Reducing Interview Bias Through Structured Interviews

by Beth Brown, SPHR, RPA, CEBS

Bulletin,  Diversity and Equity,  Hiring

Workplace diversity helps strengthen organizations and make them more successful. Reducing interview bias is an essential step in achieving a more diverse workforce.

Many managers take an unstructured approach to interviewing, using conversation to allow information about the candidate’s experience and expertise to come forward. While this tactic may feel comfortable, unstructured interviews are not a good indicator of a candidate’s potential for success on the job.

Instead, structured interviews, with each candidate being asked the same set of questions, help standardize the process, minimize bias, and ensure greater on-the-job success. In a structured process, employers can focus on the factors that directly impact successful performance.

Here are suggestions on creating and using a structured interview process:

  • First, understand the requirements of the job before the interview. Review the job description and position goals to clarify the skills and behaviors needed to be successful in the job.
  • Create a standard set of interview questions to ask all candidates. Concentrate on work history and job-related accomplishments and how they achieved them. Ask how the candidate would solve specific on-the-job problems, to learn their approach to work, understand their level of technical skill, and gain insight on their expectations for interacting with others to accomplish job goals. Using scripted questions allows for clearer comparisons between all candidates.
  • Consider a phone screen conversation before an in-person interview, using shortened questions from your interview script. This conversation can help reduce first impression bias.
  • Have interviewers note the candidate’s answers immediately during the interview. This provides a more complete picture of the information provided by the candidate. Noting responses later, even immediately after the interview, can result in information gaps and recalling only dramatic examples. To make notetaking feel less awkward, explain to the candidate that the interviewers believe the interview is essential, and want to accurately remember what is said, so they will be taking notes during the interview.
  • Conduct a live debriefing session with all interviewers to share the information learned from the candidate. Comparing the candidates’ responses “horizontally” across each question allows interviewers to see the strengths and weaknesses of the answers provided. For example, if you interview three candidates, compare all three candidates’ answers to question one, then question two, and so on. This can make it easier to see the strongest candidate based on each question and is particularly helpful if the interview questions are weighted based on success in the job.

What about whether the interviewer likes the candidate or not? Should that be a factor in the hiring decision?  First, think about whether it is important for the interviewers to like the person being hired. If it is, consider adding likeability as an item that is scored during the interview. Having interviewers give a “likeability” score makes it more controllable in the overall analysis of each candidate.

Iris Bohnet, Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government, co-director of the Women and Public Policy Program and the Academic Dean at Harvard Kennedy School, in her April 18, 2016, article for Harvard Business Review, entitled “How to Take the Bias Out of Interviews,” explains that structured interviews can be taken even further:

Structured interviews are not just about discipline in asking questions — some companies, including Google, structure the content of their interviews using data. Their people-analytics departments crunch data to find out which interview questions are more highly correlated with on-the-job success. A candidate’s superb answer on such questions can give the evaluator a clue about their future performance, so it makes sense that responses to those questions receive additional weight.

Using structured interviews, asking work situation questions, and doing comparative evaluations of candidate’s answers all can help your organization choose a candidate with a good chance of success in the position while reducing bias in hiring.

About the author
Beth Brown, SPHR, RPA, CEBS

Beth Brown is a consultant in the Human Resources Services group at Employers Council. Prior to that, Beth had over 20 years of Human Resources experience for a Fortune 500 company in Denver, which included an emphasis on benefits and compensation. Beth is a graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver. She holds SPHR and CEBS certifications, and is currently a board member of the Colorado ISCEBS professional association.