Structured Interviews Help Eliminate Unconscious Bias

Structured Interviews Help Eliminate Unconscious Bias

Structured Interviews Help Eliminate Unconscious Bias

Put all candidates on a level playing field by using structured interviews


Recruiting is a multi-pronged process. It includes identifying the need at your company, formulating a job description, posting a job opening and marketing that job opening to the right people. It includes gathering and wading through the applications you receive. And, finally, it includes conducting interviews with who you feel are the best potential fits for the job opening.

There is a lot of leg work that goes into the recruitment process, and a lot of time and effort that you will spend with your small business HR consultant to get the right people at your office door who are both a fit for the job and hungry to work with you. While it may seem like the structure, the organization and the marketing of your job and your company stops, or at least reduces, once those candidates come in for an interview, this is the point where the work has really just begun.

In today’s world, we have access to loads of information and data at our fingertips. We base a lot of our business decisions on what the data is telling us, where it’s telling us to go and what it’s telling us to do. We base future decisions on past information we’ve culled from many sources.

But in this data-focused time we’re in, the hiring process once we get to the interview stage is often based upon feel, connection and a human-to-human element more than it is any kind of structured data gathering. Part of this is a good thing. After all, things such as whether an employee is good on his or her feet, whether they’re outgoing and whether they’d be a fit for the position or team based on personality are next to impossible to get from a piece of paper.

For this reason, many companies in the past have tended to conduct what’s referred to as unstructured interviews. This doesn’t mean there is no preparation done by the HR team, hiring manager or other people responsible for the hiring process; it instead means there is no set standard the company sets forth for the interview process.

This, unfortunately, can be quite dangerous. There’s a definitive shift toward structured interviews in the HR world, and data backs up the validity of this shift. Studies have shown that structured interviews can help limit bias (which we’ll discuss in a bit) and results in a much better outcome where those responsible for hiring are choosing the right people who stick around for the long term.

As Francesca Gino, a professor at Harvard Business School, said, unstructured interviews are “often unreliable for predicting job success.”

Structured Interviews Create a Level Playing Field

One of the main things structured interviews do is force the hiring manager to identify and articulate what they really need to learn about a candidate to make the right decision. This steers the interview in the direction of uncovering the actual skills and qualifications a person might have for the position.

By preparing the questions in advance, the hiring manager and the HR department or HR consultant can work through everything that needs to be answered, including not just what skills a candidate brings to the table, but how he or she might respond to particular challenges.

Structured interviews also keep the interviewer on task, which is ultimately more productive for the company and saves time. No longer do interviewers have to rely on memory to ensure they have asked the same questions to every candidate. Instead, he or she will have a list of questions to ask every candidate, so a true apples-to-apples comparison can be made.

Unstructured interviews can often go off in tangents, as the interviewer or interviewee might say something to spark a side conversation about something that may not be completely relevant to the position. While it’s good to interject personality into the interview, and encourage the candidate to do the same, keeping the interview on track is in the company’s best interest.

The beauty of structured interviews are they can be suited to any industry with behavioral and situational questions that are relevant to the job. Just because they’re structured doesn’t mean they have to be plain, boring and/or straightforward. It just means the interview will be kept on a clear path from start to finish, for every candidate.

Structured Interviews Diminish Bias

You may not think you are a biased person, but as a human being, it is only natural for you to be so. As humans, we are naturally drawn to people who are like us – not just in how we look but how we act, how we conduct ourselves and how we might handle a certain situation such as, for example, an interview.

Unconscious bias is a social stereotype about certain groups of people that are from outside our own conscious awareness. This means, deep down, our psyche holds biases – that desire to have someone like ourselves – that works in direct opposition to what we actually believe.

In times of stress, times of uncertainty, times of pressure or when we’re forced to multi-task, our brains rely on unconscious bias, sometimes referred to as implicit bias, to make quick judgment calls based on categorization.

In regard to the interview process, unconscious bias can be extremely problematic, forcing us to make decisions based on factors that are irrelevant. Some examples could include:

• Thinking a male or female isn’t a fit for a particular job because it’s not a “typical field” for a man or woman

• Thinking an experienced, middle-age candidate wouldn’t be a fit for a high-tech job

• Or something as simple as thinking someone who wears a bright-colored shirt won’t be a fit for your reserved, laid back office

Unstructured interviews are more susceptible to allowing unconscious bias to enter the equation because they aren’t focused just on the skills and qualifications as it pertains to the candidate and job. Unstructured interviews allow for the possibility of a tangent that could elicit unconscious bias from within.

Structured interviews, meanwhile, standardize the interview process, asking each candidate the same questions and keeping the focus on what’s most important, thereby minimizing bias. As Gino said in an article for the Society for Human Resource Management, structured interviews “focus on the factors that have a direct impact on performance.”

And, as Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School, says in the same article, the goal for the “interview (is) to become a third independent data point,” after the resume and work samples.

Interviews are Just One Part of the Hiring Process

That last point is poignant: Interviews are meant to be a part of the process, not the only determining factor on whom you hire. In today’s data-driven world, small business HR consultants can help you treat the interview as a data point and not just a personality test.

Candidate interviews should be combined with possible skills tests, performance and suitability assessments to determine who the best fit for the job really is. This can only truly be done through the use of structured interviews, which level the playing field by standardizing the process and giving everyone a fair chance by eliminating the potential damaging effects of unconscious bias.

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