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Understanding Bias as Candidates

“The interviewer was biased.”

“S/he only asked questions about my initial work in computing and completely ignored all the great work I have since done in AI.”

“What could he have meant by going on about his Ivy League education?”

These and many more responses are often expressed by candidates.

Organizations view bias seriously and several forward thinking ones have in addition to diversity and bias training, strengthened the interview process to reduce the impact of interviewer bias. Some of the strategies include redacting information from the resume, having common interview scripts and interviewer training. All of us are not lucky to be applying for jobs in these forward thinking organizations.

The primary rule to understanding others is that we first need to understand ourselves. All of us have unconscious biases. It’s plain and simple human nature and goes beyond age, race, gender. We make judgements every waking moment. To fill in the blanks which the data throws at us, we need to make some assumptions, and it is our nature to rely on our past experiences for some shortcuts to arrive at a decision. A very simple test for unconscious bias is Harvard’s Implicit Association Test. Most folks are often surprised with the results.

Bias is built into everything we do. But you won’t see it unless you look for it.

Common Biases:

  • Halo/Horn Bias: interviewer allows either a positive (halo) or negative (horn)characteristic to overshadow the interview. E.g. Jane is a great academic writer applying for a copywriter job. Interviewer is so impressed with her academic writing work, that s/he fails to ask for work samples

  • Confirmation Bias: people create a hypothesis and seek information to confirm the same. E.g. Joe interviews 4 engineers – 2 men, 2 women. He goes all out to prove that the men make better candidates.

  • Affective Heuristic Bias: quick emotional response to a stimulus. E.g. assuming that the candidate with too many tattoos is not reliable.

  • Anchoring Bias: interviewer is biased heavily on one piece of information. E.g. Harry was a great sales director. We need to find another Harry. Here Harry is the anchor. Every candidate needs to measure upto Harry, not attributes for success in the job.

  • Non Verbal Bias: evaluation based on non verbal cues. E.g. an interviewer can make a decision based on the handshake.

What can candidates do?

  • Self understanding of your own biases so that you do not allow them to creep into the conversation.

  • Focus on selling your skills and attributes, not your educational background or work history. This is especially important for candidates who could be more prone to negative biases like young mothers, older candidates. Be aware and steer the conversation to how current your skills are, your ability to learn, adapt, teach etc.

  • Manage the interview process. Most organizations have multiple interviews. This is actually good for the candidate as you get a chance to address any biases in the next level. Focus again on selling how your skills and attributes can add value to the job being interviewed for.

“We can’t control the filters that others use when they see us.” – Rachel Wolchin

But we can certainly ensure it doesn’t affect our self worth and ability to sell ourselves correctly.

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