Eight ways to mitigate bias when interviewing

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion by Rachel Murray

Have you ever walked into a room to interview a candidate, saw that they were in a wheelchair, and thought: hmm, they may not be able to do the job because it’ll be hard for them to get around? Or maybe you saw on someone’s resume that one of their hobbies is rock climbing and hey, you love rock climbing, too, so they’d be great to work with! Or perhaps when you said hi to the interviewee and tried to make small talk, they didn’t seem into it, so they probably wouldn’t be fun to work with.

None of these thoughts are likely relevant to the candidate’s actual qualifications for the role you’re hiring for, and all of them represent moments during the interview process where unconscious bias crept in. Our brains are naturally hardwired to make quick assumptions and even though we like to think that we are judging someone fairly, the truth is, unless we stop to consider that we have biases and there are ways we can mitigate them, they’ll keep occurring unchecked. Unfortunately, because of this we may lose out on incredible candidates who might not be what we had envisioned, but who will still do a stellar job and make a real difference on your team.

The good news is that there are proven strategies for mitigating bias when interviewing candidates. Here are some best practices:

  • Create a structured interview, asking the same questions in the same order for each candidate. Ideally you should put in place a rubric that will quantify the interview process.
  • When thinking about the questions you want to ask, focus on the role. Avoid ‘curveball’ questions that can provide anxiety in someone who might not be great answering those types of questions, unless that is legitimately a core function of the role. Ask yourself if you’re asking these types of questions because you’re looking for someone who performs well under pressure, which is usually the most common reason for asking them. Consider that there might be a more effective and meaningful way to get at this, by providing scenarios and asking the candidate to recall experiences.
  • Avoid thinking about questions that relate to ‘culture fit’ or thinking about the candidate’s sense of humor. While we would all love to have our buddies at work, they may not be the best at doing the work.
  • If you’re hiring for a technical role, consider this anonymous interview platform called interviewing.io, which allows you to interview someone based solely on their ability to solve technical problems.
  • If you’re the hiring manager, and you’re bringing others in to interview, find some time to meet with those that are interviewing to set some parameters and remind them how their biases can come into play when interviewing. Go over the resumes together quickly and talk openly about ways you might see your biases come into play. Recognizing them prior to walking in the room will keep interviewers in check when talking with the candidates.
  • Consider developing a checklist for you and the other interviewers to remind you all of biases that can come into play. Here’s a list of some common biases that come into play during the hiring process. Make sure interviewers have a copy of it printed out with them along with the resumes before they enter the interview room.
  • Include a section on your interview scorecard where interviewers can note if they experienced any affinity bias, or other type of bias during the interview. For example, if the candidate came in and you made small talk about your favorite sports team, you can note this on the scorecard in case that might be relevant when making a hiring decision later on.
  • Implement feedback processes where you offer candidates a chance to re-do a take-home project, or technical test, based on feedback you give. This may offer you, the interviewer, a second chance to see if someone is open and able to take criticism and learn from it– you may find that this practice will highlight candidates whom you might have overlooked at first, based on your biases.

Remember that you’re human, unconscious biases are completely normal, and everyone has them. This is no reflection on you as a good or bad person– it’s simply something to be aware of so that you can create the best team for your company. Now go ahead and interview like an inclusive boss!

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