How to Bust Bias in the Jungle of Employee Interviews – Part 2

how to bust bias in the jungle of employee interviews - part 2

In part 1 of this series, we discussed cognitive bias and how it impacts the interview process. This article is a deeper dive into the ways we can minimize these biases to improve our hiring processes.

How Ambiguity Affects Interview Outcomes

This study shows that a few factors minimized the bias against women in male-dominated jobs:

  1. Interview feedback that clearly indicated high competence of applicants
  2. Motivating interviewers to make careful decisions
  3. Having experienced professionals rather than undergraduates involved as interviewers

In other words, bias is reduced when we have an interview process that cuts down on ambiguous feedback and when we involve experienced interviewers who have bought into the concept of taking the process seriously.

The Power of the Structured Behavioral Interview

Decades of research show that structured behavioral interviews (SBIs) are valid for predicting performance and that candidates trust them. Wait, what? There’s a style of interviewing that can predict performance and provide a good candidate experience? Yes, it’s the humble structured behavioral interview. It may be as rare as the endangered Sumatran tiger, but it exists.

What is the Structured Behavioral Interview (SBI)? It’s a conversation that follows guidelines (a structure) to cover previously identified areas of competence (experience, skills) and then, ideally, rates that set of competencies on a behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS). It is not a loose conversation about the candidate’s resume and life experience. It does not accept narrative, aspirations, and generalizations.

Why SBI Reduces Bias

The SBI process is very specific, forcing interviewers to make judgements based on criteria not on feelings or automatic assumptions, which are more likely to be based on bias. Interviewers conducting an SBI probe to learn about situations, decisions, teams, and experiences that begin to shed light on facts. Rather than listening to the candidate’s storyline, interviewers conduct an open and relaxed dialogue that uncovers specific competencies by drilling in with additional questions. The conversation requires listening and then asking for missing information until the interviewer has enough of understanding to make an evidence-based assessment of competency on the rating scale.

Common Objections to SBI

Because SBI is highly structured, interviewers need preparation, training, and experience to successfully execute it. Hiring teams need to be clear enough about what they are looking for that they can identify the competencies that matter most. Then structured questions need to be designed, which invite further probing questions into the capabilities and competencies under evaluation. Ratings need to be collected and reviewed – hopefully in a user-friendly way. All these factors make some companies hesitant to adopt this approach, even though SBIs work well in theory.

Planning is Key to SBI Implementation

It’s a jungle out there, but recruiters can be effective guides. You can navigate the landmarks: pre-interview, interview session, and post-interview. Map out what your interviewers need to pack in and pack out when interviewing, and remind them that hiring mistakes are just bad planning. Planning reduces the risk of false negatives and false positives. When interview teams screen out a great candidate who did not match up with unwritten rules, that’s known as a false negative. When teams hire a candidate who sailed through the interview process wearing a halo, that’s a false positive.

In such a candidate driven market, it may seem like there is no time to prepare for interviews. However, with unemployment below 5% and average time-to-hire across all industries hanging at about five to six weeks, we have the time. Equip your team to prepare while you source. In explaining his success at reaching the South Pole first in 1911, Roald Amundsen said,

“I may say that this is the greatest factor: the way in which the expedition is equipped, the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order, luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time, this is called bad luck.”

Don’t set out on your journey with an ill-prepared hiring team. Lead them to define what good looks like and what capabilities they will assess during their interviews. Then encourage them to define when and who will focus on the assessment of which of these specific capabilities. Push them to define which key introductory questions will be asked by which interviewer. We can tame the wilderness. With structure, we have more predictive outcomes, less hiring regrets, and more stable teams. Without structure, research shows we fall prey to bias.

In the final part of this series, we’ll discuss the role that technology can play in reducing bias during the interview process.

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Jodie Kirby

Jodie has been recruiting full time since 2008. She understands the talent acquisition life cycle and shares her professional expertise regularly as a contributing author and speaker. She started in the franchise industry: pipelining new franchise prospects, streamlining vetting, and improving lead generation. Then she launched a staffing agency franchise and eventually focused on recruiting designers and developers to deliver marketing projects through her own consultancy. When a key client was acquired, she began recruiting hardware and software engineers. She has a track record of success sourcing and placing technical and leadership talent, building high-performing teams, and optimizing both candidate and hiring team engagement. She leverages her extensive experience directing, revitalizing, and strengthening complex recruiting operations to deliver recruiting business partner consulting and placement services through Ruit Leaf Recruitment.


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