When Interviewing, Beware Of Your Biases (Hiring Series 3/5)

Regina Zafonte
7 min readJul 22, 2021

Organizing a successful hiring process can determine if you secure the right person for the job. A crucial component to success is the interview stage as it is a great way to get to know your prospective employees, both the hard skills and intangibles such as passion, initiative, goal-orientation, and cultural fit.

Below are some steps to consider when you are designing the interview process. Be sure to filter any of these tips based on the culture and mission of your organization.

1. First-round individual interviews. If you have many applicants, you can have a brief 30-minute group interview meant to cull the list further and separate the A from the B and C players. As you move to the preliminary one-on-one interviews, the goal is to get to know your candidates a little deeper. You can open your interview by letting them know you would like to spend 25 or so minutes getting to know them and then leaving some time to answer any questions they may have. Give the candidate the first words instead of telling them about the company as they can parrot what you would like to hear.

2. Beware of biases. While the interview is going to give you some essential data, there are inherent problems of deception. Psychologist Ron Friedman argues, “The interview is dreadful in predicting if somebody’s going to be successful because they’re measuring their ability to think on the spot. 80% of people lie and it seems like it’s almost advantageous for them to lie if they want to get the job.” Another problem is that people have biases in hiring. As humans, we are hardwired to make quick decisions, to go with our intuitions. The way we think is largely shaped by various unconscious biases which ultimately influence the way we perceive reality. In fact, according to Quartz publication, 60% of interviewers will decide about a candidate’s suitability within 15 minutes of meeting them. Some will even have made that determination within seconds of the interview. When we have formed our intuition, we are no longer considering new information, we are just rationalizing it.

Here are some common biases in which to be mindful:

· Confirmation Bias. Is the tendency to search for information that confirms some preliminary assumptions you may have. For example, suppose you see a tall person, you may think they are a good leader and then ask questions that can evoke favorable answers such as — tell me a time when you led a group successfully versus a more neutral question — how much experience do you have leading a team?

· Halo Effect. We assume that just because somebody has achieved success in one area, they are likely to excel in another area. They were incredible coders so they are likely to lead a technical team, but they are two different skill sets that need to be individually assessed.

· Overconfidence Bias. Is the tendency to hold an over-bloated assessment of our skills and abilities. Some hiring managers believe they have a special talent to choose a candidate based on their gut, but our personal experiences can be limited. To have an accurate read, we need to have more objective measures in addition to our instincts, however strong they may be.

There are steps we can take to interrupt our biases and have a fairer process:

A. Have a standardized set of questions. Ask all candidates the same questions, write them down in advance and execute. The reason is that if we think somebody is extroverted, we are going to ask for examples of when they led a group, whereas if we think somebody is introverted, we may not ask them about speaking in front of an audience because we assume they may not have. The way we frame the question influences the information we get, and when we ask the same questions, we level the playing field.

B. Have a scorecard. This is an idea mentioned by Geoff Smart and Randy Street in their book, Who: The A Method for Hiring. Their card has three parts: mission, outcome, and competencies so you are clear what you are looking for and so the candidate is clear on what to expect.

· Mission: 1–5 lines of why the role exists. For example, the customer service representative is to help customers resolve problems with the highest level of courtesy. You can ask candidates how their mission aligns with the company’s mission.

· Outcomes: 3–8 specific outcomes to achieve an A performance. For example, improve the customer performance score from a 7–12 measured by x, y, and z by 12/1. Another example could be to work with a team to generate copious ideas and then choose the most innovative one, gain consensus and galvanize the team to execute by a specific date. You can ask how they feel about achieving the outcomes.

· Competencies: — Choose the capabilities that most matter to the work. At Google, Kim Scott talked about hiring for general cognitive abilities, leadership, role-related responsibilities and expertise, and googliness (the culture piece).

· Technical Competencies or hard skills: These are the skills and behaviors that people need to do the job (coding, product management, creating the strategic vision and executing, designing, etc.). You can ask them how they have exhibited those competencies and provide an example from a previous job or how they would complete a realistic project they would have to do for this position.

· Interpersonal or soft skills: These are all the intangible that allows the work to get done and the business results to be achieved. It can involve being self-aware and understanding how they are being perceived, managing their time and being dependable, being an effective communicator and clearly spelling out expectations with respect and openness, as well as being a listener and excellent team player.

· Leadership skills: Do they know how to develop others to advance in their role, do they know how to motivate, inspire, care, and appreciate others, can they run high performing teams, manage conflict, and promote DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) initiatives? Managing and leading a team is different from being an individual contributor.

· Cultural Competencies: Do your values and mission align? You can share the values of the company (e.g., hungry, humble, and smart) and ask how they exhibit those values, and provide an example from a previous job.

· You can use the what/how/tell-me-more framework for follow-up questions. What do you mean? What happened? What does that look like? What is a good example of that? What is your role? What did you do? What did your boss say? What were the results? What else? How did you do that? Please walk me through the steps and how you overcame any obstacles.

Based on the responses, you should provide a score from A-E or 1–5 to each of their questions. When you are done, you can review the scorecards with the hiring committee and advance the candidates with the highest scores. If there are none, you may need to re-source potential candidates.

C. Have a committee. Eliminate siloed interviews in favor of at least 3 people on a panel because each person can be attuned to different aspects and see different things. You can assign roles, such as a hiring manager to organize and then others that are looking for specific competencies. The panel should be made up of not only the hiring manager but peers and if there is a heavy cross-functional component, that person should be there as well. The committee should also be diverse in different areas such as experience, gender, race, etc. Before the interview, members should know the competencies, take notes, fill out a rubric independently, keep a tally, and then debrief their observations and compare impressions and scores. If one person gave a score of a 5 in consciousness and the other gave a score of a 2, the idea is not to agree but expose the different perspectives and increase understanding, vote, and move on. If there are any aspects that you are unsure about, you can drill down on those specific things in the next interview. Southwest conducts a lot of peer and team interviews. These processes help delay and test our intuitions so our decisions are more grounded in more data sources.

Many people complain just how hard it is to get the right hire. The process can be lengthy and there is no guarantee that you are going to bring on great people. Thinking about interrupting biases, having uniform questions, a scorecard for evaluation, and a committee to thoughtfully review the candidates can increase your chances of securing the right candidate.

Quote of the day: “Hiring is the most important people function you have, and most of us aren’t as good at it as we think. Refocusing your resources on hiring better will have a higher return than almost any training program you can develop.” — Laszlo Bock, Former SVP of People Operations at Google

Q: What’s your process for conducting group or one-on-one interviews? How do you choose among the candidates you interview, which criteria do you use to assess a candidate’s performance? Comment and share with us, we would love to hear!

[The next blog in this series 4/5 will focus on asking the best interview questions]

As a Leadership Coach, I partner with leaders to get clarity on the hiring process to secure the best candidate, contact me to learn more.

How do you disrupt your biases when hiring?