Avoiding Bias In Interviews: 8 Action Items To Make Tech Hiring Better

Posted on December 2, 2020 by BWBacon. Tagged: Resources for Entrepreneurs, For Clients, DEIB

If your organization is working towards more equitable hiring and increasing diversity, avoiding bias in interviews is a crucial piece of the puzzle. At this point, many of us are familiar with implicit bias and how it comes into play during the hiring process. The task at hand is to alter the way we approach interviewing and screening candidates so there are checks and balances on our biases.

First of all, unpacking our implicit bias has a lot to do with learning and listening. Defined as an “implicit association, whether about people, places, or situations, which are often based on mistaken, inaccurate, or incomplete information and include the personal histories we bring to the situation,” implicit bias does not have to be permanent. This post will provide a few solid tips on avoiding bias in interviews and outside of the hiring process as well.

Why Is It So Easy To Rely On Our Unconscious Bias?

Just as the seasons change each year, we are a product of our socialization and how we are taught to interact with the world. Putting people into groups or boxes of information is how we make sense of the world, and it is simply our brain categorizing what we know. However, this automatic practice can sometimes be misinformed, and lead us to stereotype others or assume something we may not know.

Why does this matter in tech hiring? When examining how our candidates funnel through the hiring process, there are often barriers for diverse talent that has little to do with their tech skills and ability to do the job. This is part of the reason the tech industry has struggled to make substantial progress in building more diverse teams and hiring diverse leadership. By acknowledging that these stereotypes exist and taking individuals as just that, individuals, with a range of backgrounds and skills, we can start actively avoiding bias in interviews.


What Does Interview Bias Look Like?

Avoiding bias in interviews starts with identifying how it presents itself in real time. Even if we have the best intentions to asses a group of candidates fairly, we subconsciously come to conclusions based on what we have in common with that person, the last thing they said in an interview, or even their body language. Here are some of the most common incidents (but only a handful) of potential unconscious interview biases:

  • First Impression: Certainly, first impressions give us emotional information about how we feel about someone, say a highly confident candidate, but be cautious of bias towards those people when the shy or soft-spoken individual could be just as qualified overall.
  • Halo/Horn Effect: These opposing biases are a result of an interviewer having tunnel-vision on one positive or negative aspect of a candidate’s resumé, or something they said. The focus on their brilliant accomplishment (halo), or something they did not like (horn) and that focus clouds the candidate’s answers to other questions or other ways of evaluating them.
  • Stereotyping: When you assume a candidate has certain attributes or skills based on them being a part of a certain group. Stereotyping crosses intersections of gender, race, age, skill level, and many other ways we let our unconscious bias inform our impressions of others.
  • Inconsistent Questioning: A great example of inconsistent questions is asking a candidate from a lesser known school about their education courses and what they learned, but then assuming someone that graduated from Yale or Harvard learned everything they need to know. By asking everyone the same questions, you create a more comprehensive picture of how those individuals would succeed on your team, and can compare responses among candidates.
  • Contrast Effect: This interview bias occurs when interviewers compare candidates to one another instead of an agreed upon standard or rubric. This bias can result in a mediocre candidate looking great after that person that struggled during an interview, or a strong candidate appear less qualified simply because they followed another strong candidate.
  • Unreachable Standards: Especially in tech, we often find teams are searching for “ninjas” or magical purple unicorn type of candidates that not only check all the boxes, but greatly exceed the expectations for an ideal candidate. Be careful of marking everyone that comes through your pipeline as “not good enough,” as you could miss out on talented engineers and developers.
  • Relatability Bias: Perhaps the most automatic form of bias, we are drawn to those we have similarities to, or even those that look like us. Only a few years ago, Stack Overflow did a study on developers and found that 90% of respondents were male and almost 80% were white.

65- Tech Interview Attire- Making A Great First Impression

8 Action Items For Avoiding Bias In Interviews

Knowing we all hold subconscious biases can help us mitigate them. When it comes to hiring in tech, many companies are already taking steps to address bias and standardize evaluation procedures. Luckily, there are many straightforward approaches to making interviews more fair and less biased.

  1. Diverse Interview Panel: If you are already doing this, great! It is a necessary first step in avoiding bias in interviews to include women and BIPOC employees on interview panels. Ensuring that team is more representative of your company and values will also ensure a complete picture of a candidate from multiple people’s perspectives.
  2. Job Descriptions Matter: Whether we realize it or not, job descriptions can often be the first place diverse candidates turn away from the application process. Many times, this is due to language that caters to a certain gender or type of person, and can narrow the pool of those interested. Read our post on writing great job descriptions for more on JD’s.
  3. Try Blind Evaluations: This is a big one!! Why should you remove names from resumés in order to blindly evaluate experiences and skills? A Harvard study on hiring discrimination revealed that when black candidates changed their name or removed ethnic details from their resumes, 25% received callbacks, versus only 10% who did not make changes to their resumé. If that made you uncomfortable, it should. Taking in skills and experience without names can eliminate our tendencies towards unconscious bias.
  4. Standardize Questions & Process. As we touched on earlier, asking candidates the same set of prepared questions allows for a clearer picture of that candidate. Check out this rubric as just one example of how to rate and score candidates systematically.
  5. Build an Accurate Work Sample Test. Coding tests are a common way to see how an individual works, but be cautious to not bog down your candidates with something that will take them days to complete. Your skills test should be an accurate representation of what that person would be doing if you hired them.
  6. Take Notes! It’s best to take notes during the interview instead of after. We get it, asking someone to hold on while you write something down can break up the flow of a conversation, but it’s better than forgetting what the heck someone said four questions ago. This also helps when reviewing a group of candidates. If the first person’s interview was three weeks ago and you hardly remember it, you will almost certainly rely on your own bias and impressions more than what that candidate actually said.
  7. Avoid Leaning on your “Gut Feeling.” Finally, implementing more process into interviews like standardized questions and taking notes gives us a chance to paint the whole picture. Your gut is really your intuition, which is highly reliant on bias. If you use the methods mentioned, you will have a quantifiable way of analyzing candidates based on pre-determined factors.
  8. Set Goals. We know more gender and racially diverse organizations outperform less diverse ones. We also know that desiring changes does not create it. Set achievable goals for your organization, and continue to seek educational opportunities from diversity initiative partners, employees, and candidates alike.

Create Data To Track Your Company Goals

Studies show that organizations that track and assess data on diversity efforts have more success in the long term. Make note of how your initiatives and ideas play out in the hiring process. In turn, this qualitative data can inform your team of where diverse candidates left or fell out of the process, so you can start to analyze why. Putting a lens of inclusivity on this type of information can reveal patterns of unconscious bias, for example, that your hiring team may have rejected several qualified candidates just based on where they went to school, or because their names were unusual. The list goes on.

Whether it is conscious or unconscious bias, either way the world would be better off if we all paid a little more attention to why we make certain decisions, especially when it comes to people. As mentioned above, you could be missing out on the most qualified candidate for the role due to inconsistent questioning, or an assumption about their experience. Consider getting feedback from diverse groups on your job descriptions and interview process to ensure they attract a wide range of candidates.

Take this final example: if your interviews are multiple hours long, this can create a logistical challenge for working parents with children at home. By simply asking, “is this process accessible?” or “does this job opening have language targeting a certain group over another?” you can influence the equity of your interview process. We hope this information started your wheels turning, ours certainly are. Avoiding bias in interviews in one part of a multi-faceted approach to activating intersectionality and increasing diversity in the hiring process.

Here at BWBacon Group, we know and live what you are experiencing as an employer or job seeker in Denver, Boulder, Dallas, San Francisco, New York City or any of the other cities we work in. We believe great recruiting starts and ends with understanding people.

If you have any questions about living, working or playing any of the areas we serve, please contact us. We are happy to help. Seize the day, every day, that’s what we say!