Unconscious Bias in Interviewing

Is there a certain food you’ve never tried, but you have an assumption about it, whether good or bad? Take M&Ms for example. At the end of the day, they all have a chocolate center with candy coating but something tells you that the blue ones aren’t as good. This is an example of unconscious bias – having an assumption about something (whether intentional or not) that causes you to form opinions without having any actual knowledge about the subject.

Why does this happen? It’s likely that our brains have been exposed to something at some point in our lives that caused us to draw conclusions that may not be accurate. Think of it like using the “refine search” option when online shopping. Our brain has a set of filters in any given situation that we are “viewing” through. With so much information coming at us, we cannot fully comprehend the situation without applying some sort of filter. Insert unconscious bias. It isn’t necessarily good or bad; it just is.

Judgemental Judy
Within the first seven seconds of meeting someone, we make 11 judgements about them. Realistically, think about what you’ve done in those first seven seconds: Introduced yourself, shook hands, scanned their outfit, determined if they fit the “image” you had in your mind for them, etc. Do you actually know anything about the person to validate these judgements? The answer is most often no. Reviewing a resume beforehand typically only adds to these judgements. It’s also not uncommon for these prejudices or stereotypes to be more negative than positive. This, again, falls to the mantra of “it just is.”

How Do We Get Set Up for Success?
Interviewing is a balancing act of art and science. Behavioral interviewing tends to lean more towards the scientific side, which will lead to putting more structure into an organization. This is an effective tactic because you’re asking your interviewees to give you specific examples from past experiences, rather than just telling you what they think you want to hear. By asking about past experiences, we can predict future behaviors.

Best Practices
Understanding what you’re looking for is key to finding the perfect fit. Start by defining competencies, skills and motivations. For example, is your ideal candidate customer-focused? Do they have the ability to solve problems? Can they handle stressful situations? Competencies aren’t always something you can determine by looking at a resume – it’s more about a certain skill set and the behaviors that a person exhibits. These essential traits should be determined before you even read a resume or conduct an interview. It will serve you well in the long run, because matching a person’s likes and dislikes to your set of competencies will ultimately provide you with the candidate most suited to you.

The STAR Method
Having an understanding of the STAR Method will help you get the most out of the behavioral interview process. STAR stands for Situation/Task, Action and Result. When asking an interviewee about previous experiences, the Situation/Task defines what is going on. This sets the stage, and should help you better understand the following steps. The Action is where you should spend the most time. What did the person do? What steps did they take to accomplish the task? In this section, you really want to dig deeper to determine how they accomplished the task at hand, and if those steps align with the Result you were wanting to see.

At the end of the day, Unconscious Bias isn’t something you can avoid – but, having a good grasp and understanding of how (and why) this is a factor can make or break your hiring process. Using resources to create interview guides and train your interviewers on behavioral interviewing is crucial to your success. So, next time you’re asked to interview, keep the blue M&M in mind. You’ll never know what might actually be hiding under that candy shell.