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Don’t let interview bias and other missteps lead to a bad hire

Randall Singer • Aug 3rd, 2017

When you are recruiting for an open position at your company, you want to hire someone who will succeed in the role. But that’s not always what actually happens. Often, interviewers are drawn to the people they relate to or simply like the most, rather than the candidates who are the most qualified.

While that can help foster workplace friendships and build a close-knit culture, it doesn’t always result in successful performance. 

That’s why it’s important to look at your candidates from all angles. Here are nine things to consider during and after an interview to help form an accurate assessment of each candidate and determine if he or she is right for the position.

EB In the Weeds

  1. Be aware of your bias

In a University of Toledo study, researchers found that the judgments made in the first 10 seconds of an interview could predict the outcome of that interview. Why? Once an interviewer forms a first impression, he or she spends 99.4 percent of the rest of the time trying to confirm that initial impression.

Basically, if you like the candidate from the beginning, you’ll look for more reasons to like them. If you’re put off by the candidate in your initial encounter, you’ll look for reasons to reject them.

Knowing this, it’s important to be aware of your bias and keep an open mind — throughout the entire interview.

  1. Detailed, specific answers

During an interview, the applicant should do most of the talking. Try to follow the 80/20 rule — that is, the candidate should do 80 percent of the talking, while the interviewer fills in the remaining 20 percent.

Be on the lookout for answers that seem too broad or general. If the candidate can’t provide adequate details and examples, they might not actually have the experience the role requires. The more specific the answer, the better. (And if the candidate doesn’t offer up a specific answer at first, don’t immediately speak up — silence can encourage the candidate to elaborate.)

Also keep in mind that specific open ended questions tend to yield more specific answers (but coming up with specific, targeted questions on the spot can be difficult, so make sure you come to the interview prepared).

  1. Test skills

If possible, don’t just rely on candidates’ answers to interview questions; give them an exercise to test their skills. A work sample test — something similar to what they would do on the job — is a good predictor of how someone will perform in a job.

To give you an idea of how important it is, consider this: The number of years of work experience only explains 3 percent of an employee’s performance, while a work sample test explains 29 percent.

You can develop an assessment on your own (for example, asking a project manager candidate to put together a sample project proposal), or use an employment test from a reputable company.

  1. Body language

Don’t only focus on the words coming out of the candidate’s mouth. Make sure you also watch their body language. Some HR experts say that body language accounts for 93 percent of messages candidates express during an interview — while verbal communication only accounts for 7 percent.

It’s common for interviewees to be nervous, but if you see any signs of extreme discomfort — for example, if they can’t maintain eye contact or smile, which are the two leading faux pas job seekers make during an interview — you’ll have to decide if that nervousness may impact the candidate on the job. For example, they may not be right for a role that involves significant client interaction or public speaking.

There are several other telltale signs to look out for, as well. For example, some say that if a candidate keeps touching their nose, they may not be telling the truth. Or, if they keep crossing their arms, they may be defensive or hiding something. While there’s no defined dictionary for body language, small gestures can have a deeper meaning.

  1. Outside opinions, multiple interviews

Gathering multiple opinions from other people in your office can be key to selecting the right candidate. For example, your receptionist will get the very first impression of your candidate when they walk in the door — and that can be a great way to gain more insight into the interviewee’s true character. Did the candidate warmly greet the receptionist? Treat them like a subordinate? Ignore them completely?

Along the same lines, some companies also choose to have someone from another department join the interview — for example, asking someone from the legal team to interview a prospective sales hire. Or, if the candidate is applying to become a manager, you might have them meet with their prospective direct reports, since that’s who they’ll be spending most of their time with. (Plus, allowing the candidate to meet potential co-workers and other team members can help get them excited about the role and give them another reason to want to join your team!)

To get an accurate assessment of a candidate, it’s also a good practice to bring them back in for additional interviews scheduled for a different day. Anyone can have one great day. But it is hard to be someone, they are not in multiple rounds of conversations.

  1. Preferred work and communication style

A business with 100 employees spends an average downtime of 17 hours a week clarifying communication — which translates to an annual cost of $528,443 per business. That’s why it’s so important to identify your candidate’s preferred work and communication styles.

How does the candidate prefer to communicate? Sixty percent of people over age 55 prefer face-to-face communication — and while the number isn’t much lower for employees age 25 to 34 (55 percent), the younger age group does prefer email/text communication more than the older group (35 percent vs. 28 percent).

Does the candidate prefer solo work or a lot of collaboration? Does the applicant prefer to write out a detailed game plan before acting or jump right into execution? Does the candidate have a direct or passive communication style? Digging into these questions can help you identify employees that will be the best fit in your culture and help your teams work most effectively. (Or, you can provide them with a free communication style assessment or personality/behavior test, such as DISC, to see if they would be compatible with your team.)

  1. The airport test

You can only get so much information from traditional interview questions like, “Tell me about a time you failed.” In the end, you also have to get a feel for how the candidate may interact with the rest of your team and your clients. That’s where the airport test comes in. Simply ask yourself: Would you want to be stuck in an airport with this person?

In other words, can you hold a pleasant conversation with the candidate? Would they be able to chat with a client over a meal? Does their personality mesh with the rest of the team?

To assess this, you can’t skip the small talk. It’s OK to ask questions that aren’t relevant to the job qualifications, as long as you remain professional, and you are aware of your potential bias, discussed above. For example, you could ask a question related to their areas of interests, accomplishments, affiliations with honor societies or something else that was listed on their resume. Alternatively, if they casually mention something about them going to see a game over the weekend, or drop off their children at a birthday party, you could engage in the conversation. Just remember to stay away from questions that could be interpreted as discriminatory — for instance, topics that could reveal sensitive information about their race, marital status, age or sexual orientation.

  1. Gut instinct

When it comes to using your gut, you shouldn’t solely rely on your intuition to decide to hire someone (that decision should be based on solid evidence from your interviews) — however, it can be useful to decide when not to hire someone. If some interviewers who met the candidate have the gut instinct that the person is wrong for the organization or role, you might want to think twice. However, be careful that your gut instinct isn’t based on any protected characteristics (e.g., race, sex, age, marital status).

  1. Candidate questions

Your interview should be a two-way street. At the end of the interview, you’ll probably ask, “Do you have any questions for me?” And you probably won’t be too impressed with questions like, “What hours would I be working?” or “How much is the salary?” (or worse, “I don’t have any questions.”)

The best candidates are the ones who take initiative to develop questions that show they’re actually interested in the company and care about getting the job — like “How does your company live up to its core values?” or “What would you expect me to accomplish in the first 30, 60, or 90 days on the job?”

By following these recommendations, you’ll be better equipped to evaluate your interviewees and make a smart hiring decision. For additional assistance in developing the right interview questions to identify the best candidates for your business, read Looking for top talent? Employers need to nail the interview, and download our sample interview questions below. If you need more assistance with hiring, contact me at rsinger@psafinancial.com.

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About the Author: Randall Singer serves as the Practice Leader of PSA’s Employer Solutions division that provides both HR consulting and a unique benefits consulting/administration solutions to clients. Randall has over 20 years of progressive experience working with various levels of management in corporate, IT, marketing, manufacturing and research settings.