Bias – how to avoid common interview mistakes

Excuse me, your interview bias is showing

Do you think you’re good at judging people? You are, but probably not in the way you think…

Interview bias comes from us leading complicated lives and from nature. Nature has given us neurological shortcuts so we don’t have to relearn everything as we go.

For example, when we encounter a closed door, we don’t need to consciously think: What is this? What is it for? Why is it here? or How does it work? Instead, we grab the handle and walk through (perhaps with a little push/pull confusion on the way!)

Similar shortcuts are in operation when we interact with other people.

When we interview to bring new employees on board, we are able to quickly assess a person based on our past experiences and conditioning. This usually goes on beyond our awareness. Efficient but not always accurate!

For more than two decades Project Implicit, based at Harvard University, has been tracking a whole range of our hidden prejudicial associations.

Curious about my own ‘prejudicial associations’, I decided to try one of their Implicit Association Tests (IATs). Being a feminist, mother of two girls, businesswoman and teacher, I thought I’d be pretty safe trying a test called ‘Gender-Career’. Imagine my surprise (actually, horror!) when I found my results showed that I strongly associated men with careers and women with family life.

Implicit interview bias appears in the majority of the population. At least I’m not alone. And most of us don’t even know we are biased against certain groups.

How is this significant in business?

Our hidden prejudices predict how we respond to others. They may have an impact on:

  • deciding on the best applicant for a role
  • evaluating others’ work performance
  • how friendly and inclusive we are toward different team members

Tip: Job interviews are a notoriously inaccurate way to predict workplace behaviour, even when conducted by experts. Listen to Episode 6 of the Work Wonders podcast for some examples of questions with inbuilt bias.

What the work of Project Implicit indicates is that without using objective measures of job fit, we may be relying on judgements we aren’t even aware of and can’t control.

Could you use an objective opinion on staffing issues? We’re here to help!


Are you curious about your own interview bias?

Why not visit Project Implicit online? You’ll find a range of tests to choose from!


Cover photo by Isabella and Zsa Fischer on Unsplash

About Susan Rochester

Susan Rochester has been managing director of Balance at Work since 2006. Susan has a natural tendency to balance analytical thinking with an optimistic outlook to set direction and solve problems. She is an effective facilitator and constantly creates new and more effective ways of doing things, motivated by helping others to achieve their goals.

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