Types of Interview Bias

Woman interviewing a job applicant.
Woman interviewing a job applicant. (Image: Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media/Getty Images)

Employment interviews require advance planning and careful consideration to ensure the right person is hired for the job. Cognitive biases can occur on the part of either the interviewer or respondent and distort the results of the interview. Managing biases can help keep the interview focused and as honest as possible.

Stereotyping Bias

General stereotyping occurs when an interviewer makes a snap judgment on the respondent based on personal biases concerning observable qualities such as race, gender, clothing style or mannerisms. The snap judgment comes not from actual evidence but rather from pre-existing biases that the interviewer has held. Specific types of stereotyping bias include first impressions and nonverbal bias. The latter would include an interviewer finding a respondent less qualified due to a vocal accent or tic despite voice quality having nothing to do with the job in question.

Question-Induced Biases

An interviewer can drown a meeting in biases by breaking some simple rules on how to ask questions. The interviewer should ask each respondent the same questions to avoid an inconsistency bias, which can also arise from an interviewer using stereotyping to decide which candidates receive which questions. Asking the same questions across the board ensures the candidates receive equal chances to make a good impression. Establishing a set rating scale would help the interviewer avoid the negative emphasis bias that lets interviewers give undue weight to a small piece of negative information compared to the positive information. Respondents can create a different question-induced bias called cultural noise when responding with the answers the respondent thinks the interviewer desires. Interviewers can inflate this problem by asking yes and no questions that do not require respondents to sufficiently explain answers.

Comparison Biases

The halo/horn effect bears a similarity to negative emphasis, but interviewers using the effect bias swing even wider into judging a respondent as wholly qualified or disqualified based on small pieces of information. This can happen for a variety of reasons, including a prior respondent seeming much better or worse when compared to the current respondent. Interviewers unevenly comparing two respondents have committed the contrast bias.

Group Interview Biases

Companies may have more than one interviewer or respondent present during the hiring process. Multiple respondents tend to minimize the interview biases as the number of respondents increase. This happens because interviewers will not give each respondent enough one-on-one time for biases to occur, and the respondents will be more likely fill out surveys for the position. Meetings with multiple interviewers and one or few respondents have a high risk of bias when the interviewers have failed to establish the questions and ratings ahead of time. Each interviewer may then insert personal biases into the process and alter the course of the interview. Respondents competing with a few other respondents may also steer answers out of competition and alter the results.

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