Interviewing

Interviewer Bias in Hiring: What is it and How to Prevent it

The interview is one of the most important stages of the hiring process. It gives hiring managers not only the chance to assess candidates on their expertise but also to assess whether they’re a good cultural fit for the team. Unfortunately, without even knowing it, interviewer bias can affect even the most seasoned recruiter. 

Failure to correctly identify and mitigate against interviewer bias can lead to businesses’ losing out on hiring the best people. Even with so much corporate focus on equality, in 2018, a LinkedIn study of recruiters still found 42% thought interviewer bias was a big blocker to effective hiring. 

So, what is interviewer bias? What are the most common types? How can you prevent it from happening in your organization? Let’s jump in. 

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What is Interviewer Bias in Hiring?

Interviewer bias refers to the conscious and unconscious judgement of an interviewee that isn’t based on their skills or aptitude for the role. This judgement either positively or negatively affects the interviewer’s evaluation, causing a subjective hiring decision to be made. 

As human beings, we naturally exhibit bias in every aspect of our lives. While it is widely accepted to be unavoidable, the key to overcoming it is identifying how the bias occurs and putting measures in place to mitigate the effect. 

In the hiring process, this sort of bias can stem from any number of factors. Positive bias can occur if, for example, you think an interviewee is good looking, if you went to the same school or if you have the same hobbies. You may unintentionally have a negative bias towards someone because of the way they talk, the part of the country they’re from or because of your opinion of a previous company they’ve worked at.

None of the above factors, whether positive or negative, should be used to assess a candidate’s ability to perform a role. That’s why overcoming interviewer bias is so important to ensure you identify and hire the best candidates fairly. 

The Types of Interviewer Bias

Interviewer bias can present itself in many different ways based on the interviewer, the interviewee or the general situation of the interview. Here are some of the key types of bias to look out for when interviewing. 

  1. Stereotype Bias. This is where you reject/promote an individual based on their group rather than their individual qualities. For example, you may be inclined to reject a male candidate for a teaching role because you believe women are more caring.
  2. Halo Effect. This is where you let one outstanding quality of a candidate influence other factors of their application. Let’s say, for example, a candidate is an excellent communicator, it shouldn’t affect your assessment of their time management skills.
  3. Horn Effect/Reserve Halo Effect. The opposite of the above. If a candidate lacks in one area, it should not negatively impact other areas where they excel. If, for example, you need a candidate to be great at building stakeholder relationships, their poor grammar on their resume shouldn’t be used against them.
  4. First Impression/Generalization Bias. Whilst there’s no doubt that first impressions count, they shouldn’t be used as the entire assessment or the generalization of a candidate. Even if a candidate is nervous in their interview, you shouldn’t presume they are always a nervous person.
  5. Cultural Noise. This occurs when candidates are trying to please the interviewer rather than giving truthful answers to questions. If, as an interviewer, you don’t pick up on this, you may have a massively skewed perception of a candidate.
  6. Contrast Effect. When interviewing multiple candidates, the contrast effect may mean you view candidates ‘against’ each other rather than objectively. Interviewing a poor communicator may make the next interviewee look like a superstar – but are they really that good, or are they just good in contrast?
  7. Similar-To-Me/Affinity Bias. If the interviewer has a lot in common with the interviewee, it’s easy to favour them positively. Having the same hobbies, liking the same music and coming from the same place doesn’t mean the candidate is more/less suited to the role than anyone else. 

These are just our pick of the top bias types seen in interviews. All of these can lead to unfair assessments of a particular candidate and potentially cause you to miss out on your next superstar hire!

interviewer bias

10 Ways to Avoid Interviewer Bias In Your Organization

Incorporating just some of the below techniques can help you beat bias in your candidate interviews and facilitate the best environment for your interviewees to showcase their skills.

1. Start with a Detailed Job Spec

One of the easiest upfront ways to remove bias is to focus the entire hiring process on roles and responsibilities. Maximizing the time spent on exploring how a candidate will perform the role removes opportunities for discussing personal topics. 

You can set this up right from the start by having a detailed job spec that focuses on what the candidate needs to do, rather than who they are. This takes away the personal aspects of whether someone is the right ‘type of person’ and focuses on them being the ‘right employee’ for the job.

2. Recruit from Multiple Channels

It’s logical that if you advertise your role in many different places, you will get many different people coming forward to apply. By bringing in candidates from various channels, you’re naturally diversifying your talent pool and reducing the risk of creating bias.

In 2021, the best way to get your job adverts in front of different people is to leverage the power of digital recruiting (we’ve got a nifty guide on that here). Look for candidates through social media, niche job boards and professional events to mix up the type of candidates who apply for your roles. 

3. Focus on Skills, Not Experience

Factors such as age, location and previous employers are all significant contributors to stereotype bias. All of these focus on experience and not the individual skills a candidate possesses. 

Rather than asking candidates to submit a resume pre-interview, why not ask them to carry out a skills test instead? Skills tests are super easy to set up, provide a level playing field for all candidates and arm interviewers with skill-based talking points to make interviews fairer. 

Best of all, it can actually reduce the amount of time you need to spend interviewing as you already know whether a candidate has the knowledge and aptitude for the role. 

Toggl Hire’s skills tests have helped companies like Monese reduce their time to hire by 86%. We’ve just launched a 14-day free trial of our Premium plan for the first time ever, so go check it out while you can!

4. Start with a Phone Call

Sometimes, it pays to be old fashioned. Adding a short phone interview to your end-to-end hiring process gives you the chance to find out more about a candidate without introducing any visual bias. 

Phone calls remove the possibility for bias based on physical appearance, race, and body language whilst providing an opportunity for candidates to express their skills in an environment they’re comfortable with. 

5. Minimize the Niceties 

When it comes to the initial face-to-face interview, while it may feel quite strange, minimizing the niceties removes the opportunity for bias to grow. Aside from a polite ‘how are you?’ refrain from questions about their day, where they have travelled from or what they’ve got planned for the weekend. 

Personal questions such as these may allow ‘similar-to-me’ or ‘stereotype’ bias to creep into the interview, hampering a fair and objective assessment of a candidate’s performance. 

If this approach doesn’t align with your company culture, have a person that’s external to the process do a meet and greet before the interview starts. They could even explain that they are there to help reduce any bias, helping the interviewee feel more confident that they’re treated fairly. 

interviewer bias cta

6. Panel Interviews, Not 1-to-1

With each of us likely to have our own blend of bias tendencies, you can reduce the risk of bias affecting your hiring outcomes by using a panel of interviewers.

It’s unlikely that a panel of individuals will all experience the same biases, so conducting an assessment that takes the opinions of several people will ensure a fairer overall outcome.

7. Stick to the Script

There are many benefits to having a dedicated interview guide/script, but it’s also fantastic for reducing bias. Sticking to a script stops the conversation from veering off into areas that can induce bias. 

It also ensures a fair and consistent experience for all candidates and provides a solid benchmark to assess each one fairly. 

But take the time to balance this off with your candidate experience. If the interview is too robotic, you run the risk of making candidates feel uncomfortable and walking away from the interview with a negative perception of your company. 

8. Use a Consistent Scorecard

Much like having a consistent script, having an interview scorecard provides the foundation for a consistent, non-bias outcome. In an attempt to make scoring as fair and free of bias as possible, use multiple choice scoring options which can be backed up by supporting comments.

It also serves best to avoid yes/no questions on the scorecard, given that any unconscious bias will usually push any ‘maybes’ towards a no rather than a yes. 

Again, focus on candidate experience by making aspects of your scorecard available for unsuccessful candidates post-interview. Not only will candidates appreciate the feedback, but interviewers who know their scorecards will be shared are also more likely to check themselves for any bias that enters their thinking.

9. Keep a Check On Your Gut Feeling

Gut feeling can be the prime location for internal bias, so make sure to keep a check on any gut-based decisions. With certain candidates, you’ll just get the feeling they’re the right hire for a role. There’s nothing wrong with that, but make sure it doesn’t take overall control.

Ensure all of your hiring decisions are largely evidence-based by drawing on the skills testing and interview scoring we’ve already covered. Ultimately, you also need a solid audit if any future employees/hiring managers raise any grievances. 

The best hires and those that show great competence for the role, but give you that warm feeling inside that they’ll fit right in!

10. Take Your Time with a Decision

Following an interview, give yourself time to reflect on the experience and avoid any pressure to make a rushed decision. While there’s nothing wrong with a quick decision if you’re 100% sure, avoid rushing into a hire you’ll come to regret down the line.

Especially in the short term, if you’re rushing to make a decision, that’s when you may be inclined to lean more heavily on your bias. Get together with the rest of the interview panel to discuss the interviewees, your scores and justifications to ensure you collective agree on the best candidate for the role!

As an extra tip, be mindful not to wait too long either. The best talent out there is in high demand. It’s unlikely a standout candidate is only interviewing with you, so don’t miss your opportunity to snap them up. 

Summary

Interviewer bias is one of the biggest problems within the hiring process. Whether it’s through stereotyping, cultural noise or the halo effect, recognising and mitigating bias ensures a fair experience for everyone involved. 

You can take a range of measures to minimize the effects of bias before, during and after an interview has taken place. A structured focus on skills evaluation is the best way to achieve this by ensuring your job specs are targeted, skills tests are performed upfront, and interviewers follow a non-bias assessment structure. 

Ultimately, if you successfully remove bias from your hiring process, you’ll not only deliver a great candidate experience, but you’ll ensure you get the best candidate for the role each and every time.  

May 20, 2021