Seven types of interview bias and how to avoid them

During the hiring process, interviewers need to be fair, objective, and unbiased if they want to secure the best person for the job. But the only way to do this is to understand the different types of biases that exist and introduce measures that actively remove them. Here are seven different types of interview biases and techniques you can use to avoid them.

4 mins read
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9 months ago

​We might want to think that our choices are logical and that we have complete control over them – but the reality is that we are always affected by cognitive biases.

What are biases?

The brain cannot properly assess every new piece of information it encounters, so it’s designed to make quick decisions about people, situations, and objects. While these mental shortcuts are a necessary survival skill, making fast decisions without careful evaluation can be a bad thing and lead to opinions that are unfairly biased.

Types of interview biases

When it comes to doing interviews, you can do your best to be objective, but biases can creep in. That’s why it’s so crucial to be aware of the different types so you can identify and actively avoid them. Here are seven different types of common interview biases:

Stereotyping

A stereotype is a simplified opinion about a specific group of people, based on a fixed set of characteristics that we think are typical of that group.

It is a serious problem in interviews, as the interviewer can make a judgment about a candidate that is not based on their skills or ability but on an initial stereotype.

Gender and racial bias

Gender or racial bias is when the interviewer has a belief about a certain gender or race, thinking that the job is not appropriate for someone of that gender or race.

Interviewers should never let gender or racial bias affect their hiring decisions, not only from an ethical standpoint, but they may also face legal consequences for discrimination.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is where the interviewer may ask questions or make suggestive statements that prompt the interviewee to confirm what they believe they already know about them, based on their CV or application.

It also relates to how people pay more attention to information that supports their existing beliefs, prefer to interact with people who have similar views, and are unwilling to listen to different opinions.

It’s important to be aware of this bias - if people are being hired because they have the same views as their line managers, it can hinder growth and innovation across the business.

Recency bias

Recency bias is when an interviewer tends to remember and favor applicants who were interviewed more recently.

You may have interviewed many candidates in any given day and each one can seem to blend with the next. This is when you may fall victim to recency bias and subconsciously favor candidates toward the end of the interview process. The problem is that the best person for the job could be someone you interviewed right at the beginning of the day or halfway through.

Similarity bias

Also known as affinity bias, similarity bias is when an interviewer makes hiring decisions based on similar physical attributes or shared interests that are either discussed during the interview, or shown on a candidate’s CV.

For example, an interviewer may ask the potential employee if they had a good weekend, and the interviewee could reply with something like: “I did thank you, I went for a hike with my dog”. If the interviewer is also a fan of hiking and dog-owning, then whether intentional or not, the interviewer will view the candidate more positively, even before any skills or work-related information has been obtained.

Halo bias

The halo bias is when one positive characteristic dominates all others. For example, if the person interviewing sees that the applicant went to a prestigious university on their CV or had previously worked for a very well-known brand that they admire, they may focus on that and ignore negative traits.

Horn bias

Contrary to the halo bias, the horn bias is when a negative characteristic dominates all the positive skills and abilities. For example, a candidate may have made a spelling mistake on their CV and the interviewer can’t forget about it, giving too much weight to the error and ignoring the many positive qualities they have.

How to avoid bias when interviewing

Keep interviews uniform

Ask every candidate the same questions – ensuring they are relevant to the skills and abilities of the interviewee - and document their answers correctly. Taking notes as you go will prevent opinions and biases from sneaking in.

Provide training to interviewers

All interviewers should receive training in diversity and inclusion and learn how to identify and avoid their own unconscious biases. This will provide a more equitable system for all potential employees and help hiring managers discover their own hidden biases.

Have a diverse group of interviewers

If there are multiple interview stages or you are using a group of interviewers, make sure the group is diverse to allow for a more balanced decision to be made. Each interviewer will have different biases, so together the bias is lowered.

Limit personal chats

Some small talk is necessary when greeting an interviewee but keep it brief. Engaging in personal chats can lead to similarity bias.

Use a standard scoring system

Create a standard scoring system and apply this to all interviews. Referring to this later will ensure each candidate is assessed fairly and on an equal basis.

Record and re-play remote interviews

If you are doing remote interviews, record them (with the candidate’s consent) and re-play them in a different order to avoid recency bias.

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