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Interviewer Bias


Disciplines > Human Resources > Selection > Interviewer Bias

Rapid convergence | Limited questioning | Limited thinking | Interviewer personality | See also


Interviewing is a skilful and important activity that, if done wrong, can result in rejection of good candidates or, worse, appointment of people who will prove problematic in practice. Here are some of the ways that interviewers may show bias during interviews.

It can be very helpful for interviewers to review possible biases during their preparation for the interview. This may even include some simulations with feedback from observers. Then in the interview, they should remain self-aware, including noting how the interviewee responds to their questions.

Rapid convergence

There is a common tendency to leap to conclusions as early as possible, and thereafter only pay attention to evidence that supports those conclusions. This can include:

  • Preconceptions: Building an image of the candidate before the interview, for example based on aspects of their resume (eg. education, experience, personal statement).
  • First impression: Basing all subsequent perceptions on an impression of the person gained in the first few minutes (or even seconds!) of the interview.
  • Stereotyping: Assigning candidates to classic or personal stereotypes based on limited attributes. Classic stereotyping may include ethnicity, religion, gender, ability, etc. Personal stereotypes may be based on such such as hair length, clothing, musical preferences, etc.
  • Minimum criteria: Just looking for minimum attributes that suggest the person can do the job. This is common when you desperately need someone or where there are very few candidates.

Limited questioning

The interviewer may have a preference for certain questions, and in doing so may tilt the interview or otherwise gain a distorted view of the candidate.

  • Unbalanced questioning: Asking too many closed or open questions, or otherwise not using an appropriately balanced set of questioning styles. For example there should be appropriate probing, yet without over-doing this.
  • Question selectivity: Using only a subset of possible questions based on convergence, personal viewpoints, or other factors.
  • Question variability: Asking mostly different questions to each candidate without reason, leading to a difficulty in comparing candidates.
  • Leading questions: Asking questions that lead to limited answers that may be sought (perhaps unconsciously).
  • Checklist blinkers: Seeking to gain answers based solely on a fixed checklist and not considering wider personal characteristics, experience, potential, etc.

Limited thinking

The interviewer may also be biased in the way that they think in general and how their thoughts are biased by these modes of thought.

  • Halo effect: Seeing the person positively based on one or a few preferred attributes, for example concluding a person who went to the 'right' university is particularly suitable.
  • Horn effect: The reverse of the halo effect, judging a person wholly negative based on a single or few factors.
  • Gut-feel: Judging the person based more on what you feel about them than a more thoughtful and balanced reasoning.
  • Contrast effect: Comparing the candidate with other (often recent) candidates rather than a more stable standard.

Interviewer personality

Aspects of the interviewer's personality may lead them to be biased in a range of ways.

  • Leniency bias: Being kind, forgiving the person and overlooking negative aspects.
  • Strictness bias: Being overly harsh and unforgiving.
  • Central tendency: Seeing everyone as average and not distinguishing better from less suitable people.
  • Similarity bias: Giving greater importance to aspects where the candidate is similar to the interviewer in some way, such as having worked at the same company.
  • Attractiveness bias: Assessing the person more on how they look (most commonly done by men when faced with an attractive women).
  • Loquaciousness: Talking too much rather than listening and observing.
  • Rescuing: Trying to help the interviewee get to the right answers.
  • Cynicism: Not believing anything, easily judging the interviewee as a liar.
  • Gullibility: Easily believing what you are told without seeking evidence. Judging the candidate on how slickly they present themselves rather than the evidence.

See also

Questioning Techniques, Interview Questions

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