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Behavioral Interview Guide: Bias Awareness

How to identify and counteract biases to create a thoughtful interview process

Introduction to Unconscious Bias

Bias is the action of supporting or opposing a particular person or thing in an unfair way by allowing personal opinions to influence your judgement (Cambridge English Dictionary, 2023). Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences. Two types of biases are 1. Conscious Bias (also known as explicit bias) and 2. Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias).

While Conscious Biases include biased attitudes about a group we are aware of, Unconscious Biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one's tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Unrecognized Unconscious Biases can present a hazard during the interview process. Without the tools to recognize and mitigate these biases, hiring teams can risk making judgements and inferences on candidates. Below are three types of unconscious bias that are common in the interview process.

  • Stereotyping: Involves forming generalized opinions about how people of a given gender, religion or race appear, think, act, feel or respond.

  • Confirmation Bias: In the interview process, this is the tendency for people to seek out information that supports a pre-conceived belief about an applicant that has been formed prior to the interview (Phillips and Dipboye, 1989). This means interviewers look to confirm a possibly hollow impression they may have formed of the candidate pre-interview, as opposed to having a more open outlook on the candidate's abilities.

  • Halo/Horn Effect: The interviewer allows one strong point that they value highly to overshadow all other information. When this works in the candidate's favor, it is called the halo effect. When it works in the opposite direction, with the interviewer judging the potential employee unfavorably in all areas based on one trait, it is called the horn effect.

Tips to Mitigate Unconscious Bias in the Interview Process

  • Learn the types of bias and ensure hiring decisions are not based on those assumptions.
  • Establish a search committee with a diversity of perspectives.
  • Establish criteria for evaluating candidates and apply them consistently.
  • Do not introduce new criteria once the interviewing and selection process is underway.
  • Have objective, justifiable reasoning for a decision to reject or retain a candidate.