Job Interview: Understanding Interviewer Bias and Getting Beyond It

Most human resource associates who interview potential job candidates intend to treat everyone fairly. However, all people have biases even when they’re not aware of them.

Culture differences account for one of the most common reasons for unconscious bias in an interview situation. For example, people of Asian descent learn as children that looking someone straight in the eye is disrespectful. This contrasts sharply with the message in mainstream culture that people who don’t make eye contact are shifty and may be untrustworthy.

Multi-cultural job applicants getting ready for job interview

Another major difference between those who grew up in modern American culture and people from other countries is their level of comfort with being assertive. While it’s typically a prized personal trait here, other cultures place a higher emphasis on modesty. Job candidates may have been taught that talking about their achievements was nothing more than bragging.

Unfortunately, interviewers may be highly culturally sensitive and still have unconscious biases. The key to overcoming them is to ask for accountability and to understand it’s impossible to treat all job applicants the same. It’s more important to take a few moments to learn more about each person and treat them as an individual.

Specific Types of Interviewer Biases

The confirmation bias is one of the most common problems with interviewing several people for one available position. When this occurs, the interviewer looks for validation that a pre-conceived notion he or she had about the interviewee is correct. Perhaps the human resources employee viewed the applicant’s resume and concluded that he or she isn’t very career-oriented.

During the course of the interview, the person conducting it asks questions to try to prove that the candidate only wants a short-term job and not a long-term career. There may be valid reasons for the lack of upward career growth but the interviewer isn’t interested in hearing them.

Job interviewer bias

Making a snap judgment about someone’s ability to perform the job based on physical characteristics is another common error. A good example here is passing up an overweight job candidate due to the assumption that he or she lacks willpower or might be a lazy employee. Other interviewers have trouble getting past their first impression of someone, whether it is positive or negative. They allow this to overshadow everything else the person offers during the course of the interview. Relying on intuition and choosing someone most like themselves are additional errors that human resources professionals make.

Structured Criteria and Processes Help to Reduce Unintentional Bias

While it’s important to account for individual differences, it’s also essential for all interviews to have the same basic structure. This allows the person conducting the interview to record the applicant’s responses as well as his or her own assessments.

Another person reviewing the notes may be able to see a bias where the interviewer could not. It’s also helpful for human resource department to utilize structured criteria when making a decision about who should get the job. This helps to eliminate choosing one applicant over another due to unfair biases that have nothing to do with his or her ability to perform the duties of the position.