5 types of interview bias and how to avoid them

by The Withe Team
October 3, 20239 min read
A smiling woman sitting at a table with a laptop, on a video call.

We’ve said before and we’ll say it again: hiring is an inherently human process. And while the human element of recruiting is important to foster, it can be a bit of a double-edged sword. As humans, recruiters may bring in their individual and societal biases into application reviews and interviews, and that can ultimately impact who is allowed to progress to the next stage of the hiring process.

Interview bias is a problematic element in the hiring process — not just because it can get in the way of qualified applicants receiving an offer, but because it’s also hard to solve for. That said, it’s not impossible. By taking a conscious and intentional approach, recruiting teams can mitigate the impact of these biases and create a more equitable and inclusive hiring process.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the different types of interview bias that exist and some of the things you and your team can do to avoid them.

What is interview bias in recruiting?

Interview bias occurs when an interviewer allows their personal expectations, opinions, or preconceived notions to impact how they judge a candidate. This bias can impact the outcome in a positive or negative way, depending on the candidate, and can ultimately create an inequitable process for hiring new employees.

Consider this example: a recruiter is preparing for an interview and notes that the candidate happens to be an alumni from their same university. This fact warms them to the candidate, and informs how they ask some of the questions and evaluate their responses, even if the candidate isn’t quite the right fit for the role.

Meanwhile, the next candidate that arrives for an interview has a small speech impediment, which the recruiter unconsciously links to a lack of ability to do the job. Despite the candidate being qualified and having clear answers for all of the questions, they aren’t given the opportunity.

Both of these examples show interviewer bias, and they are unfortunately very common. It’s why one can often find teams that are filled with similar individuals with shared opinions or interests.

Interview bias can show up in a number of different ways, including:

  • The type of language used in the questions
  • Conversation that focuses more on personal traits or politics versus the ability to do the job
  • Interpretation of body language or other physical attributes
  • Relying on stereotypes to make a decision

It’s important to note that while each individual recruiter may be influenced by different notions and opinions, there are also societal and cultural systems in place that reinforce a lot of these ideas. As such, addressing interview bias within an organization is about more than just changing someone’s mind. It’s about acknowledging and addressing systemic ideologies and systems of oppression, and finding mechanisms that can help create a level playing field for every candidate.

Why is interview bias problematic?

Given how embedded interview bias can be — and how unaware some people are that they have their own biases — it can have a significant impact on the hiring process. Not only does it keep qualified candidates from accessing roles that they could excel at, it also gets in the way of creating a diverse team. Without diverse perspectives and inputs, businesses are much less likely to be innovative and effectively cater to all of their customers. Plus, interview bias increases the likelihood of hiring the wrong candidate, which can prove expensive if you have to replace them. All of that impacts the bottom line.

At Withe, we're helping recruiters create a streamlined and consistent recruiting process

5 types of interview bias

There’s an extensive number of biases that can influence an interviewer. Below are some of the most common ones, but there are also more that can be even more subjective and specific to individual experiences.

1. Stereotype bias

Stereotypes are false generalizations made about certain communities or individuals based on their appearance, lived experience, or cultural background. These stereotypes often reflect systems of oppression and can get in the way of how an interviewer evaluates a candidate. Specifically, these stereotypes can perpetuate:

  • Racism
  • Ageism
  • Classism
  • Misogyny
  • Homophobia and transphobia
  • Ableism

These biases can be particularly hard to escape because they are often widespread opinions that exist in the everyday. This can make them hard to unlearn, but can be addressed with training or by creating a more diverse workplace.

2. Confirmation bias

Stereotype bias often happens hand in hand with confirmation bias, which happens when an interviewer draws their own conclusions based on personal desires, beliefs, and prejudices. When feeding confirmation bias, an interviewer might ask questions to confirm their preconceived notions about an individual, rather than focusing on the candidate’s ability to do the job.

3. Similarity bias

Like the example we shared above, similarity bias occurs when a recruiter’s judgment is clouded by a candidate’s shared experiences, appearance, or likes and dislikes. This can be perpetuated by questions such as “Would I want to have a beer with this person?” or other situational queries that don’t leave much room for different perspectives. As such, the recruiter becomes more likely to move candidates forward that have a similar background, lifestyle and perspective as they do — and that can reduce any chance of diversity in the workforce.

4. Nonverbal bias

Nonverbal bias happens when an interviewer attributes a big portion of their decision on how the interviewee presented themselves during the interview. For instance, an interviewer could be put off by a candidate’s lack of eye contact or apparent physical discomfort (which could be due to nerves or neurodivergence), and use that to disqualify an otherwise qualified candidate.

5. Halo bias

Similarly, halo bias is when an interviewer uses one aspect about the candidate or how they interviewed to overshadow all their other traits and qualifications. In other words, the interviewer gives too much weight to one characteristic (be it a stutter or a specific use of language) to counter all the other elements that might make them a good fit for the role.

3 ways to avoid interview bias

It’s important to note that if your team is falling prey to a certain type of interview bias, there are probably more at play. These biases often operate hand in hand and can organically fuel others. As such, when addressing interview bias, it’s worth taking a comprehensive approach that includes the steps below.

1. Educate your recruiters

A lot of the time, when it comes to interview biases, recruiters aren’t even aware that they have them. Giving them the opportunity and space to identify these biases — as well as the tools to dismantle them — can be a great way to introduce more accountability and genuine interest in doing better. This can be initiated with an interview training program, but can also include initiatives such as a book club, a quarterly agenda item in the team meeting, and other opportunities to discuss and address this issue.

2. Introduce consistency into your hiring process

Adding structure to your interview process can help produce consistency in both the interviewing and evaluation of candidates. With all recruiters on the same page — and following the same steps — they’ll be more likely to sidestep biases when deciding whether a candidate is the right fit.

This consistency can be achieved by:

  • Creating an interview guide that outlines clear steps to follow
  • Crafting standardized questions that avoid personal, non-work-related questions
  • Developing assessment rubrics and evaluating criteria that don’t allow for personal opinions
  • Introducing a hiring event platform that adds structure to the interview process
  • Ensuring every candidate goes through the same steps in hiring process
  • Having an easy-to-navigate way for candidates to request accommodations

3. Add diversity to your recruitment and interview processes

This recommendation includes two key steps: adding diversity to your candidate pool and to your interview panel. For the first portion, you’ll need to revisit your recruiting sourcing strategy and ensure that you’re attracting candidates via a number of different channels. For the second, we recommend ensuring that you have different interviewers (with different lived experiences and perspectives) interview the candidate so that there is a reduced risk of bias influencing the decision.

Removing interview bias should be a priority

As we continue to navigate evolving macroeconomic trends and global shifts, there’s one thing that’s becoming increasingly true: the businesses that are going to succeed are the ones that prioritize diversity and inclusion. Interview bias is a barrier to making this happen, and with a lack of diversity, teams risk losing out on innovative thinking that could help them lead their markets. To get ahead of it, recruiting teams need to take a closer look at their workforce and decision making, and take steps to reduce bias as much as possible.

Interview bias FAQs

Why is interviewer bias bad?

Interviewer bias can have a significant impact on the hiring process. For starters, it can lead recruiters to make poor hiring decisions, which can be costly in the long run, and also keeps qualified candidates from accessing roles that they could excel at. In addition, it can also act as a barrier for companies to create diverse teams. Without diversity, businesses can have a hard time being innovative and creative, therefore limiting their potential.

How can interview bias affect recruiting?

There are a number of different biases that can impact an interview. These include stereotype bias, halo bias, similarity bias, and confirmation bias. These types of biases can both positively or negatively affect the outcome of an interview, and ultimately create an inequitable hiring process.

How can bias affect a job interview?

Whether it’s a positive or negative outcome, an interviewer’s bias can ultimately determine how they interact with a candidate. For example, if they find that they have experiences in common with the candidate, an interviewer might fall into the trap of similarity bias to recommend the candidate for the role, even if they’re not fully qualified.

At Withe, we’re helping recruiters create a streamlined and consistent recruiting process. Learn more about it on our homepage.

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Author Bio

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The Withe Team

Meet the team behind the revolutionary on-demand video interview software that connects great companies with top talent. Their user-friendly solution streamlines the hiring process and helps people find the right opportunities. With a customer-centric approach, this team of experts is dedicated to helping you find the perfect match.

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