The only barrier between an applicant and a job offer is the interviewer’s perception of the interviewee.
The goal of the interviewee is to highlight or convince the employer that they, above all other applicants, have the required skills and experiences needed for the advertised job role.
But what most applicants haven’t considered is the employer’s unconscious biases.
A structured job interview is an analytical process to determine a candidate’s potential job performance – this is a logical decision. But, an initial impression is created before the job interview starts – when the employer meets the applicant for the first time.
It’s in the first milliseconds of this meeting when the employer’s unconscious bias comes into play – an emotional process. Some initial impressions are even created prior to the job interview through a well-worded application form, with an employer now having high expectations about one of the applicants – we call this the halo effect.
At a basic level, the unconscious bias will create a ‘like or dislike’ impression of an applicant based on a number of reasons that the interviewer may not be consciously aware of.
Do Interviewers have prejudices?
Each person has stereotypical beliefs and prejudices; not all people are aware of them.
A structured job interview is designed to be analytical by matching answers to a set of predetermined interview questions against a scoring system. The highest scoring applicants are offered a position within the company.
The human brain, to make quicker decisions, uses snap-judges, long-held beliefs, and stereotypes to bypass the conscious, slower, mind. The emotional decision-making process is the older part of the mind – the amygdala.
An example of the two decision-making processes is a male interviewer meeting a female applicant applying for a traditional ‘male’ role. Initially, an unconscious thought pops into the employer’s mind “I don’t think women should work in masculine roles, but I know I shouldn’t be thinking this”
There are 3 types of reactions to a stereotype:
Aware and Don’t Care – in this example, a sexist interviewer won’t even consider a female for a masculine role, as all their experiences, backed up by chosen memories, reinforce their belief. Even when offered contradictory evidence to their sexiest belief, the employer won’t budge.
An interviewer aware of prejudice without wanting to change their belief will be hard to convince.
Aware and Care – the cultural environment a person grew up in has a big impact on the stereotypes that pop into their head later on in life. If, for example, an interviewer grew up in a household where females were seen as less worthy, this prejudice could pop up as they meet a female applying for a masculine role, even if they don’t believe this stereotype to be true.
The interviewer who is aware of the bias that they don’t consciously believe in pops into their mind and can challenge it – Jean is female, and she is one of our best team members.
This knowing will help an interviewer to attempt to conduct a fair interview using the structured interview process. Even with conscious effort, an unconscious bias can affect the scoring of an applicant.
Not Aware and Not Affected – the interviewer doesn’t have a bias when they meet, in this example, a female applying for a masculine role, resulting in an interview not affected by that prejudice (but could be affected by a second prejudice)
Attractiveness equals hireability
Some bais increase the likelihood of an applicant being hired.
An interviewer finding commonality with a candidate will subconsciously score that applicant hire due to reciprocal linking. The similarity can be minimal, enjoying the same hobby, having worked for the same employer, or a similar personality trait.
Attractiveness increases likeability. The ‘beauty is good’ effect has shown how employers add positive traits to someone who they deem to be attractive, increasing their perspective of an applicant, which affects the overall interview outcome.
But not all the time. In fact, for high skilled job positions, research shows how skill level was deemed to be more important. This evidence suggests that for high skilled job roles, the analytical approach of a structured job interview trumps the opinions made by the initial bias.
As the structured job interview is designed to support hiring managers to make a conscious, rather than an emotional, recruitment decision, the initial bias can be overturned. This is much harder to do for an ‘aware and don’t care’ employer.
Within the first 2 questions of the interview, the employer is attempting to guess the overall work ethic, attitude, and motivations of the applicant – another emotional decision-making process.
It is at this stage that an ‘interview identity’ is formed, which will either reinforce the bias or can override the prejudice.
If the initial impression of an applicant is negative because of an unconscious bias, and the initial answers from the interviewee are weak, in both delivery and content, the initial prejudices will be reinforced. But if the perceived weak candidate communicates with confidence, detailing industry related experience, showcasing their abilities, while maintaining strong eye contact, the initial impression will be forgotten, and a new ‘interview identity’ can be created.
It is the applicant’s perceived level of industry knowledge and sector experience vs. their level of interview confidence when combined, that forms the ‘interview identity.’
The ‘interview identity’ is the employer’s perspective; how the interviewee is viewed in the interview. If, for example, a career professional performs well once employed but struggles to express this high level of ability during a job interview, their ‘interview identity’ will be less favourable than it should be.
Interview prediction test:
Read the 4 statements under each sub-heading and choose the one that most sounds like you. Make a note of the allocated points. Total up both points, and for an odd number result round down to the nearest even number
Level of knowledge/experience
4 Points – 10yrs+ sector experience; able to build on industry-related academic research contributing to the field
3 Points – 3-10 years sector experience; experience in the implementation of proven theories and models into business as usual
2 Points – 1-3 years relevant experience; the academic level of industry knowledge without the experience of applying concepts to day to day tasks
1 Point – No experience; possesses soft skills; communication, teamwork, problem-solving
4 Points – Masters – Doctoral Degree/Post-grad Qualifications (Level 7-8) Professional Industry Qualification (e.g., a chartered engineer)
3 Points – Degree Level Qualification up to Bachelors (Level 6)
2 Points – Graduate – up to Higher National Diploma (Level 4-5)
1 Point – GCSE/A-Level (Level 2-3) or below
Again, read the 4 statements under each sub-heading and choose the one that most sounds like you. Total up both points, and for an odd number result round down to the nearest even number
Level of confidence
4 Points – A self-promoter fully aware of their expertise. Demands to be treated with authority and respect and will challenge anyone with contradictory opinions
3 Points – Believes in their ability, recognizes own skillset, and will discuss strengths when questioned
2 Points – Aware of both strengths and areas of development, but can easily disclose weaknesses and mistakes without prompts from others
1 Point – Has a negative view of their abilities and lacks self-appreciation
4 Points – Commands attention and dominates meetings. Complex ideas are explained clearly and competently, combining statistics with examples. Able to influence others to take on a new point of view, using logic and reasoning to overcome barriers to objections.
3 Points – Speaks with authority, presents ideas within a structure, and uses vocal variety to maintain interest. Able to debate a technical subject, arguing points clearly while expressing their own ideas.
2 Points – Can discuss a familiar subject when asked but finds it difficult to respond when challenged. Feels strained explaining new concepts; however, with comfortable topics speaks clearly and varies pitch/volume.
1 Point – Feels nervous when being the center of attention. Communication is weak due to hesitations, excessive filler words, low volume, and short snappy sentences.
You will now have two numbers, one indicating your level of knowledge/experience and the second indicating your level of confidence. Together this score indicates your interview identity.
Once an interview identity has been chosen, a description is given that explains how an employer’s view this interview identity and their strengths and areas of development.