Debias your Interviews

Mike van der Burgt 25-10-2016 12:31 PM
Categories: Improve your recruitment and selection process

’Interviews in the wild’ (in practice)

Interviews are nearly always conducted through unstandardized or unstructured interviews. The employer asks questions to a potential employee in an unstructured fashion, that hasn’t been set prior to the interview. Research has oftentimes established that hiring managers give preference to this way of interviewing and that they view it as more effective than structured interviews. They go with their natural talents for spotting talent and don’t like to set scoring criteria beforehand.

The unstructured interview does however leave a lot of space to delve into details that are not directly relevant for predicting the candidates’ future performance. Maybe you have also experienced it that the majority of a job interview was spent on hobbies, your family or your latest holiday, to name a few. What I have experienced myself is that as soon as I dropped the word “soccer” or “football” (whichever you prefer) in my job interview, the employer couldn’t resist talking about it. Which club do you support? Where do you play? What is your position in the field? How talented are you exactly? These questions, however fun and personal they may be, are not relevant for my future performance at the company.

Does this mean all irrelevant matters must be eliminated from a job interview? Ofcourse not, you do want to form a bond with your possible future employee and want to know something about them. You could want to know someone’s home situation, their hobbies and a whole lot more about what makes this candidate his- or herself. Besides that these topics ensure that the interview remains a conversation more than an interrogation. A lot of structured interviews leave space to go further into these subject with specific questions. This is than done within a confined and dedicated space. It is clearly defined beforehand that this may sway a bit from the selection criteria and that you will return to these criteria afterwards.

Why structured?
Why are structured interviews better than unstructured interviews?

  1. Unstructured interviews leave to much room for delving into irrelevant topics, so that not all relevant topics may be dealt with.
  2. Unstructured interviews are ridden with biases. For example, there is a bias that make people like others more who are somewhat similar to you. This will influence your ability to accurately select the best possible candidates. This similarity bias is also enhanced by the so called verification or confirmation bias, that states that people have a tendency to verify their intuitions, more so than to refute them.
    So as soon as a person that has similarities to you walks in, you can be biased to see them as better than others who don’t have these similarities. This could lead to a more positive view of them, which in turn leads to you seeking cues that confirm this intuition. Through this process you could judge someone as more capable, whilst he only shares similarities with you in whatever way.

A structured interview ensures that:

  1. All predetermined, relevant topics will be dealt with.
  2. The responses of all candidates can be evaluated and compared fairly. This enables you to create a more objective measure for each relevant topic.
  3. You can also compare the results of each interview so that your interview van be optimized constantly.
  4. A standardized scoring system can be applied to the structured interview. This way you can score each candidate in the heat of the moment for each relevant topic. This lowers biases such as the recency bias, which gives more recent events in memory more weight.

All in all, a structured interview allows for a more objective and future work performance aimed way of selection. People will always have certain tendencies and behaviors that aren’t optimal in certain situations. We can however account for these by following certain standard procedures, protocols or templates.
We have now discussed how you could improve the selection process at your company by the use of structured interviews. Not sure about what topics should be dealt with in your structured interview? Read our future blogpost about What and Who you need in your organization and find out how you can easily determine the core qualities for a function.

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