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Interview Bias: A How-To Guide on Minimizing It

“Woe to the man who tries to remain objective and to maintain a wide perspective: everyone will label him as an enemy.”

- Paul Tournier, Swiss physician

When it comes to reference checking or even the recruitment process in general, we often talk about what the candidate needs to bring to the table. We so often forget that the interview process is a two-way street and the role the interviewer plays is just as significant to consider. In this case, what does the recruiter bring to the table? Are they objective or inherently biased? If it’s that latter, what’s the solution? These are some of the questions we will attempt to tackle in today’s article.

When it comes down to the interview process, as a stranger, candidates get the raw end of the deal. This issue mainly boils down to how they are assessed by another stranger. When the candidate is someone the hiring manager is somewhat familiar with, then those people are assessed based on their past performances for the most part.

However, strangers are more or less judged on their motivation to get the job, some general competency standards, technical knowledge and their first impression. Now, don’t get us wrong, these are good measures to have when assessing a candidate, but not when it’s done through a biased lens. Let’s take a stranger who makes a good first impression, on some level the hiring manager will look for facts to justify their strengths. If it was a bad impression, they might subconsciously look for reasons to exclude them from the job.

The caveat here is, both sides can be factually backed up if you look hard enough. So, as you can see, interviewer bias has many layers to it, and it’s never really a clear-cut thing. Having said that, there are some ways in which one can reduce interview bias and keep the process relatively fair.

First impressions play a big role in interview bias
The first impressions play a huge role in the interview process. Try to hold off final decisions based on that alone.

Top 10 Ways to Reduce Interview Bias

Before we dive into the list of ways in which you can reduce interviewer bias, we need to make note of one simple fact. Bias can only ever be reduced or managed. As a rule of thumb, human beings are biased on some level, consciously or subconsciously. It’s in our nature, be it for the better or worse. Having said that, these tactics will help you manage the bias.

Tip #1: Define the Job Requirements, Not the Person

When you put out an ad for a job, you will of course provide a job description. This is usually where the bias can start. More specifically, you need to define the description as a set of things that need to be done by a person. Oftentimes you might find that it is a list of things that the person needs to have.

If during an interview the candidate proves that they have previously done such work, it means that they have the skills to get the job done. However, this can contradict what was listed in the job description. Once you redefine the work for performance objectives rather than candidate requirements, you open up the talent pool. This not only brings in diversity, but also reduces bias as you would be comparing their past experiences, and not their first impressions.

Tip #2: Do an Initial Phone Interview

One sure-fire way to reduce bias is to make the process a little less personal, at least initially. Before you even have an interview with the person, consider a normal phone call. This reduces bias by removing visual cues that could influence us. Instead, we would be going purely off their resume, track record and so on. Establishing a decent connection based purely on their performance history will set the pace for the rest of the interview. This way, the first onsite impression, be it good or bad, won’t matter, because you already know what they are capable of.

"You have to attempt to be objective about yourself"

- Charles Dance, Actor

Tip #3: Panel Interviews Can Help

Having a panel of interviewers, as opposed to one person, lessens the odds of there being any bias in the room. This is especially helpful if all the interviewers are assigned specific roles. Having this diversity and a controlled proceeding will give the interview a good balance.

Tip #4: Scripting Can Reduce Interview Bias

Scripting the interview, be it fully or partially can help reduce the interview bias as well. Giving the candidate the pre-scripted questions ahead of time brings down the chances of any deviations during the interview. This tip is pretty connected to the previous one, so perhaps consider combining them both in certain instances.

Tip #5: Take Time to Decide

Now, we don’t mean you need to be slow in deciding, but rather take your time and think it through. A good rule of thumb is to wait 30 minutes before you make any yes or no decisions. In the meantime, make sure to ask all the candidates the same set of questions, regardless of if you have a positive or negative reaction.

Tip #6: Taken Everything into Account

Much like how a courtroom operates, you need to take into consideration all the evidence, i.e., the facts, before settling on any one decision. To make the closest thing to a balanced decision, you need to have all the information in your hand. Once you have all this you can make a more informed and balanced decision that is fair to everyone involved.

The interviewer's mindset is perhaps one of the biggest influencers of the interview outcome, regardless of the candidate.

Eliminating interview bias also depends on the interviewer's state of mind

Tip #7: Reverse Psychology Is a Great Tool for Reducing Interview Bias

Remember the point we mentioned earlier about looking for facts that back up how we perceive a candidate? Well, this is a good way to combat that issue. Once you, the interviewer, have been through the recruitment process a few times, you will notice the pattern. Use this information to do work in opposition to what you perceive. Let’s use the earlier example of how we look for facts that back up how we perceive the candidates’ first impression.

Now, in such a case, force yourself to look for reasons that contradict how you perceive them. If they give a negative first impression, look for positive facts and vice versa. Think about it as looking for the other half of the puzzle.

Tip #8: Treat Candidates Like They Are Experts

When we interview people who are viewed as experts in their field, we tend to give them the benefit of the doubt. It is highly recommended that you treat every candidate as an expert too. If you give all your candidates the same courtesy, the truth will become obvious, whether you like them or not. This is a good way to objectively approach the recruitment process.

Tip #9: Use a Scoring System

When it comes down to personal opinions there will always be bias involved to some degree. This is good in certain instances where you have to use your intuition to judge the quality of the candidate. However, if you’re trying to reduce interview bias in the process, consider using a scoring system to back up your opinions. Perhaps something along the lines of a scorecard. 

Tip #10: First Impressions Should Be Considered Last

When all is said and done about the bias of first impressions, there is still a use for first impressions. They can reveal a lot about the character of the candidate, which is essential for assessing workplace compatibility. Having said that, reserve all judgements on first impressions and only consider them towards the end of the interview process. This will allow you to get a reasonably objective view of them as you won’t be that deterred or wooed by said impression. You will have facts and reasons to measure it against.

While all these steps are great individual tools, it would be better if some aspect of these guidelines were involved throughout the recruitment process. It drives up the overall quality of your recruitment process while driving down the chances of interview bias.