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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

Great Job Descriptions Hire Great Candidates

In a perfect world, everyone who applies for an open position at your company is well qualified, enthusiastic and a good fit for your work environment.

But let’s be realistic. Many job descriptions are written quickly and come across as vague and unfocused. This approach encourages a high volume of unqualified applicants and also deters some of your best prospects. Because here’s the bottom line: if you want to attract quality applicants, you need to write a quality job description.

Writing a great job description can be a bit challenging, but it’s also easier than it seems. With some additional planning—and possibly some help from the best wordsmith on your team—you’ll have a job description designed to help you hire the best candidates in your field.

How to get started:

Decide what you’re looking for. Start by asking yourself what your company really needs. What type of individual will thrive in your environment? What are your current team’s weak points? What kind of employee would complement and enhance your existing workforce? Answering these questions will help you gain a deeper understanding of what you’re looking for in a new employee.

Describe your work environment. Most job postings spend a lot time describing qualifications and say very little about company culture. Big mistake. The culture of any workplace is extremely important for a prospective candidate. Include a snapshot of what your environment is like in your description. How big is your team? Is this a high-pressure environment or a more laid-back 9-5 operation? Do most employees spend their day working independently or is the workplace highly collaborative? The right candidates will be highly interested in this information and thus, it’s in your best interest to include it.

Be realistic. Another common job description error is to make too many vague requests. Don’t provide a long laundry list of qualifications that you think an applicant should possess. Instead, consider asking only for the most crucial skills. What most companies are really looking for is an experienced candidate who learns quickly and adapts well. If you ask for too many things, some of your best prospects might look elsewhere.

Ann Bedford-Flood

Why Recruiters Are Necessary!

1) Direct contact with hiring manager:

Recruiters spend days, if not weeks, working to build relationships with the person who will ultimately decide the fate of your future employment. Recruiters devote that time to learning what not only makes someone a good fit technically but also culturally and by the time your first phone call with a recruiter is over, you already know if you are one step closer to being that company’s next employee.

2) They know the ins and outs of the job description:

When you are reviewing a job description what are you doing first? Identifying if you match with the bullet points being advertised. You read the first seven bullet points and you think “well I match 5 of the 7 so I should be perfect!” What if what you didn’t know was that the two you don’t match are the two that are the most important to the hiring manager, and without it they won’t consider you? The Recruiter knows that. A good recruiter will know what areas of the job description are most important and which ones are secondary. By knowing this ahead of time you automatically can get yourself to the front of the line.

3) Provide career advice:

The recruiter’s job is to interact with thousands of job seekers a year. Recruiting is much like a batting average in baseball. Unfortunately success is determined by failing more than winning. They know what a bad interview looks like, and how it can be prevented. If you are an average job seeker chances are you are only interviewing a few times a year. Which means you only get a few shots at getting things right. Working with the recruiter allows you a chance to learn from others mistakes. If you can spend even 10 minutes with a recruiter finding out what makes a job applicant attractive to hiring managers, it can save you hours of wasted interviewing time.

4) Up-front honesty:

Unfortunately the true fact is that companies do not want to tell you why you are not a fit for them. They would like to have you believe “there was a better applicant”. And while that may be true, that still begs the question: what made them better? More experience? Better aptitude to do the job? Would they accept a lower salary? Hiring managers aren’t afraid to tell recruiters these answers because they know they do not have to tell the applicant themselves. So, as such, there is no fear of backlash by sharing this information with a recruiter. On the flipside the recruiter is not afraid to tell the applicant this information because ultimately they are not the ones who feel this way, it comes from someone else. When you are working with a recruiter you can get the black and white truth, no matter how harmful it may be.

5) Interview preparation:

To go back to point 3, the average job seeker is no expert at interviewing – at least you probably should not be (if you have job security). The recruiter, on the other hand, is. They know if the hiring manager prefers someone who dresses down, shows up 15 minutes early or has a firm handshake. These things are important in this day and age. Personally, I have had a candidate be declined a VP of Human Resources job because they did not send a proper thank you note. If you are interviewing on your own, how are you supposed to know that? Working with the recruiter allows you to know what will set you apart from the rest of the applicants. Maybe this hiring manager will only hire a team player, and while the candidate before you was unaware of that you walked in prepared to talk all about how you were part of a 10 person team that had to work together, and you brought examples to prove it.

6) Resume assistance:

While you may be an excellent writer, unfortunately you cannot have 15 different versions of your resume on hand to fit every job you apply for. And if you are like most professionals you have acquired a multitude of different skill sets throughout your career. Although it would be nice to label all of it, there just isn’t enough room. The recruiter knows what is most important to that hiring manager and what they look for first on a resume and they will ensure that the first thing the hiring manager reads is the same things that he/she is looking for.

Conclusions:

Ultimately working with a recruiter will get you closer to that dream job you’ve been trying to land more than you could think, by separating yourself from the herd. Knowing what a hiring manager wants to see on a resume and what will set you apart once you land that interview will put you that much closer to acing the test. But don’t just work with the first recruiter who calls. Understand their market, clients and industry. If you are an IT Director looking for that executive level position it makes no sense working with the Financial Recruiter who specializes in tax accountants. The recruiter/ candidate relationship should be one of understanding what the two of you can do for one another. After all, this is your life were talking about.

30 Minute Test That Prevents Most Hiring Mistakes

More hiring mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of a job interview than at any other time. When interviewers meet candidates they like, they maximize the positives and ignore the negatives. When they meet someone they don’t like, they reverse the process, seeking out negative information.

Getting past the first 30 minutes without making a yes or no decision is critical to increasing assessment accuracy and preventing most common hiring mistakes. This is harder than it sounds, but here are some ideas that might help.

1. Suspend judgment. Hear all of the evidence, pro and con, before making any decision. In the case of interviewing, wait for at least 30 minutes after the interview starts before concluding whether the person is a possible hire.

2. Be a juror, not a judge. Listen to all of the evidence before reaching a yes or no decision. Once you reach this decision, use any remaining interview time to seek out evidence to prove it right. To reach a more objective decision, seek out evidence to disprove your decision and balance that information fairly.

3. Divide and conquer. Don’t give anyone on the hiring team a full yes or no vote. Here’s a sample of a talent scorecard you from my book “The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired.” Use it to assign each interviewer a sub-set of all of the factors predicting success. During a formal debriefing session each interviewer is then required to substantiate his/her ranking on just these factors with evidence. This way the whole team makes the assessment, neutralizing the impact of biased assessments.

4. Be more cynical with people you like. When you like a candidate you naturally go into sales mode, ask softball questions, and ignore or minimize negatives. To overcome this natural tendency, force yourself to ask tougher questions, digging deep into the person’s accomplishments that most directly relate to your job opening.

5. Treat people you don’t like as consultants. Sometimes candidates are nervous, sometimes they’re different from you in appearance or personality, and sometimes they talk with accents you don’t like. And sometimes, these are great people. To find the truth, assume they’re great, and treat them as expert consultants. After 30 minutes you might discover they are.

6. Ignore fact-less decisions. During the debriefing session, ignore assessments that include these terms: feel, think, like, dislike, bad fit, too soft, too aggressive, anything about personality good or bad, or the term “soft skills.” These are all clues that the candidate was interviewed through a biased filter.

7. Don’t conduct short interviews; use panels instead. If you want to make the wrong hiring decision, have five to six people each spend 30 minutes with the candidate, then add up their yes/no votes. Well-organized panel interviews (60-90 minutes) with two to three people each take less time in total, and forces objectivity.

8. Conduct phone interviews first. Conduct a 30-minute exploratory phone interview focusing on major accomplishments before meeting in-person. This alone will minimize the impact of first impressions.

By forcing a delay into the hiring decision, and demanding that interviewers justify their assessments with evidence, you’ll avoid the tendency to hire 90-day wonders. These are the people who 90 days later you wonder why they were hired.

The One Interview Question You Need to Weed Out Rotten Apples

By John Warrillow | April 7, 2011 via www.bnet.com

I’ll forgive anyone for almost anything if I get a heartfelt mea culpa — an apology with no strings attached — but, unfortunately, that’s hard to find these days. Our culture is inundated with victims who like to scapegoat:

“It wasn’t because of the steroids I was injecting — it must have been my trainer’s fault.”
“We didn’t misjudge the severity of the recession — it was those greedy Wall Street financiers who made it this bad.”
“It wasn’t because we ignored the safety warnings for years — it was a natural disaster.”
“It wasn’t that I have been stealing my country’s natural resources for years and stuffing the money into my Swiss bank account — it was Twitter that caused my people to revolt.”
“It wasn’t the third line of coke that I snorted — it was that my parents didn’t pay enough attention to me as a child.”
We’re surrounded by people passing the buck, and as hard as it is to listen to our leaders and heroes grasp for someone to blame, it is even more infuriating when an employee — someone on your payroll — plays the victim card.

You know the type. When something goes wrong, he immediately looks for something or somebody else to blame. She whines about how unreasonable the customer was. He blames his tools instead of looking in the mirror. She throws her team under the bus before she owns up to her mistake.

My bet is that you, too, dislike being around victims, in part because you’ve learned that when you’re the boss, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame; you’re left picking up the pieces regardless. Further, victims make it impossible for you to have a conversation about what they might do differently next time — meaning the same costly mistakes will just keeping happening on a repeat cycle.

In a business, you need people who are going to own up to mistakes, learn from them, and get on with their jobs. The last thing you need is Teflon Terry spending half his time covering up his mistakes and turning your employees against each other.

I’m so severely allergic to victims that I have started to use a simple, one-question test when hiring. If applicants fail the test, I don’t hire them, no matter how technically qualified they are for the job. I say: “Tell me about the last time you made a mistake.”

There are a number of possible responses to this question. Some are acceptable; others signal “victim.” Here’s what to watch out for:

The victim: Certifiable victims will be paralyzed by the question. They have been so programmed to deflect blame to others for their screw-ups that their system will overload as they search for a way to answer. They’ll fidget in their chair, request that you re-ask the question, and finally “admit” that they can’t actually remember the last time they made a mistake.

The victim-in-disguise: Some people will tell you about a mistake they made but then start to justify their actions. For example, they may say something like “Last Tuesday I shipped a customer’s order to the wrong address… I mean, I guess it was my mistake, but the guy in sales had scribbled the customer name so illegibly that it was hard to read his writing.”

Exercise caution before hiring a person who gives you a half-answer. Once on your payroll, this person will be quietly sizing up the most vulnerable people on your team to blame as easy ways to deflect criticism. If you get a half-answer from a candidate but you’re still not sure he or she has a full-blown case of victimitus, you can qualify the question further by stopping the interviewee mid sentence and saying, “I’m not looking for an example that had mitigating circumstances. I want you to tell me about a time when you made a mistake where you were 100 percent in the wrong.”

If the person still thrashes around, justifying his or her response, run, don’t walk, away from this person.

The safe responder: Some people will offer a safe answer, a benign mistake made in their personal life. For example, you might have someone answer with something like, “Yesterday, I was baking a cake at home, and I added a tablespoon of salt when the recipe called for teaspoon — the cake came out a disaster.”

They are admitting a mistake, taking full ownership and not blaming others, which is good. However, they lose a couple of points in my book for not reaching for a work-related example. Nevertheless, they answered the question honestly and would pass my test.

The leader: I love it when someone comes up with a work-related example and describes the situation, the decision made, and the reason it was a mistake in hindsight. They accept 100 percent accountability and do not reach for excuses or anyone else to blame.

I almost always hire these people. To me, they are exhibiting the essence of leadership.

Any candidate can be taught technical skills, but one who comes with a victim mentality in tow just isn’t worth the trouble.

What questions do you ask to weed out the bad apples?