Don't Be a Victim of Interview Bias

interview biasAlthough you might have the perfect qualifications for a job, you must be able to effectively convey this in an interview to land the job. As practiced in interviewing as you might be, the interviewer may not be. One of the key stumbling blocks during poor interviews is Interviewing Bias. Typically, this is when an interviewer begins to make assumptions about that interviewee that may not be accurate. When faced with choosing between several qualified candidates, a poor interviewer may let these biases dictate whom they recommend for the job.

One of the unfortunate circumstances in this situation is you may not even know it is happening. So how do you prepare and deal with this possible scenario? As I always say, take ownership of the interview and plan your strategy in advance. Specifically, know the types of biases that occur and learn how to maneuver around them during an interview. Here are several and some suggestions on dealing with them.

The Halo Effect Bias

The Halo Effect occurs when something about a job applicant creates a favorable first impression on the interviewer. This can be shared in the interview or be a physical attribute. Once this takes place, the interviewer may not be able to view the candidate's suitability for the job objectively. The interviewer might, for example, find the applicant's manner, accent or appearance pleasing, or might discover that he or she attended the same school as the applicant.

How to Deal: This bias can actually help the candidate, as long as a positive attribute stands out that happens to appeal to the interviewer. It pays to know a bit about the interviewer ahead of time to know his or her likes and dislikes and work history.

The Harshness/Horn Effect Bias and Negative Emphasis Bias

On the other side is the Harshness/Horn Effect Bias, which occurs when the interviewer immediately judges a candidate negatively based on a single characteristic. When the interviewer allows a small amount of negative information to outweigh positive information as you proceed, the Negative Emphasis Bias creeps into the interview.

How to Deal: You need to stay positive in the interview and not provide any reasons to distract the interviewer with a negative comment or behavior. A way to confirm you've stayed positive is to ask towards the end, "Is there something you heard today that concerns you about my ability to do this job?"

The Contrast Bias

The Contrast Bias occurs when an interviewer compares candidates to each other or compares all candidates to a single candidate. For example, if one candidate seems weak in some skill, others may appear to be more qualified than they really are.

How to Deal: Obviously, it is hard to know how you rank against other candidates. However, you can ask the interviewers if there is a particular skill set that they are looking for that has been hard to find in the pool of candidates they have interviewed. This may open the door to some work experience you should share to make yourself stand out as the "strong candidate." Additionally you can ask what has stuck out as key strengths of the others and address how you have similar strengths (and more).

The Gut Feeling Bias

Unfortunately, the Gut Feeling Bias crops up sometimes when an interviewer relies on a intuitive feeling that the candidate is a good or bad fit without diving into the actual candidate qualifications vs. job requirements. They may not really know how well you would fit, so you have make it clear to avoid the wrong assumption. This often happens during the beginning of the interview when the first impressions are made by the interviewee.

How to Deal: Using examples, communicate your ability to work with different people, think from different perspectives and be open-minded. Ask about the culture and talk about your ability to work in similar environments.

Stereotyping and Generalization Bias

Stereotyping Bias occurs when the interviewer assumes a candidate has specific traits because they are a member of a group. If job requirements include lifting 50 pounds, an interviewer might inaccurately assume a women cannot meet the requirement.

Similarly, the Generalization Bias can occur when interviewers assume a mannerism in the interview is part of your every day behavior. For example, candidates who are nervous in the interview can be generalized as always nervous. An interviewer might generalize that a candidate lacks written communication skills because of last two people hired from the same college had poor written communication skills.

How to Deal: If you think some assumption will be made about you like this, be sure to casually mention how you have met similar requirements in the past. Alternatively, you can ask towards the end of the interview if there are any particular requirements that they are concerned you may not meet.

Cultural Noise Bias

Cultural Noise Bias occurs when candidates answer questions based on information they think will get them the job. Basically, they say what they think the interviewer wants to hear. For example, a candidate might say she likes working as part of a team if the interviewer stresses teamwork as a requirement.

How to Deal: Be careful not to trigger this bias by providing obvious "pleasing" responses. You should be able to use examples that respond to what you hear during the interview. In the example above, do not say you are a team player -- instead provide stories that relate how you worked well on teams.

Nonverbal Bias

Nonverbal Bias occurs when an interviewer is influenced by body language. A concerned look on your face when hearing the interviewer answer one of your questions can send the wrong signal.

How to Deal: Remember to smile and be friendly.

Recency Bias and Similar-to-Me Bias

The Recency Bias occurs when the interviewer recalls the most recently interviewed candidates more clearly than earlier candidates during the decision-making process. It's obviously hard to combat this bias especially when you don't know how many more candidates they'll interview (although it is good to ask).

How to Deal: My advice is to make a connection so you are more memorable. You can also leverage the Similar-to-Me Bias which occurs when the candidate has interests or other characteristics that are the same as the interviewer. The interviewer may overlook negative aspects about you. At minimum, try to act similarly to the interviewer. Talk like they talk; be formal if they are being formal.

Bottom line

Biases in the interview are a mixed bag. In reality, interviewers should not let biases influence their decision, but it is hard to avoid this. It happens all the time. You can leverages biases to your advantage and avoid negative biases if you plan ahead, be aware of your actions, and stick to your game plan.

Next:The Wrong Watch and Other Random Reasons You're Not Getting a Job >>

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