Beat Back Interview Bias: How To Make The Perfect Impression In An Imperfect World
After receiving an invitation to meet face-to-face with a potential employer, you are right to prioritize planning your job interview strategy. On a macro-level, this is all about how you can make the best possible impression in the allotted time. However, the conversations surrounding your professional and technical talents are still going to be grounded in the real world, where soft skills and “cultural fit” are equally, if not more, important to convey. Sometimes your attributes in such areas will need to be communicated despite the interviewer’s predetermined expectations.
Even the best interviewers are only human, so hiring managers and decision makers are, at their core, subjective to a degree. This holds true regardless of the objective indicators that are held up today as a gold standard in candidate evaluation. With only a few hours (at most) to learn as much about you as possible, interviewers are at risk of filling in the gaps in knowledge about you with unfounded assumptions. These can be based on anything from how you dress to where you are from, what you look like, or how you speak.
The most qualified candidate has been passed over many, many times due to (usually unconscious) biases. This is an injustice, both to the potential new team member and the employer, who must now settle for less than the best. Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to help safeguard against falling into the same trap.
Pinpoint potential biases against you for which you need to prepare.
Consider the differences between you and the person conducting the job interview. Have you previously been subject to comments about an aspect of your appearance, the way you communicate, or your age? What in particular about you have others – especially in a professional environment – most often been surprised to learn? You can use your past colleagues and friends as a resource. What were their first impressions?
Keep a list of the relevant observations, especially the assumptions that could impede your success, and structure your interview preparation around ways to smash them so you get off on the right foot moving forward.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (to an extent).
It is a best practice to match the etiquette of your interviewer in general. He or she is your primary resource to learn what behaviors are standard for the company or organization at large. If they sit up, avoid slouching. If their manner of speech is very formal, then mirror it with a higher level of professionalism in your own. It is still important to remain genuine. You never want to sacrifice authenticity or be dishonest, but minimizing – within reason – any perceived differences between you and the interviewer can help keep focus on the content of the conversation itself.
Similarly, when the opportunity arises to build a bridge, such as the discovery of a shared passion or hobby, emphasize that common ground. Combined with a friendly and respectful disposition, focusing on shared experiences, interests, and beliefs can make it easier for others to warm up to the ways in which you may not be exactly the same.
Stand proud and tall in what makes you unique.
When you are aware of the biases that may be held against you, find an appropriate way to address them directly. Be careful not to accuse your interviewer of being biased; the job interview is not the place to dole out critiques. Simply focus on what you can do to most fully demonstrate your value.
If you are young compared to other applicants, be sure to speak about the ways in which you have gone above and beyond to earn consideration for the role at your age. If you have a noticeable accent, preemptively squash any concerns about communication by bringing up what you do to guarantee you are always understood clearly at work.
Further, the things that make you different often make you a one-of-a-kind asset. If you are young, then you might be especially agile when it comes to innovation and creative problem solving. An international background can equate to a fresh perspective on global issues facing a firm. The only woman or person of color in the workplace may be uniquely situated to anticipate those demographics’ wants or concerns within a given market. If the things that make you different have been a source of hardship in your life, be transparent about how overcoming such hurdles has shaped your character and work ethic.
Keep your head up and stay positive.
The modern job interview features a unique combination of enthusiasm, hope, and stress. You found the perfect career opportunity and painstakingly laid out your qualifications on paper. Happily, your hard work has paid off. Now it is time to shake some hands and state your case for joining the team in-person. Understanding that effective interview preparation allows for the reality of interview bias will help you continue moving forwards towards a brighter professional future.