While many aspects of the standard hiring process have changed over time, the job interview continues to be heavily relied upon as a means for employers to determine whether a candidate is a good match for the position.
While interviews can indeed serve as a valuable source of information, the brief length of a typical interview means that both prospective employers and candidates should aim to bring their "A game" in order to make the most out of the encounter.
For employers, this includes being mindful of those elements of a job interview that tend to increase the likelihood that unconscious bias will impact on the interaction and the resulting assessment of a candidate. These elements include:
- Time is short
- A large volume of information needs to be processed on the spot
- The interviewer needs to extrapolate from a small sample of information
- The interviewer must come to a definitive conclusion based on ambiguous information.
In its publication "Human Rights at Work," the Ontario Human Rights Commission notes the importance of ensuring that hiring processes do not result in inadvertently discriminatory outcomes:
[…] discrimination in the hiring process may also be established even if a particular person protected by the Code would not have been the successful candidate without the discrimination. For example, if two candidates are equally qualified and the non-racialized person is selected, the organization will need to provide a non-discriminatory explanation for not hiring the racialized person if a human rights claim is filed.
For those who are new to the subject of unconscious bias, please consult my last post, which explored some of the key unconscious biases known to impact the workplace.
Extensive research has demonstrated the impact of unconscious bias in the job interview process. For example:
- Who gets called in. Studies on the phenomenon of "name bias" have shown that individuals with familiar-sounding names tend to get more callbacks regardless of the relative quality of their resumes. Indeed, at least one study has found that this difference grows larger for higher-quality resumes (i.e., a highly qualified person with an unfamiliar name is much more likely to be passed over in favour of an equally qualified candidate with a familiar name).
- Interviewers' behavior during the interview. Research findings have demonstrated important differences in interviewer behavior towards candidates that the interviewer perceived to be similar to themselves—including the amount of time provided to answer questions and even how far apart interviewers sat from candidates they were interviewing. Though not necessarily intended, such behaviours can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies, causing the relative performance of some candidates to suffer because they have not been afforded the same opportunities as others.
- Implicit stereotypes may impact on candidate evaluations. Research also shows a tendency to interpret ambiguous information in line with implicit stereotypes. Interviewers tend to receive a great deal of ambiguous information from candidates during the course of a job interview. This ranges from facial expressions (e.g., why did they smile when I asked that last question?) to direct statements (e.g., why did they bring up our paid leave policy?) and even to non-statements (e.g., why didn't they talk about their volunteer experience?). According to research, if a candidate falls into an unfavourably stereotyped group, such ambiguous pieces of information are more likely to be interpreted in light of those stereotypes.
Accurate assessments of the best candidate for the job may therefore require organizations to take active measures to help ensure that the most capable and qualified candidates stand out and get hired.
Examples of active measures that can be implemented by most organizations include:
- Gather independent observations. Having different interviewers independently assess candidates at each stage of the hiring process builds in checks and balances by providing a variety of perspectives on each candidate. This approach stands in contrast to having a single interviewer or group of interviewers carry out the entire interview process, which may increase the likelihood of unconscious bias going unnoticed.
- Obtain detailed assessments. Rather than being asked for their general impressions of candidates, interviewers may be asked to articulate their assessment of candidates' strengths and weaknesses with reference to specific observed evidence and/or measures.
- Cast light on unconscious bias. Providing information and training to hiring team members can provide an additional source of "inoculation" against the workings of unconscious bias. A hiring team that is trained on the workings of unconscious bias will be ready to recognize and stop it in its tracks.
More targeted active measures may also be available depending on an organization's size, supervisory structure, and readiness for change.
In my next post, I'll look specifically at bias in the context of making changes to working conditions. In the meantime, if you'd like more information or to book a seminar or workshop, please don't hesitate to get in touch.