Blocking Out Biases When Conducting an Interview

Over the past five to 10 years, companies have launched diversity hiring programs with the greatest of intentions but limited success. Managers believed that achieving a diverse employee population matching the breadth of their customer base was both noble and required. While these corporate-level awareness programs are important in raising the diversity issue as a critical corporate objective, more needs to be done. Words, slogans and strategies won’t solve the problem. Tactics will.

The real problem lies with the hiring manager, interviewing team and the hiring process. This is where diversity hiring initiatives and legal hiring processes can easily fall apart. One of the fundamental problems preventing these programs from gaining any momentum is that most interviewers overvalue first impressions and personality.

Avoid Common Hiring Mistakes 
More hiring mistakes are made in the first 30 minutes of the interview than at any other time. First impressions, personal biases, stereotypes and prejudices unconsciously come into play when the interviewer and candidate meet in person for the first time. If an interviewer doesn’t like someone during this brief encounter, the person will not get hired. Competency is irrelevant. And if the interviewer likes the person, competency is overlooked. Strengths are magnified and weaknesses ignored.

Personality and first impressions as measured in the interview are not good predictors of subsequent performance. Some candidates can fake being nice and put on their “party personality.” Other candidates are somewhat nervous, and it takes a while for them to reveal their true selves. But this is when the interviewer’s biases and prejudices are most pronounced. One way to get past these is to never make a hiring decision in the first 30 minutes of the interview. First, measure the job's performance.

Match Candidate Skills with the Job Description
Instead of using skills and qualifications to assess competency, define what the person must do to be successful. Deliverables like designing a product or building a team of engineers are far more relevant than an engineering degree and five years of management experience. Get detailed examples from the candidate of comparable accomplishments. Evaluate these accomplishments over time, and look for their trend and growth. This is how to define and measure performance.

During the interview, make sure all interviewers get examples of comparable accomplishments, especially during the critical first 30 minutes. This is how you measure performance. All candidates need to be asked the same questions, whether you like them or not. The 30-minute cooling-off period will allow natural biases and prejudices to dissipate.

After 30 minutes, measure your first impression again. You’ll discover that about a third of the candidates are far stronger than first imagined, and about a third are not nearly as strong as you thought. The other third are about the same.

This 30-minute delay will allow you control your biases and prejudices. We all have them, but disciplining yourself this way helps you overcome them. The biases will reveal themselves. Understanding how you and other interviewers and hiring managers are affected by different types of people is critical for implementing a diversity hiring initiative.