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How Hiring Managers Can Set Aside Biases During In-Person Interviews  

So many things contribute to bias when selecting a new hire that employers are changing the way they ask questions and evaluate candidates.

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BY John Boitnott - 11 May 2018

How Hiring Managers Can Set Aside Biases During In-Person Interviews  v

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Have you ever screened a resume and found yourself drawn to a candidate you had something in common with? Have you ever passed on a candidate because of his or her age, gender or ethnicity?

If so, you're certainly not alone. Subconscious bias happens when people unconsciously attribute characteristics to certain social groups. Unfortunately, this happens quite a lot.

Researchers at Cornell University noted that race similarity between an interviewer and a job seeker can give the applicant an advantage.

Being a woman can be a disadvantage even if the evaluator is female. A study by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) examined equally qualified male and female candidates and found that men were 1.5 times more likely to be hired.

In another study by PNAS, science faculty from universities rated the application materials of a student--who was randomly assigned either a male or female name.

Researchers discovered that "Jennifer" was rated less competent than "John" - possibly based on subconscious bias.

Give blind hiring a try.

Many companies have turned to blind hiring to remove bias from the process and create a more diverse candidate pool. This practice uses a range of recruitment sites, platforms and services during the application review process to conceal any applicant data that might trigger positive or negative associations.

In the phone interview stage, some employers even use voice modification software to change the candidate's voice so gender can't be detected.

As effective as these practices may be in the early- and mid-stages of the hiring process, they don't deal with biases that occur during in-person interviews.

When you're sitting in the same room as the applicant, evaluating that person objectively can become a greater challenge. You can't slap a blindfold on without raising some eyebrows, but you can follow several best practices.

Test their skills.

A whopping 81 percent of candidates lie during a job interview. Instead of relying on statements that may or may not be false to inform your hiring decision, consider turning to standardized tests to get a clearer sense of a person's skills and abilities.

Testing can help you see past factors like age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background to choose the candidate who is best equipped to perform essential job duties.

Timed mental ability tests can be administered while the candidate is at your office. These test a candidate's reasoning and problem-solving skills. They can also give you a sense of their time management skills and how well they work under pressure.

Aptitude tests let candidates prove they are suitable for the job. Like mental ability tests, they can be timed as well as multiple choice. Engineering candidates often take mechanical reasoning tests. Potential managers sometimes take situational judgment tests.

Choose the right questions.

Many experts suggest kicking unstructured interviews to the curb and sticking to a script. This way you don't end up chatting off-the-cuff with one candidate you have a lot in common with.

The idea is that each candidate should be treated equally, and asking the same questions is one way to do it. Besides, while it's nice to get along with a candidate, it doesn't tell you much about how the person will perform once hired. You're better off asking questions specifically aligned to the role.

What makes a "right" question? Anything that is skill-based and allows the candidate to explain how he or she would handle a situation on the job. Here are some brief examples:

  • Management role: "What would you do if an employee repeatedly failed to follow your instructions?"
  • Customer service role: "How would you handle an angry client?"
  • Sales role: "What strategies would you use to close a warm lead?"

Steer clear of asking questions that give certain candidates an advantage. Say you're interviewing for an entry-level position. Two candidates performed equally on the skills test. However, they come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Because of this, one completed a prestigious unpaid internship while the other waited tables to make rent. It may be unfair to ask a question like "Tell me about your greatest professional achievement so far." One candidate's answer might be much more impressive, depending on your perspective.

Build a diverse hiring group.

It's critical to include hiring managers from various ethnicities, genders and age groups. Remember that an interview goes two ways. Candidates are interviewing you as much as you're interviewing them.

If a woman sits down to have a conversation with another woman, she may be able to more easily envision her place in the company as well as her possible future trajectory. If she sees the diversity in your hiring team, that could be a positive signal that she could be the one interviewing candidates for your company someday.

Why is all this so important? Generally, a diverse workplace is a high-performing workplace.

McKinsey found that ethnically diverse companies are 35 percent more likely to earn more than their competitors.

The same study discovered that gender-diverse companies are 15 percent more likely to earn more than their competitors. So, if you want to level up your performance, even the interview playing field.