendly. Or you reject a woman for a position with a high travel requirement because she probably has kids and won’t want to travel. Both of these ignore the genuine candidate sitting in front of you. 
  2. Inconsistency in questioning. Instead of asking each candidate the same or similar questions, you adjust your questions to the candidate in a way that prevents you from getting a whole picture. For instance, you may drill a candidate with a degree from the local university about their course work and what they learned, but assume a Harvard candidate learned everything they needed in the class.
  3. First impression. You may prefer the candidate who enters confidently and gives a firm handshake to the candidate who appears nervous and has sweaty hands. Unless the job requires the candidate to meet with new people frequently (such as a sales position), this type of first impression bias can eliminate quality candidates.
  4. Halo effect. If the candidate gave a spectacular Tedx talk, you might be so focused on that one thing that you judge them at being better in all areas. This is not a fair analysis of their skills and work history. Don’t let one brilliant aspect of their resume overshadow the areas in which they are weak. 
  5. Horn effect. This is the opposite of the halo effect – if the candidate scores poorly in one area, you assume they do poorly in all areas. You may reject a candidate who makes grammar errors in his or her cover letter while he or she is a brilliant programmer. If grammar isn’t a critical part of the job, it shouldn’t be a crucial part of the evaluation.
  6. Cultural noise. This type of bias happens when a candidate is trying to impress you rather than share their valid preferences, and you don’t pick up on it. They may advocate a specific position because it’s the politically correct one, but you don’t learn anything about the candidate. If a candidate says, “I’m happy to work from home or in the office, I just don’t care!” it’s doubtful that it is true. If the position is open to either, that’s fine, but if it’s 100 percent on-site, you want to know if the candidate is okay with that. 
  7. Non-verbal bias. Are you judging candidates based on body language rather than skills? This bias can result in rejecting neurodivergent candidates or candidates from cultures that don’t share the same body language preferences as your culture. Remember, people with autism may not look you in the eye, use stims to keep themselves calm, or have other body language that seems different. It doesn’t mean they are less qualified.
    A person from a culture that defers to authority may look down as you talk, while someone from a culture where eye contact is a sign of respect may look directly at you. Neither is an indicator of potential in the job – it’s just nonverbal bias.
  8. Contrast effect. If the first candidate was weak, does the second look extra strong? Instead of comparing candidates to a standard, you compare them to each other. It gives mediocre candidates who interview after poor-performing candidates advantages over strong candidates who interview after other strong candidates.
  9. Similar-to-me. This type of bias is also referred to as affinity bias. You feel strongly about a candidate because you have a lot in common – you like the same music, went to the same school, or grew up in the same neighborhood. This doesn’t relate to their existing skills.
  10. Central tendency. This is the bias that happens when you’re holding out for the perfect candidate. You find fault with everyone, so you class everyone as “middle of the road” and keep looking for that elusive purple unicorn (or ninjas as we call them these days).

These are just a few examples of the various types of interviewer bias that can impact your selection process and hiring process. You can find more common biases here.

Interview guide

Ways to avoid interviewer bias in your selection process

Knowing that these biases exist can help you avoid bias in your interviews. Hiring managers, especially, need guidance in conducting bias-free interviews, as many of them rarely interview job candidates. Here are nine ways to avoid interview bias in your selection process.

1. Use an interview guide

An interview guide enables organizations to structure the way they conduct their candidate interviews. It also ensures all candidates get the same experience and – relevant when it comes to reducing bias – it helps in creating an equal assessment for everyone.

The content of the interview guide will differ depending on, among other things, the role you’re hiring for, the interview method you decide to use, and your specific organizational requirements. Most of the methods listed below, however, can (should) be addressed in your interview guide.  

2. Use standardized questions

For each job, have a set of questions that you ask every candidate. This way, you don’t veer into similar-to-me bias as well as inconsistency in questioning. You won’t accidentally forget to ask one candidate about X, and then reject that candidate because X is an important skill.

A good way to start could be with a phone screening and/or interview first. This avoids any judgment based on someone’s looks, body language, or other factors related to their external appearance. Here too, the structure is important so phone interview or not, make sure to ask each candidate the same questions in the same order.

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3. Take notes as you go

Instead of waiting until the candidate leaves to write down your impressions (which can tend towards similar-to-me bias, stereotyping, and halo/horn bias), write down your impressions as you go. Preparing a standardized sheet with room for answers can help keep things accurate and is key to ensuring a structured process.

4. Grade candidates on a rubric

Before you begin the interview process, determine which skills are essential, and look at those skills individually. This will help you avoid stereotyping, first impression bias, and contrast effect, among others. Usually, the hiring manager and recruiter will already have determined the skills required for the open position when putting together the job description and vacancy (so it makes sense to use the same ones).

5. Require anonymous test assignments

These should be short and not actual work that benefits the business. Every candidate receives the same assignment – whether it be writing a piece of code, analyzing a data set, or writing up a brief description of how they would handle a problem. Judge the work product without identifying the candidates. This helps eliminate almost all the biases, as long as the work is directly related to what the job needs.

6. Have multiple people interview candidates

Each interviewer should have set questions that relate to their expertise and job requirements. The candidates may feel that they are answering the same questions with different interviewers, but the idea is to get a clear picture while reducing bias.

7. Reduce the chit-chat in an interview

It’s normal to start with “How are you?” or “I hope your drive in was okay,” but that can quickly turn to questions that exacerbate bias. The drive in question tells you about a candidate’s neighborhood, which may increase the “like me” factor. (Oh, you’re from Doylestown? I grew up there!) or the stereotype bias (Oh, you’re from Doylestown? I always thought stuck up rich kids lived there.)

8. Leave politics out of it

Unless your business focuses on political subjects, and the candidates share these beliefs, focus on skills alone. Provide candidates with your code of conduct, so they know how your business operates, but don’t ask about their opinion on the day’s popular debates. Be clear about job requirements instead of asking candidates to try to guess what you like.

9. Don’t use your “gut”

Sometimes you may just like a candidate or feel that this person is the best person. If you use the above methods to evaluate candidates, you’ll have a quantifiable answer as to the best candidate. Your gut is simply your own biases disguised as intuition.

10. Recruit from a wide variety of places

If the job is remote or will provide relocation costs, then don’t limit your recruitment geographically (other than legal requirements, or time zones, depending on the work). Advertise in a wide variety of places. This will bring you a bigger, more diverse candidate pool. Then use the methods above to find the most qualified candidate.

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11. Build a diverse shortlist

Logically, if your company’s talent sourcer searches for candidates from a wide variety of places and sourcing channels, you’ll end up with a more diverse group of people to assess, interview, and eventually shortlist as finalists. Research from HBR suggests that building a diverse shortlist that groups candidates based on, for instance, gender or ethnicity, can reduce unconscious bias and increase the chances of them becoming the favorite candidate.

Wrap-up

Eliminating interviewer bias entirely is impossible – as humans have innate preferences. Still, you can make a significant impact on your company’s bias reduction efforts by having straightforward interview and evaluation practices. Make sure every manager receives proper training and instruction before interviewing candidates.

FAQ

What is interviewer bias?

Interview bias is when the interviewer judges a candidate not only on their skills but on unspoken (and sometimes, unconscious) criteria

What types of interviewer bias are there?

There are numerous types of interviewer bias including stereotyping, first impression, halo and horn effect, affinity bias, central tendency, contrast effect, non-verbal bias, and cultural noise.

How can you reduce bias in your selection process?

You can reduce unconscious bias in your hiring process by, among other things, using an interview guide, structuring your interviews, avoiding chit-chat, leaving politics out of it, have multiple people interview candidates, and building a diverse finalist shortlist.

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