Insight Into the Interviewer

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By Khatera Sahibzada Ph.D. 

To the dismay of anyone who has looked for a job, there is no way to get around the inevitable job interview. Interviews are an unavoidable and often unpleasant step in securing a job. According to a Harris poll, 92% of U.S. adults are anxious about job interviews. Unsurprisingly, an online search of “job interviews” generates close to 70 million results, the vast majority of which focus on how to “ace” a job interview, including a tsunami-size list covering everything from what to wear, what to ask, the type of questions to expect, do’s and don’ts. Surprisingly little is written about the person conducting the interview: the interviewer. So what do we know about the individual who holds your hiring decision in their hands?

1) Interviewers are incredibly biased. Researchers have consistently demonstrated that interviewers are inherently biased. There is a laundry list of biases that can significantly influence an interviewer’s judgment. For example, the interviewer’s mood, whether the job candidate is similar to the interviewer, the order in which the candidate is interviewed, the type of clothes the candidate wears (particularly if designer), their handshake, their weight, the speed at which the job candidate speaks, the sound of their voice, how attractive they are, and non-verbal cues. All of these biases impact an interviewers ability to be objective. Even Laszlo Block, the man responsible for ensuring that Google hires the best and the brightest, admits that most job interviews are a waste of time. Interviewer bias not only influences the outcome of the interview but also how the job candidate is treated during the interview.

For example, if the job candidate leaves one bad impression in an interview, the likelihood of not being offered the job is 90%.

And if the candidate is perceived negatively, the interviewer may subconsciously provide negative non-verbal feedback (i.e. showing a lack of interest, defensive body language). All of this could further inhibit the candidate’s confidence and performance, not to mention make for an unpleasant interview experience.

2) Interviewers mistakenly believe they are good at interviewing and making the right hiring decision. In fact, most are lousy. And it’s not their fault. The biases that cloud their judgment are unconscious and automatic. Interviewers do not know that they are being biased. Couple this with the fact that most people tend to hold inflated views of their abilities that are unrelated to actual performance. Without proper training, tools, and developing awareness into their biases, most interviewers don’t stand a chance of being objective.

3) The type of interview questions interviewers ask can say a lot about them. For example, researchers at Bowling Green State University and Michigan State University found that interviewers who chose to use non-traditional interview questions, such as brainteasers, scored higher on measures of sadism and narcissism and had lower levels of empathy. Usually not the type of boss that most people want to work for. Unsurprisingly, brainteaser questions have not been found to be strong predictors of job performance.

4) Interviewers can get better with training, tools and processes. Interviewers should adopt a clear, structured interviewing approach that is consistently utilized in all hiring decisions. For example, it could be something as simple as asking the same questions of each job candidate.

Researchers have found that structured interviews are a significantly stronger predictor of performance than unstructured interviews.

In particular, behavioral structured interviews and situational judgment tests are some of the strongest predictors of performance. Behavioral structured interviews are based on the notion that past behavior is indicative of future behavior. These type of interview questions focus on the candidate’s past behavior in similar work environments (i.e., “Tell me about a time when you needed to deal with a conflict at work?”), whereas situational judgment tests pose hypothetical job-related questions (i.e., “What would you do if you had to deal with a work conflict?”).

Utilizing a structured approach with questions focused on understanding actual behavior versus “gut feeling” will help to eliminate or reduce interviewer bias.

A second tactic involves including multiple interviewers in the interview process. Multiple interviewers can provide different perspectives about a single candidate and can help to challenge biases that may be involved. A third tactic includes having the interviewer take notes during the interview of not only what the candidate shares, but also of their personal reaction, thoughts and feelings about the candidate. This will help bring their biases to light, separating their own implicit, automatic judgments from the candidate’s actual behavior.

The Takeaway

As an interviewer, hiring managers should develop insight into personal biases that influence their perceptions of a job candidate, evaluate the type of questions they choose to ask and seek out tools, support and feedback that can make them better interviewers.

Job candidates should consider the type of interview questions that are asked and how they are treated during the interview. Both will offer important clues into the organization, its culture and the type of leader they could potentially work for.

 

Khatera Sahibzada: Khatera is an industrial/organizational psychologist specializing in leadership development, talent assessment and performance management.