Stop it with the Interview Bias!

January 19, 2015

I was asked to sit in on a large group interview several years ago that a group of managers was conducting. There were a handful of openings and they wanted to efficiently select several candidates to move to the next level. I was supposed to provide input after the fact. In hindsight, I think I did more harm than good.

Commission having a Job interview.

I distinctly remember two candidates. Both had essentially the same qualifications. Both were young men. One was clearly relaxed, comfortable, social with the other candidates and didn’t appeared to be worried about the outcome. The other was very focused, prepared, asked pointed questions of the interviewers and appeared to take the opportunity very seriously.

My recommendation was to select the second young man. I think I scored the first as just so-so. Both were hired. It was evident from the get-go that the first was a solid fit. He worked well with his team, had high energy, was adaptable and delivered solid results. The second (my favorite candidate) had a deer-in-the-headlights look from day one. He was a poor fit and didn’t last long.

How could I have been so wrong?

The problem wasn’t with the candidates or the process. It was with me. I let my unknown biases creep into the interview process and prevent my judgment from remaining objective.

If you’re in a position where you need to hire someone, consider these common interview biases (not a comprehensive list) and hopefully you’ll avoid the same mistakes I made.

Similar-to-Me

This common bias gives preference to a candidate with similar qualities as the interviewer. I just recently saw a razor commercial that featured a candidate with a shaved head receiving preference in to interview with a bald hiring manager. That’s a classic case. In my situation, I assumed that just because one candidate was more intense than the rest (like I can tend to be), he was more qualified. In many cases, it isn’t true.

Halo Effect (or Horn Effect)

This bias takes place when an interviewer rates a candidate highly based on a single characteristic or performance outcome (or poorly with the Horn Effect). In actuality, a single instance is a poor measure of overall ability. (This holds true for performance evaluations as well).

Contrast

This bias takes place when an interviewer compares all candidates to each other – or to a single candidate – instead of to the role requirements. I made this mistake by comparing the two candidates in my story with each other instead of with the requirements of the role. Instead, compare candidates to the requirements and then see who comes out on top.

Nonverbal

This bias places extra emphasis on body language. Body language is important. It may well be a deciding factor between two equally qualified candidates. But body language alone doesn’t determine whether a candidate meets the requirements of a role.

Negative (or Positive) Emphasis

This bias takes place when an interviewer allows a small amount of negative information to outweigh positive information (or for Positive Emphasis – allows positive information to outweigh significant negative information).

Question Inconsistency

Question inconsistency is just that – asking different questions to each candidate. That’s why it is important to use an interview guide, or to at least record your questions so you can ask the same to each person.

Recency

With this bias, the interviewer recalls the most recently interviewed candidates the most clearly, and therefore rates them higher. This is why it’s so important to document your notes immediately after an interview takes place.

Knowledge-of-Predictor

This bias occurs when an interviewer is aware that a candidate scored high (or low) on an assessment test for the role in question. Assessment tests have their place, but an interviewer shouldn’t see the assessment results until after the interview (if possible) in order to stay objective.

This isn’t the entire list. There are plenty more: central tendency, cultural noise, leniency and others. But it’s enough to start with. Bias hurts, as in my story. And in virtually every case, it’s much easier to hire right than to correct a hiring mistake.

Have you let one of these biases impact a hiring decision? How did it turn out?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or   follow him on Twitter.