How Managers Can Avoid Interview Biases

By Leanne Zacharias, SARC HR Consultant

We all have biases. Biases are conscious or unconscious tendencies, assumptions, and judgments that we have based on our experiences.  These are sometimes called prejudices.  In recruitment, biases can affect how the interviewers rate the candidates.

Leaders need to be aware of biases to ensure they are avoiding discrimination in the hiring process.  Diversity is important, not just in the legislatively protected grounds like race, gender, age, or sexual orientation, but diversity in thoughts, ideas, experiences, learning styles, and personality.  When biases run the interview, it affects your ability to hire the best candidate for the job.

Here are five common interview biases to be aware of and keep in check:

Similar-to-me Bias

  • This bias happens when the candidate shares some attributes with the interviewer, so the interviewer rates them more favourably. 
    • For example, if both are fans of the same sports team, went to the same school, enjoy the same music, etc.  Of course, it is natural to connect with people that you share similar interests with, but that doesn’t mean they will be the best candidate to do the job. 

Halo/Horns Effect

  • The candidate has one very positive or negative answer or attribute that overshadows everything else they say or do.  This happens because we tend to look for confirmation about our assumptions, often without questioning where those assumptions came from.
    • For example, they are friendly so this overshadows the lack of skills in another area.  Alternatively, you don’t like the way they answer one question, so you are skeptical of all other responses. 

Leniency/Severity Bias

  • The interviewer is an overall “easy” or “hard” evaluator. Related to this is the Central Tendency bias, where the interviewer tends to rate everyone in the middle of the road.  Either way, the ratings end up being skewed and ineffective.
  • Tip: To avoid this, rate the candidate answers on a scale (i.e. 1 – 5), and outline what it means to have a “1” answer, or a “4” answer, etc. 

Recency Effect

  • The interviewer remembers what happens most recently the best, so they weigh the last answer or the last candidate more favourably.  This can also happen when the last candidate gets a better rating. 

Overconfidence Bias

  • The interviewer believes that they “just have good judgement” and can “just tell” if someone is going to be good.  While experience in interviewing and hiring does give you good perspective, work to quantify why one person is a good hire vs. another person. 
  • Tip: Having a structured interview vs. an unstructured interview will help keep this in check.  This is because in a structured interview you ask all candidates the same questions based on competencies and prerequisites outlined in the job description.

If we can recognize when these biases occur, we can determine whether they are rooted in fact or fiction, and if there is any relation to the job. Don’t rely on your memory for decision-making; always refer to your interview notes and the actual information you observed.

  • Tip:  If you have concerns or “gut-feelings” that come up during the interview, try to substantiate them by asking a probing question or clarifying with the candidate’s references. 

As leaders, it is healthy to be aware of our assumptions and the judgements we make about candidates.  Our intuitions are part of making good hiring decisions, but you must do your best to verify or refute your assumptions and concerns.  This is also good risk management and succession planning for your workplace, because you cannot teach someone to have your “intuition.”  What happens if you are not able to interview the next round of new hires?  When there is a structured process and guidelines to follow, it helps with consistent hiring practices at the company.

For more resources on conducting interviews, download the “Structured Interview Toolkit” in SARC’s Manager Resource Area.


Please Note: The included information is for reference only, and SARC and its Members, their employers, officers, and Directors assume and accept no liability for any consequences arising from the use, non-use, accuracy, or legal compliance of any of the information, tools, or resources provided.

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