Recruiting tips: Eliminating the first impression bias

As with any interaction, interviewing suffers from the classic ‘first impression’ syndrome – it is widely agreed that the biggest hiring mistakes an interviewer makes are due to the perceptions formed within the first ten minutes of an interview.

Predominantly based on emotions, first impressions lead to biased stereotyping of a candidate. If this was not bad enough, the first impression bias kicks of another involuntary reaction – the tendency to proactively seek reinforcing information to support the perception and disregard for information information that contests it.

The key to identifying bias

An important trigger to the bias lies in the visual presentation that the candidate gives the interviewer. Applicants experience differing degrees of nervousness at the start of an interview and they cope with it differently for the first few minutes. Those with better presentation skills mask it better than those with poorer skills. Succumbing to bias in either case kills the objectivity of an interview.

It is therefore important for the interviewer to minimise the impact of presentation over performance in the first 15 minutes of the interview. Considering that no question of consequence regarding is asked during this time, veering away from any decision at this stage is very important. Training the mind to register observations and using the observations to do a better job to place the candidate at ease is the prime goal in the first 10-15 minutes.

Homework for the recruiter

Preparation for an interview is as necessary for the interviewer as is expected of the candidate. Walking into an interview without preparation increases the risks of being blindsided on many fronts.

As the interviewer sits down to face the candidate, he should have a clear checklist of what the organisation is looking for in terms of skills, behavior and culture fit. This will help him stay focused on parameters of performance and minimise the chances of being manipulated by bias. Going through the fact-based findings of previous interviews also helps remove bias – observed strengths may be reaffirmed with more nuanced questions, and recorded inadequacies may be looked at deeper to determine their relevance in achieving team and organisational success.

A shift to fact-finding questions

When interviewers become better aware of their predominant interviewing style, they can work on reducing the emotional component. An easy way to do so involves shifting to predominantly fact-finding questions. The section on experience or work history in the resume provides adequate scope to do so. The following questions may help the interviewer to overcome bias:

  • What were the different roles of team members in your team?
  • What would you say was the biggest achievement of your team?
  • What was your role?
  • How do you think you contributed to the team?

This line of discussion provides far better insights on the candidates and their capabilities. It also eliminates the ‘yes/no’ possibilities, both in the candidate’s answers and in the interviewers’ early decisions. Once done, it sets the tone for a more objective interview that elicits more points and observations for the interviewer to make a fact and data-driven recommendation.

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