10 Simple Techniques to Eliminate Interviewer Bias

People who are honest with themselves recognize they often make judgments about people they’re hiring based on insufficient, flawed or biased data. But few interviewers are honest with themselves. Most let their emotions, biases and flawed thinking dominate who gets hired. Worse, most people don’t even recognize the problem.

I just read an article on Fast Company regarding the negative consequences of this type of decision-making. As the article (indirectly) points out, interviewers make mistakes by overvaluing the quality of the candidate’s first impression, level of assertiveness, affability and communication skills. Mistakes are also made if the interviewer is overly confident in his or her own interviewing skills or uses cloudy judgment like assuming attending a prestigious university or technical brilliance is a prerequisite or predictor of success.

Based on 35 years of interviewing thousands of candidates I’d suggest that more than 50% of hiring errors are attributed to these types of issues. So if you or someone you know is less than honest when it comes to recognizing their own biases, try these ideas out the next time you or they interview a candidate.

10 Ways to Become an Honest and Objective Interviewer

1. 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 the next time you meet a candidate. Controlling your biases starts by recognizing you have them.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Measure 1st impression at end of 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.

5. No 2’s. The Performance-based Hiring process I advocate uses a 1-5 scale to rank candidates on the 10 factors that best predict on-the-job performance. A Level 2 is someone who’s competent but not motivated to do the work required. By spending extra time on determining what motivates a candidate to excel, you’ll be able to tell the difference between social energy and true work ethic.

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

7. 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.

8. Use evidence, not emotions, to assess the person. Unless backed up with evidence, words like “feel,” “think,” “gut” and “not sure” are evidence of emotional and biased decision-making. “While the candidate is quiet, the fact that he was assigned to two cross-functional leadership teams reporting to the COO on critical projects indicates strong team skills,” represents how evidence should be collected and used to make decisions.

9. 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. This waiting will be a lot easier if you do all of the above first. Then don’t be surprised if nervous candidates become less nervous and outgoing candidates become less impressive.

10. Divide and conquer to systematize bias out of the selection process. Don’t let anyone have a full yes or not vote on whom gets hired. Instead assign each person on the interviewing team a subset of the factors in this Quality of Hire Talent Scorecard to “own.” During the debriefing session share everyone’s evidence. This way the team makes the hiring decision neutralizing the emotional bias of each team member.
Be honest with yourself. When it comes to hiring, recognize your biases and force them into the parking lot. This won’t compromise your standards of performance. Instead, it will open your eyes to a broader group of remarkable people who are more diverse, less traditional and more motivated to excel that you never even knew existed.

Lou Adler