How to Structure Interviews to Limit Bias

“Be Engaged!”


That was the exact advice that a bias company provided in order to eliminate interview discrimination. With all the talk about interview bias, there are numerous companies and experts springing up for business opportunities preaching what they consider best practices. While most of them have good intention, many of them preach methods that are not backed by research or that are motivated by a particular agenda.


Unfortunately, individual training to remove interview bias does not have a consensus that it works effectively. That means we are left to create systems and immutable methods in order to limilt interview bias. What that means is if companies continue to utilize unstructured interviews as a method to screen candidates, they will find themselves swimming against the sea of hiring discrimination. What needs to happen is a change the system where people are hired.


Bias in Education

Recently, Texas legislature realized that the state was short on physicians. As a knee jerk response, they required the University of Texas Medical School at Houston to expand their class from 150 to 200 students. The only challenge at hand was the university had already picked their initial 150 students. Unfortunately, medical students across the United States all apply to different schools at the same time which means that the university had to find students who had not been accepted to any other medical school. In other words, the school needed to find leftovers.


In a short time, the university found their 50 students where only seven of them have received an offer from another medical school. At this point, the school realized they had an interesting opportunity to compare these 50 students to the rest individuals for future performance. After collecting data for several years, the medical school came across an alarming finding.


The more qualified 150 students not did outperform the 50 last minute students, in fact their performance was the same.


Digging deeper, the researchers “found that about three-quarters of the difference in ratings between initially accepted and initially rejected students was due not to more-objective measures, such as grades, but rather to the interviewers’ perceptions” according to Harvard Business Review. At this point, the researchers began to question should applicants just use a lottery to accept qualified students?

Removing Bias in Interviews

From the fascinating case study in the bias in medical schools, learning how to make things less subjective is an important factor in order to ensure that the tests equate to on job performance. There are many ways to improve the discrimination in interviews. Here are a few ways:


Going from unstructured to structured

Going from an unstructured to a structured interview is a multi-step process where interviewers ask a selection of same questions, then compare the results horizontally to determine the best candidate versus on which one that they ‘like’ the best. Here are a few step in order to make the move:


1. Determine hard and soft skills important to each role


Each particular role has different key skills that determine the good from the great candidates. When designing questions for structured interviews, ensuring that the effective test these abilities will make or break the process. Sometimes for more technical positions, most of the questions should be technical. In these cases, having individual technical interviews where someone on the team that is hiring them should ask them the questions.


2. Create questions for evaluating each skill


For behavioral questions, ‘tell me about a time you had a conflict?’, ‘why do you want to work here?’, ‘how do you make decisions?’, the answer is often memorized making results inauthentic. What teams at Google have done is asking questions that involve on the spot thinking instead of asking a question, they give you a scenario, and ask how would you react in the situation. Trying to find authentic answers from employees is a great way to determine actual ability.


3. Create a rating scale or scorecard


This is where managers make or break structured interviews. Without a scorecard, it’s just an unstructured interviews. Hiring managers will need to systematically break down each level of what is considered a good answer versus a not so good one. See the example below of an interview evaluate scorecard:


4. Train hiring managers on best practices


If the managers created the hiring materials then this step will not be need, if not is not the case, managers will need to be trained on best practices. This will involve HR and going through the hiring team and showing them how to evaluate different candidates and fielding employee questions in order to reach a homeostatic criteria.


5. Schedule feedback meetings with hiring managers in advance


The standard practice is to schedule a meeting where everyone can democratically decide whether the candidate should be accepted. However, Google takes this a step further to reduce bias. In their interviews, Google has each person interview a candidate, hand off the results to a board of employees who have never met the employee that will decide if the candidate should be accepted. If the candidate is on the edge of being hired, the candidate will be brought if for further evaluation.


6. Implement


Where the rubber meets the road. Multiple candidates are now brought in for a position and each one is evaluated on the agreed upon questions and criteria. Once the results have been acquired, the interview group compares the results horizontally between candidates to see who has produced the best results objectively. Those who have done the best rather than who subjectively done the best are accepted into the company.


Unfortunately, removing bias from interviews takes a lot more thought, but it will pay off in the long run by finding higher quality candidates and limiting interview discrimination. As Iris Bohnet put it best, “We should stop wasting resources trying to de-bias mindsets and instead start to de-bias our hiring procedures.”

Jeff Butler

Jeff Butler Internationally respected speaker and consultant, Jeff Butler helps bridge generational gaps between Millennials and companies looking for their talent and patronage. Butler has quickly built his reputation as a memorable presenter with tangible solutions for attracting, retaining, and engaging Millennials as employees and customers. Within just the past three years, he has spoken at two TEDx events and multiple Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Amazon, and LinkedIn.


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