One of the hardest things to let go of, in all aspects of life, are the biases we develop over time. It happens naturally through our experiences, interactions, and relationships and it is almost inevitable. Since we each have a unique way of looking at life in general, we also each form assumptions and judgments about other people, creating a filter that changes how we view those around us. While it is commonplace to form these kinds of biases, the accompanying filter doesn’t always paint a picture that is accurate.
This is especially true when it comes to your company’s hiring practices. All too often, hiring decisions are based on bias and how we view a candidate, rather than on facts, skills, and ability. It’s a sad fact that good candidates sometimes don’t pass the test because someone forms a negative impression within the first few minutes of meeting them. Some may argue that these impressions and judgments are actually their instincts kicking in, and they should be listened to. But in most cases, they are just judgments, plain and simple. To avoid making bad hiring decisions by letting bias creep in, follow these four tips.
Some of the most common reasons that candidates are subjected to bias are superficial things like the clothing they’re wearing; the way they speak; their age, sex, or race; or a perceived lack of confidence or arrogance. The problem with using these characteristics to judge the quality of a candidate is that they either have no bearing on job performance, when it comes to things like age, sex, or race, or they are things that can’t be possibly be assessed as quickly as the judgment is made, such as when someone seems to be arrogant. When you identify the factors that tend to be stumbling blocks for you, it’s easier to avoid making that judgment or inquiring about the trait.
To avoid making snap judgments about candidates the first time you meet them, get to know them ahead of time. You can do this through phone interviews, online skill assessments, speaking to their references, or requiring pre-interview assignments. All of these activities provide a more comprehensive view of the candidate that would be hard to get from a one-time meeting in person. When you’re face to face, it’s hard not to judge even simple things like a handshake, eye contact, and nervousness. Taking the time to do some research will also create a more accurate first impression, and it will prevent having the entire interview be tainted by either a good or bad impression.
If you’ve done any amount of hiring, you’ve likely heard and probably said things like, “I feel, “I think,” “he/she is not a good fit,” or “he/she would be a good team player.” The problem with all of these phrases is that they focus on opinions and feelings, not facts. While there is something to be said for instincts, especially those that have been honed and sharpened through years of experience, our feelings and thoughts are often misread as instincts. Instead of basing your decisions on instincts, focus on quantitative and measurable information, such as accomplishments, skills, experience, and education. Ask questions about these elements, and give them more weight than what you may think or feel.
Even when highly-trained HR professionals conduct interviews, the hiring decision is often made within the first five minutes of meeting a candidate. The problem here is obvious, but it still happens time and time again. To avoid making the mistake of deciding whether or not to hire someone without even speaking in-depth with him or her, put the 30-minute rule into practice. Determine ahead of time that you won’t form a yes or no opinion until after you’ve spent 30 minutes with the candidate. You still may not be able to give a definitive answer at that time, but you’ll at least have put off making an uninformed decision.
What are your tips for avoiding bias in interviews? Let us know in the comments section below.
Jessica Miller-Merrell, SPHR, is an author, speaker, Human Resources professional, and workplace social media expert who has a passion for recruiting, training, and all things social media. She is the president and CEO of Xceptional HR, and a leader in the HR community with more than 12 years of industry experience. The author of Tweet This! Twitter for Business, Jessica was named by HR Examiner as the second most influential recruiter on the Internet and the seventh most powerful woman on Twitter. She is a columnist for both SmartBrief and The Huffington Post, in addition to Blogging4Jobs and Human Resources One on One. Jessica has been interviewed for professional articles in CIO Magazine, Entrepreneur Magazine, SHRM’s HR Magazine, and on CBS. Jessica earned a Senior Professional in Human Resources designation in 2008, and holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology and Business from Kansas State University. Originally from a small town in Kansas, Jessica currently lives near Oklahoma City with her husband, Greg and daughter, Ryleigh.