In order to find the candidate who best fits the job based on potential and skill, we often end up making hiring choices based on assumptions and conclusions that come up unconsciously.
A firm handshake, offering to bring back the coffee cup after the interview…
We spoke to Mari Järvinen (Organisational Psychologist and start-up coach) about interviewer bias, why it is dangerous, which parts of an interview are most sensitive to it, and how you can minimise it.
Here’s what we found out.
What is interviewer bias?
Interviewer bias is a broad concept that encompasses various factors that can affect the interview process.
As Mari explains, interviewer bias can manifest itself in both positive and negative ways. Let’s take similarity and confirmation bias as two examples of this.
- Similarity bias. An interviewer might have a positive bias towards a candidate who shares similar interests, background or characteristics as the interviewer. This can lead the interviewer to view the candidate more favourably and ask more engaging questions, potentially leading to a more positive interview experience.
- Confirmation bias. This is the tendency to seek out information that confirms preexisting beliefs or opinions. An interviewer who has a negative opinion of a particular university, for instance, might be more critical of candidates who have attended that university, even if they have the necessary qualifications.
Interviewer bias can be detrimental to the hiring process as it can direct attention to factors that are irrelevant to the job. This can lead to hiring decisions based on stereotypes or irrelevant information, resulting in the wrong candidate being chosen for the job.
But are interviewer biases primarily something that occurs unconsciously or consciously?
Interview bias - unconscious or conscious?
According to Mari, interviewer bias can be both conscious and unconscious. A conscious bias can occur when an interviewer realises they have an easier time with certain types of people, such as outgoing individuals. In this case, the interview may go smoothly and be perceived as successful because the interviewer feels comfortable.
On the other hand, unconscious biases can be more difficult to identify. Mari suggests that people tend to feel uncomfortable around those who are different from them, and this discomfort can manifest as bias during an interview. It may be difficult for an interviewer to understand why they didn’t like a particular candidate, but it could be because of an unconscious bias.
The bottom line is interviewer bias can largely cloud your judgement on who to hire. If you want to learn more about how to reduce the effects of interviewer bias, make sure to listen to the full podcast episode with Mari below!
Example 1. The Coffee Cup Test
Ever heard of the ‘coffee cup test‘ used during job interviews to decide whom not to hire? In case you missed it – here is a short explanation. Recently, an article about a CEO who uses this method in every job interview to decide who not to hire went viral on LinkedIn.
At the beginning of the interview, the CEO would offer the candidate a drink – coffee or tea – doesn’t really matter. All with the goal to see whether the candidate took the cup back themselves or asked if they should bring it back to the kitchen. If the candidate did not offer to return or even return the cup, they received an instant rejection.
While offering to return the cup might be a sign of politeness and helpfulness, the opposite is not true. The candidate might have been carrying something, they might have been nervous, or thought it was overstepping their role or cultural norms to offer to help.
Example 2. The Firm Handshake
Firm handshakes are often associated with confidence, but this assumption is baseless. However, this assumption is not only false but also a problematic test to rely on when evaluating job candidates. Such a physical gesture tells us nothing about a person’s skills, qualifications, or work ethics.
It’s a myth that has been perpetuated for far too long, and it is about time we debunk it.
Why do we rely on such “gut-driven” tests?
Mari emphasises that the reason why many might rely on such tests is that “we want the right attitude in the candidate, however, don’t know how to assess or measure it properly¨.
Then begins the process of trying to create a metric where companies can find out if something that they value is true for this candidate or not. “And sadly”, Mari says, “this is by no means a valid measurement”.
The hiring funnel: What moments are most sensitive to bias in interviews?
In the world of recruitment, interviews are considered a crucial step in finding the right candidate for the job. However, the process is not immune to interviewer bias. According to Mari, unconscious biases can occur right from the moment the interview is set up.
Mari explains that the initial impression a candidate gives can significantly impact the rest of the interview. Factors such as their place of origin, educational background, and physical appearance can unconsciously influence the interviewer’s opinion of the candidate.
The interviewer may even have a preconceived idea of the candidate before they meet anyone. For example, simply by glancing at their CV before the interview.
For tips and tricks on how to minimize the impact of bias during the interview process, make sure to give the podcast episode a listen!
In case you haven’t met Mari yet:
Mari Jarvinen is an organisational psychologist. She is the founder of Profounder, her consultancy agency that helps start-ups and scale-ups with change management, leadership and HR challenges.