Job Interview: The most common types of bias demonstrated by interviewers

We asked our Head of Assessment and Chartered Psychologist, Claire Crisp, what interviewer bias can happen and how can it affect the way candidates are interviewed?

What is bias?

Bias can be conscious or unconscious.  In the former a person knowingly holds a view about a person / group of people and makes decisions based on this.  Unconscious bias is where our brain uses a series of shortcuts (mental schemas) to help us process information and make decisions quickly.  It’s human nature and necessary to help us through the complex world we live in.  The downside of this is that at times this process can interfere with our decision making and lead to biased outcomes which we are unaware of. Applied to interviewing this means that we may make decisions during our interviews which favourably or unfavourably affect a particular person or group of people and which aren’t based on facts and evidence.

What specific biases can affect us?

“There are many specific types of biases that can affect us when we are interviewing. Some biases occur based on how a candidate looks / what we know about their background. Some biases occur because of how we pay attention to a candidate’s performance in the interview and how we evaluate this. The most common types of bias are listed below:

  1. Halo / Horn – generalising aspects of good / poor performance to all performance
  2. Like me effect – generally we like people who we perceive to be similar to ourselves and we are likely to rate those people more favourably
  3. Primacy / Recency effect –the tendency to be influenced by last observations and disregard others that don’t fit
  4. Stereotyping – personal biases from stereotypical views of groups which distort our evaluation
  5. Leniency / Severity – a tendency to view a person favourably or unfavourably
  6. Being selective – not paying attention to everything we see and hear”

How is interviewer bias demonstrated within the interview process?

“Research shows that many interviewers will make their mind up on whether to select a candidate (or put them through to the next stage of the recruitment process) within the first few minutes of the interview. This is typically a decision which is based on interviewer bias.

For example, an interviewer who went to a particular University may hold a subconscious view that candidates from that same university will be better at the job. If an interviewer views a candidate’s CV prior to the interview and notices that they went to the same University as themselves they may unconsciously interpret the performance of that candidate more favourably.

Another example is where a candidate gives a very strong answer to the first interview question they are asked. The halo bias can come into play at this point; an interviewer groups the candidate into the ‘good’ performance category subconsciously and then pays less attention to their remaining answers – which may be poor – because of this subconscious categorisation.”

What is the impact of bias?

“It is against the law to directly or indirectly discriminate against a candidate (The Equality Act 2010). Making a decision which is biased and based on stereotypes (rather than objective factors which are actually linked to job success) will typically not enable the best person to be hired. In addition, there are more far-reaching implications for organisations who operate biased recruitment processes. Lack of diversity is a key area to consider. Organisations which operate biased recruitment policies serve to constrain diversity rather than encourage it. This inhibits the many advantages which diversity brings, including access to a rich variety of perspectives and strengths.”

So now you know about the types of bias, how do you combat it? Download our next guide in this series. Simply click here, Top tips for countering bias in the interview.


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