How addressing cognitive bias can help you interview better

The employment interview, first invented over a century ago by Thomas Edison, has become the most well-known and widely used selection procedure for hiring.

Often, candidates apply to positions by submitting a resume and cover letter. Those who pass an initial screening process are then invited to an interview with a member of the recruitment team.

Interviews provide recruiters with relevant information about candidates’ strengths and weaknesses, skills, and potential fit. They’re also an opportunity for candidates to learn more about the role they are applying for and the company’s culture.

While interviews are a great way to spot a good candidate, natural human biases can lower their effectiveness. Understanding these biases and how they can be managed will help you conduct better interviews and increase your chances of finding the best candidate for the role.

Here is an overview of five common cognitive biases that can affect the results and scores of candidate interviews:

1. Halo Effect

What it is: Letting one positive or negative candidate characteristic influence your perception of a candidate’s other characteristics.

How it affects scoring: The candidate is rated similarly high or low across different competencies based on the interviewer’s impression of only one competency or characteristic.

Example: Candidate A speaks well during the interview, so the interviewer scores them higher on other characteristics like perceptiveness or mental agility.

2. Leniency

What it is: Being generous in your ratings and ignoring areas for improvement.

How it affects scoring: Rating every candidate highly reduces the variability of scores. This makes distinguishing applicants or finding relationships between scores and performance complex.

Example: The interviewer rated all 30 candidates between 7.5/10 and 8/10. The company struggles to choose the best candidate to hire because they all appear similar.

3. Primacy/Recency

What it is: Remembering the first and last parts of the interview or the first and last candidates interviewed more than those in the middle.

How it affects scoring: Candidates who are interviewed first and last may be favored.

Example: There are more detailed notes about Candidates A and Z, giving the impression that they interviewed better than Candidates B through Y.

4. First Impressions

What it is: Letting first impressions influence the overall scoring of a candidate.

How it affects scoring: A good or bad first impression contributes to higher or lower candidate scores.

Example: Candidate C had a firm handshake, so the interviewer scores them higher.

5. Similar-to-me Effect

What it is: Candidates with a similar background, demographic, or attitude to the interviewer and favored over others who are less similar.

How it affects scoring: Candidates with characteristics in common with the interviewer may be rated higher than those who have less in common with the interviewer.

Example: Candidate F went to the same college as the interviewer, who scores them higher.

Aside from these biases, candidate scores can also be affected by candidate characteristics like age, gender, race, and attractiveness. Interviewer background, training, and experience can also affect how they score candidates.

An infographic describing the types of cognitive bias in interviews as discussed in the text.

How to avoid cognitive bias in interviews

You’ve already taken the first step to address cognitive bias when interviewing: learning about the different forms of bias that can affect scoring and note-taking.

However, you also need to ensure that once you’re aware of bias, you don’t overcompensate in the opposite direction. Three additional strategies to address cognitive bias in interviewing are interview training, improving note-taking, and modifying the interview process.

One route to combat interview bias is through interview training. Various organizations offer free and accredited courses that cover common forms of bias and strategies to avoid them. One effective type of training is known as Frame-Of-Reference. This helps bring different interviewers together in terms of the way they view the quality of applicant responses to interview questions.

Additionally, SHRM recommends taking notes solely about the candidate’s skills and qualifications to record information accurately. Disregard information that has nothing to do with job performance.

A man sits at a table and holds a pencil over a piece of paper with notes on it. Two laptops are on the desk in front of him.
Interviews allow candidates and interviewers to learn more about each other, but sometimes cognitive bias can get in the way of proper hiring decisions.

Another option is reviewing the job interview process itself. Structured interviews — a planned question sequence so each candidate is asked the same questions in the same order — avoid bias by placing the focus on questions related to the job. The structured nature of the interview provides all candidates the same opportunity to show their strengths, which are then evaluated fairly and consistently.

Scoring candidates against a single rubric with pre-defined levels also reduces bias and improves consistency by giving interviewers a reference to judge candidates against. Combining this structure with interviewer training can further enhance the quality of the interview process.

The next level of structured interviews

Structured interviews are the best way to protect against interview bias. However, there are costs to designing a robust interview process and training interviewers to conduct them properly. This may not be practical for organizations with limited financial and human resources. Additionally, as the candidate pool becomes larger, the use of interviews is challenging to scale up.

To overcome these limitations, Knockri automates the structured interview process to free up interviewer time while giving candidates an unbiased and fair hiring process. Candidates are evaluated on skills and behaviors predictive of job performance and tailored to the role. They are scored only on these skills and behaviors, and scoring is scientifically validated to be fair and consistent.

Organizations benefit from conducting proper interviews without increasing the demand for limited resources.

Book a demo today to chat with us about how Knockri can eliminate the cognitive bias in your interview scoring process for faster and fairer hiring.

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