What is Interviewer Bias and How to Avoid It in 2022

by Sandra Jenkins

The interview is one of the most crucial parts of the hiring process: you’ve already made a selection of the people that you will hire, and through the interview, you will determine which of them are the best fit for your company.

There are dire consequences if this process is not carried out properly.

At best, you might not be actively losing morale and money on a bad hire, but you might have missed out on a stellar employee because of this wrong judgment.

In the worst case, the wrong decision based on the interviews can easily lead to a bad hire.

Thus, you need to be adequately prepared when tackling the interview. One of the best ways you can prepare yourself is by recognizing and making an effort to minimize the effects of interviewer bias.

In this article, we’ll discuss exactly this: how you can recognize interviewer bias and how you can prepare against it to make sure that you make the best hiring decision possible.

Explaining Interviewer Bias

Interviewer bias happens when the exchange of information is distorted because of the actions or perspectives of the person asking the questions –the interviewer, thus the name.

Human psyches are complicated things; all of us hold some form of beliefs and perceptions, and all of us have the inherent desire to be liked and included in the group. Both factors are at play during the interview phase of the hiring process.

Try as they might minimize it, interviewers themselves have a certain view of how the world works. This may manifest in different ways, such as unconscious beliefs and biases about any number of factors.

Add to that the inherent desire for interviewers to be picked.

When you put such pressure in an interaction, interviewees will more often than not present their best selves and gloss over their imperfections, even though both factors are equally important for the interview.

These two psychological factors make the interview phase of the hiring process rife with biases, especially if you don’t do anything to address them.

That’s exactly why you need to understand interview bias, which is what we’ll do in this article.

How to Identify Interview Bias

Identifying interviewer bias is crucial if you want to make a conscious decision of minimizing its effects on your interview sessions.

We all have biases. That much is a fact.

This Psychology Today article helps illustrate why biases form: simply put, because of the way we’re brought up, and the way we make sense of the world in simple terms.

Daniel Kahneman, in his book called Thinking, Fast and Slow, postulates that some parts of our mind utilize biases and ‘mental shortcuts’ (called heuristics) to give snap judgments to lessen the strain on our mental state, especially when we feel that we are in danger.

In short, mental shortcuts – including biases – are thought to be generally helpful because it helps us not go crazy from the number of choices and judgments that we have to make in our daily lives.

However, when we rely on our biases too much, we can easily fall into the trap of harmful thinking. Nevertheless, we’ve all done this, to some degree or another.

We’ve established that biases are generally inescapable – but we can train our conscious brains to recognize when it happens.

And the first step towards this is accepting that we all have biases. As recruiters, we, too, have interviewer bias.

People who claim that they are immune to biases are not only lying; they are much more vulnerable to making faulty decisions because they don’t reevaluate their thoughts and actions. Thus, it’s important to consciously remind yourself that you can be biased.

The second step, and the gateway to taking an active part in minimizing its effects, is to know the types of interviewer biases.

10 Types of Interviewer Bias

Unsurprisingly, our brains concoct many different erroneous beliefs that can lead to faulty decision-making. As we’ve established in the previous section, recognizing that we all have biases is the first step to minimizing its effects on important decisions of our lives.

The second best step that we can take is to know its types.

Understanding how interviewer bias can manifest is crucial in recognizing the behavior in ourselves, and learning how to stop it.

There are many types of interviewer biases to name, so it would be useful to categorize them based on two groups: action-lead biases and perception-lead biases, based on the underlying causes of those manifestations.

Action-Lead Biases

In essence, interviewer biases under this category are caused by certain actions of the interviewer, whether it is in the manner of speech, behavior, non-verbal cues, etc.

Examples of these types of biases are the following.

1. Using implicative language

Suggestive language is verbal words that tend to confirm a certain leaning towards an idea, even before the interview has already been discussed. This type of confirmation bias can either be implicit or explicit.

Examples include leading questions, verbalized beliefs, and using certain cues to imply opinions towards a certain answer.

For example, what do you think will happen in an interview if you ask an applicant “I like ice cream, don’t you?”

In that case, since you’re already voicing your favor for ice cream, the applicant – who wants to be accepted by you – will most likely say they love ice cream, or at the very least that they don’t hate it.

When asked that kind of question, few people will honestly say that they hate ice cream, leading to a bias.

2. Non-neutral body language

Words aren’t the only ones that carry meaning. Body language is also a powerful tool of communication and can be a pretty big source of bias if you don’t put it under control.

If you overtly display non-neutral body language, the interviewee will experience the same effect just as surely as if you’ve spoken the words.

For example, nodding your head while someone is speaking will generally be taken as a sign of encouragement. On the other hand, unconsciously shaking your head will also be taken as a sign of disagreement.

Other commonly interpreted body language examples include posture, facial expressions, hand gestures, and more.

If you’re an interviewer, exhibiting body language that can be interpreted as either positive or negative will influence what your interviewer will say.

3. Outward presentation

Even if you don’t say anything, your outward presentation will also affect what your interviewee will say about your topic. This is especially true if your dressing or manner of presentation is provocative.

People judge each other by the clothes they wear all the time.

For example, research revealed that doctors who stopped using their iconic white lab coats had their patient satisfaction ratings drop compared to when they wore them.

This is called the White Lab Coat Effect.

In Milgram’s experiment about authority and obedience, 65% of participants in the experiment were coerced into inflicting (fake) electricity on an actor simply because they were instructed to by a person in a gray lab coat.

There are other experiments expressing instances where our modes of dressing affected perception, so it stands to reason that it can apply in an interview scenario too.

For example, participants might become wary of an interviewer who dresses in well-cut three-piece suits.

They will likely view them as higher figures of authority than they are, which can result in their responses being guarded and overly polite. On the other hand, an interviewer with a too-casual mode of dressing might be seen as closer to a peer, with more friendly and less professional responses.

If you’re aiming for either of those moods, then it might be okay to set that kind of bias.

However, if you’re aiming for a neutral environment, it’s best to remember that dressing the part contributes to the mood that you create.

Perceptual Biases

These types of biases are what most people mean when they talk about this topic. These biases stem from the thoughts of the interviewer, whether it’s through their conscious or unconscious mind.

Here are some of the examples of these types of biases in action.

4. Stereotyping

This is one of the most common types of bias, and no doubt you’ve heard of this term being thrown around.

Stereotyping happens when you make judgments about someone based on a perceived group, rather than based on their attributes. This usually happens when you already have preset notions about how certain groups of people are supposed to act, what they’re good at, etc.

A basic example of stereotyping in action would be to assume that a young person is technologically-savvy, while an old person is technologically handicapped, without looking at their qualifications.

5. The Halo and Horn Effect

When people say “first impressions matter,” this is most likely what they mean.

These effects are the tendency for a person to make a judgment about the entirety of a person’s character based solely on an initial character trait that they’ve displayed.

The halo effect, in particular, talks about how an initial good impression makes an individual seem better than they are.

For example, it’s generally well-understood that physically attractive people are treated better because of the halo effect. Just because a candidate is attractive, well-dressed, and smiles a lot, some interviewers might be quick to assume that they are also competent and reliable.

The horn effect is the opposite: an initial bad impression can cloud the rest of the other person’s character.

For example, a candidate that might have trouble speaking your language properly will likely cause awkwardness and difficulty in communicating – however, this doesn’t mean that they are incompetent in the field they’re applying for.

6. Authority bias

Bias towards a perception of authority is a more pronounced version of the halo effect, which extends to things that make us prefer an individual that looks authoritative, regardless of their actual skill.

It’s a rule that people should follow authority, but aside from the obvious (such as celebrities and other people we know), how can anyone tell that a person is authoritative about the topic?

The simplest answer is that they are likely to look for signs of authority.

These signs of authority can vary in many forms, from the way a person dress, ‘trappings of authority’ (such as police badges, white lab coats, yellow safety helmets, etc.), to their stated background.

One of the most common examples of this during the interview is a client’s educational background.

For example, you might treat a person from a prestigious university to be superior to a graduate from community college because of a perceived superior background.

The most common manifestations of this are in situations like inconsistent questioning, where you assume that the prestigious graduate immediately knows about a topic, while you extensively question the community college graduate about the same topic.

7. In-Group Bias

We all have in-groups, groups to who we feel like we “belong.”

While this is not necessarily bad, it becomes a detrimental bias when you prefer an individual perceived to be in your in-group regardless of their other skills. This is also called ‘affinity bias.’ According to this, we are more drawn to people who are more similar to us.

Thus, be careful that you don’t let common grounds influence your opinion. Whether you graduated from the same school, live in the same neighborhood, or go to the same club, this aspect of your personality should not be used to judge your work competencies.

8. Central tendency

This is a term more common in the world of HR and company feedback. According to the Oxford Reference, central tendency bias is the tendency of individuals to answer on the middle of a scale to avoid showing preferential treatment.

For example, during employee review surveys, managers are likely to rate all their employees in the ‘middle’ of the scale because they perceive the rating to show preference.

During job interviews, this bias can manifest when you’re “holding out” for the ideal candidate.

You have a fixed idea on your head of what the best job applicant will look like, and compared to that, you rate all the candidates you currently have towards the middle of the scale, even though some of them are quite exceptional taken by themselves.

9. Cultural noise bias

Cultural noise bias is when the candidate is affected by prevailing “cultural perceptions” instead of sharing their honest view of the topic.

This is all the more pronounced when discussing topics that candidates can perceive to be controversial. In the interview space, these could be discussions about salary, work hours, etc. The tendency to spout “socially acceptable” answers is strong in individuals, even more so if they believe that their honest answers will not be accepted and will cause a bad impression.

As an interviewer, it’s your job to provide an environment where applicants are at ease in discussing such potentially controversial topics while taking care not to go out of bounds.

10. Contrast effect

Say you were buying clothes from a high-end shop. You know that everything in the store is expensive and most likely above your budget. In your browsing, you come across two articles of clothing that you like; one for a hundred dollars and another for three hundred dollars.

Which one would you be more drawn to? The one-hundred dollars, of course, because it is cheaper.

But is it?

Remember that everything in the store is above your allocated budget – yet you felt more drawn to the “cheaper” option because it was contrasted with a more expensive option, even though both are unattainable.

This is the contrast effect at work.

This psychological phenomenon makes us vulnerable to decisions based on relative comparison. During interviews, we might be more drawn to the current candidate because the previous candidate was noticeably weaker – even though the current candidate only hit the bare minimum.

Take care that you don’t make judgments based on what the previous candidate has displayed.

How to Avoid Bias in Interview

Hopefully, by now, you’ve recognized your inherent capability for bias and now know about its different types. But how exactly can hiring managers use this knowledge?

It’s time to know the exact steps to take to avoid bias during the interview phase.

Source from multiple channels

Certain groups of people may prefer specific channels over the other, so recruiting from just job boards or just local posts is a losing proposition from the perspective of avoiding bias.

This is because you’re likely to encounter the same types of applicants in just one or two channels.

Instead, widen your search and leverage multiple recruitment channels to source candidates. This is all the more important for remote positions, where geographical location isn’t a hindrance. Source as wide as possible to areas with suitable cultures, time zones, etc., to the job at hand.

Utilize blind tests

Blind tests that determine the applicant’s basic job-related skills should be utilized.

You can ask them to write code, create reports, write up a proposal to handle a hypothetical issue, etc. – the important thing is that you anonymize their responses and judge the product individually.

Attaching their identities can come after the initial round of interviews to help you gain a fuller understanding of their capabilities.

Standardize your interview questions

Have the same set of questions for each candidate, depending on the job.

This creates a more uniform environment where you can judge each candidate based on the specific responses to well-calibrated questions. This helps you avoid veering off into areas that might unveil in-group biases, such as community, social status, academic background, etc.

These interview questions should be formulated by a diverse team of hiring experts that will also create a questionnaire that has room for inclusion and diversity.

Create interview guides for your hiring teams

Now that you’ve made standard interview questions for each job, the next level is to create uniform interview guides that will standardize the way your hiring teams ask questions.

This helps avoid creating multiple kinds of biases by avoiding personal affinities from forming among your recruitment teams. It also helps make sure that candidates all get the same kind of experience, and there would be no room for preferential treatment.

Your formulated questions should just be one of the contents of your interview guides. It should also include other parts such as the interview methods that you will use, conversation flow, rubrics for grading, etc.

Designate a dedicated note keeper

Assign one of your hiring teams to take notes, even while the interview is going on.

If you’re conducting online interviews, you can most likely create a recording of the conference session, which might make you think that on-the-spot notes are not necessary anymore.

However, this is far from the case because there are simply impressions that you will only get during the middle of the interview. The role of the note keeper is to jot down these impressions and make sure that it is remembered later on.

They can also review the session recording for a better understanding of the candidates.

Don’t just rely on your “instincts”

The biggest companies in the world rely on cutting-edge analytics instead of their “instincts.”

Many interviewers use their “instincts” or “guts” in making their hiring choices, but while the best recruiters might have instinctual responses, it could just as easily be the home of ingrained biases.

The problem with instincts is that more often than not, you “just know,” and then proceed to trust your instinct over what solid information tells you.

This can be damaging to your choices because your instincts can also be your biases masquerading as intuition. Thus, while instincts that come from long decades of practice should be considered to some degree, they should be further substantiated by data.

Interview Bias FAQs

What is bias in interviews?

There is bias in interviews when the process is clouded with cognitive biases on the part of the interviewer. This is what we call “interviewer bias.”

What is meant by interviewer bias?

Interviewer bias is when the information exchange during the interview phase is distorted because of the actions or perception of the interviewer. This may come in the form of undue and unnoticed influence over the participants or through cognitive biases.

What is an example of interviewer bias?

Examples of interviewer bias include instances when the leading language is used, or when non-neutral body language is displayed. This can unduly influence the individuals being interviewed.

Avoiding Interview Bias: Wrap-Up

One of the best ways that you can minimize the effects of interview bias is by automating your candidate selection process. This reduces human errors along the pipeline and helps you make more solid decisions based on data.

You can do this with competent recruitment software such as Hirenest. Sounds like something you’re interested in? Contact us for a free trial!

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