Mitigating Unconscious Bias in the Interview Process

By: Ron Bower

The interview process is naturally prone to unconscious bias. Unconscious bias occurs when we make judgments and decisions about people based on our own experiences, beliefs, and stereotypes without meaningful and mindful thought. Unconscious bias can significantly impact the hiring process, leading to the exclusion of qualified candidates and the perpetuation of systemic inequalities.

Today, I wanted to explore how companies can take on unconscious bias to create a more inclusive hiring process and candidate experience. It’s impossible to argue against the merits of any organization taking the time to reduce unconscious bias. But if you happen to need a business case to support this effort, let’s start here:

  • More than 75% of job seekers say that a diverse workforce is essential when considering job offers, according to a Jobvite survey.

  • A McKinsey study revealed that diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform their industry peers.

  • According to Deloitte, inclusive companies generate 2.3x more cash flow per employee and are 1.7x more likely to be innovation leaders in their industry.

  • Companies with higher diversity and inclusion scores have a 22% lower turnover rate, according to the Harvard Business Review.

To tackle unconscious bias in the interview process, it's important to understand some of the most common types of biases that appear there:

  • Confirmation Bias: where we look for information that confirms our existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them.

  • Similarity Bias: when we prefer candidates who are similar to us in terms of demographics or background.

  • Halo Effect: where we allow one positive candidate characteristic to influence our overall perception of a candidate.

  • Contrast Effect: when we compare candidates to others we have interviewed rather than evaluating them based on their own experience and merits.

"Unconscious bias is like the wind; you can't see it, but you can feel it," states Mahzarin R. Banaji, a psychologist at Harvard, widely recognized for her work that brought the understanding of implicit bias into the spotlight.

The better we collectively understand biases, the better prepared we can be to mitigate them during the interview process. We recommend these three steps as a starting point:

  • Use Structured Interviews. Structured interviews are a powerful tool for reducing unconscious bias in the interview process. Structured interviews involve asking all candidates for a specific job a set of behavioral-based interview questions focused on the same core competencies and evaluating their responses against pre-determined standardized criteria. This removes the potential for unconscious bias to cause interviewers to ask different questions and focus on different competencies for different candidates. Structured interviews make it easier to objectively compare candidates, reducing the contrast effect's impact. Look here for help creating structured interview guides

  • Diversify Your Interview Panel. Another effective way to tackle unconscious bias is to diversify your interview panel. Having a diverse panel of interviewers can help reduce similarity bias by ensuring that a range of perspectives and experiences are represented. This approach can help to reduce the impact of the halo effect by ensuring that no one characteristic dominates the interview process. We always recommend having 3-5 interviewers involved during the selection process.

  • Train Interviewers on Unconscious Bias. Companies can combat unconscious bias by training their interviewers to recognize and mitigate bias. Training can include education on the different types of biases, their impact on the interview process, and strategies for reducing bias during interviews. By training interviewers on effective interviewing skills, including unconscious bias, companies can ensure that everyone involved in the hiring process is equipped to create a more inclusive and equitable experience. Need someone to deliver this training? Drop me a note: [email protected].

By taking these steps, you can ensure that you are hiring the best candidates and creating a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion. And, as a bonus, create an even higher performing organization. Sounds like an effort we should all take on. Starting now!