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How to Avoid Unconscious Bias in the Interview Process

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Aug 24, 2021
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Employers naturally want to know as much as possible about a job applicant before offering that person a position with the company. However, there are right and wrong ways to uncover the desired information.

The federal government has passed several laws restricting what employers can and cannot ask during an interview. Despite this, some interviewers deal with unconscious bias that causes them to choose the person they prefer for the job based on how much they are like themselves. This is true even when their preferred candidate is not the best fit.

What is Unconscious Bias, and How Can Employers Avoid It?

A study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco a few years ago defines unconscious bias as social stereotypes everyone forms about groups of people who differ from them in one or more significant ways. Common examples include race, gender, religious preference, sexual orientation and age, all of which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) considers protected classes.

Related - Beyond the Interview Questions: The Need to Knows of Unconscious Bias

Unconscious biases can be especially challenging to deal with because they typically do not align with a person’s conscious opinions. Even when interviewers have no intention of deciding who to hire based on their unconscious biases, it still happens. While no one can stop themselves from having a human experience, they can make a deliberate choice to confront their unconscious biases. Here are three steps that we routinely recommend to clients of Axcet HR Solutions:

  1. Recognize everyone has biases, regardless of whether they are aware or not. Admitting a problem exists is always the first step in overcoming it

  2. The smaller the company, the more likely it is possible the same group of people have worked together for years or decades. They may even come from the same family and view others as outsiders. In this situation, company leadership should consider that businesses cannot grow and meet the needs of a diverse population when consistently hiring the same types of employees. People from a variety of backgrounds bring unique insight into how a company should shape its values and policies.

  3. Focus only on the facts during an interview and realize opinions, such as “the candidate’s accent is hard to understand”, have no bearing on the value the prospective employee can bring to the organization. Interviewers who find themselves thinking too much about a candidate’s outward characteristics or personality should ask themselves if their opinion would stand up to objective evidence.

We recognize that overcoming unconscious bias in hiring is a tall order, but help is available. Axcet HR Solutions works with companies that have 250 employees or less to assist in therecruitment, hiring and retention process. Assisting clients with creating non-discriminatory interview questions is just one of many benefits of outsourcing common HR tasks to Axcet.

Related- Recruiting Biases: How to Avoid Blind Spots and Make Smart Hiring Decisions

Acceptable Questions to Ask During a Job Interview

Understanding what led an applicant to apply for an open position is critical when making the right hiring decision. It is also a perfectly legal question to ask. Interviewers can use the answer to this question to weed out those who only want the job for the pay, hours, location or to move away from a manager they do not like. A better response to this question would be the company’s mission and values align with the job candidate’s and the interviewee is looking for a position with greater challenges.

Interviewers should also plan to ask mostly behavioral-based questions rather than questions about experience alone. This interviewing style gives control of the conversation back to applicants as they describe how they managed certain situations in the past. Responses to behavioral-based questions can reveal how well a candidate manages stress, whether they work well as a team, and how they regroup after disappointment. Here are just three common examples of behavioral-based interview questions:

  1. Walk me through a situation where you had to work with someone you considered difficult. Why was this person difficult, and what steps did you take to ensure you still produced quality work?

  2. Have you ever faced a serious ethical dilemma on the job? If so, how did you manage it and what went into your decision-making process?

  3. Can you describe a time when a project you felt heavily invested in did not work out according to plan? Why do you think this happened and what did you learn from it?

The most successful interviews end with the manager asking the candidate what questions they have. Some people prepare for this question and provide expected answers, such as how much the job pays or whether they will have to travel. People who are a better fit for the position will naturally ask deeper, more reflective questions. One example is asking the interviewer to describe company culture.

Common Interview Questions That Are Actually Illegal

Avoid Any Question that Mentions Protected Classes

Even if an employer is eager to know whether a female employee intends to have children in a few years and quit working or scale back to part-time, asking this question is illegal. Pregnancy and family status are among the several other examples of employee classes protected by the EEOC.

Interviewers should only ask questions if they are relevant and should always legally phrase them. For example, immigrants to the United States should never have to tell an employer what country they lived in before their immigration. However, employers can and must ask every applicant if they are legally eligible to work in the United States. Examples of several other illegal interview questions are available at this link.

Related: Don't Hire Another Employee Without Asking These Questions

Learn More About Outsourcing HR Tasks

At Axcet HR Solutions, we understand that creating compliant job descriptions, confronting unconscious bias, and avoiding illegal interview questions require an in-depth understanding of the entire process. We invite all small and mid-sized employers in Kansas City and the surrounding communities to request a consultation to discover more about the benefits of partnering with our certified professional employer organization.

Contact Axcet HR Solutions

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