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Unconscious Bias: Is it happening in Your Interviews?

  • March 18, 2019

Let’s be honest; we all at some point or another think we know how our significant other might respond in a given situation.

They will choose that off the pub menu, or they won’t be happy about x doing y, or they won’t want to take a flight on Monday, and the list goes on.

Often, we are correct because our years together have taught us how they generally react. We have taken the time to listen and understand them. They might be an oddball, and they are our oddball whom we have grown to love and adore; quirky habits and all.

Now let’s think about the workplace.

Ever been surprised by the reaction of a colleague in your team or department? I suspect so.

It’s probably because you haven’t taken the time to get to know them well and are making assumptions.

Now let’s take this one stage further and think about the interview process and how, on very little information, we make snap decisions.

It’s related to a phenomenon known as unconscious bias.

What is Unconscious Bias?

It’s a recognised phenomenon which is hitting the headlines more than ever as all organisations are becoming aware of the need to embrace diversity in their organisations.

Unconscious bias refers to a preference that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations.

Unconscious bias is influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences. We all have these biases and research has shown that they heavily influence how we evaluate people in the interview process and more often than not, put minority candidates at a disadvantage.

Let me explain.

Though you think tattoos are fine or nose studs are OK in other organisations, deep down when Jonathan appears across the table from you at the interview, there is something that doesn’t quite feel right.

Alternatively, maybe Amanda looks almost identical to Amy who didn’t work out earlier in the year and somehow your gut is saying; don’t make the same mistake again.

Then maybe Sean appears who looks exactly like your favourite brother and even supports MUFC as you do. During the interview, he fluffed a couple of questions though he looks like he will fit in with the rest of the guys in the team, so let’s say yes.

Common ways unconscious bias appears that you might also recognise is the halo effect.  The phrase was first coined by Edward Thorndike, a psychologist who used it in a study published in 1920 to describe the way that commanding officers rated their soldiers. So, if you assume that someone is nice, or friendly, you are highly likely to assume that they would also be clever, smart or good at their job: Beware, this is a huge assumption.

The horn effect is the opposite and is likely what is happening to Jonathan and his tattoos. This is where first impressions create an unconscious bias. If, for instance, a person is seen to be too loud, or too shy, it could also be assumed that they will not be smart or clever, or good at their job. Crazy I know, and it happens regularly.

Does any of this sound familiar?

I suspect it does because at some point all of us can be under the effect of unconscious bias in an interview situation.

Why It’s A Good Idea To Minimise Bias

Bias creates the ‘same old same old’, which stifles growth. Research by McKinsey over the last three years has confirmed that a diverse workplace is more effective, and diverse organisations perform better.

One further report by McKinsey called Delivering Through Diversity showed that gender diversity in management positions increases profitability even more than previously thought. In the firm’s previous analysis, companies in the top 25th percentile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 15% more likely to experience above-average profits. The latest data showed that the likelihood has grown to 21%.

Companies with a more culturally and ethnically diverse executive team were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits.

So, how can you start to remove bias in your interview process?

Set Tasks

If you know that the role requires a specific set of tasks to be completed, include this in the interview process. The halo effect can often result in wasted time when people join your company who can’t do the job. Maybe if you asked Jonathan and Sean to complete the same task and assessed them based on this, Jonathan could turn out to be an amazing find.

Plan Out Your Interview and Questions And Stick To IT

If you are hiring for a specific commercial role, decide on the questions you will ask and who will ask them.

Ensure everyone is asked the same questions by the same person and score answers too. You will be surprised how this starts to standardise the process and remove bias.

Then finally…

Have At Least Two Interviewers

More if you can. Human beings are all different and view things differently. Ideally, interview with someone who is opposite to you; I know that is a stretch but well worth it.

Ensuring that at least two people conduct each interview will help to get a more rounded picture of the candidate.

Unconscious bias as the name implies is just that, outside of our awareness. So reading this post is an excellent first step.

At the end of the day consider how someone will help your business not just where they come from or their friendly demeanour.

About Clayton Recruitment

Clayton Recruitment has been partnering with organisations across the country since 1989 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability.

With specialist divisions covering Commercial, Financial, Industrial, and Engineering appointments, on both a permanent and temporary basis. If you are looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to download our latest interview checklist, you can do so here.

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