Mar 21, 2018

Two Rules in Practicing Unbiased Hiring

You’re down to two highly qualified applicants in your lengthy search for a new team member.

Candidate number one just seems to “fit in” better. She name-dropped researchers, bloggers, TV shows and interests that align with the team.

Candidate number two, was also highly qualified, didn’t seem to blend right in. She wasn’t unlikable or unpleasant; she just didn’t seem to mesh the way the other candidate did. She referenced other blogs, different research, and different TV shows.

So you go with Candidate number one. Many of us do, offering up culture fit or speculating on team performance potential when asked why.

But is a personality match a strong enough reason for making a decision as important as staff selection?

Despite the overwhelming support for tools such as work samples and structured interviews, many are still relying on instincts or assessing likability to make hiring decisions. Lauren Rivera has described an “emotional spark of commonality” to explain what happens when interviewers perceive their candidates as similar to them, which triggers positive feelings that may or may not be warranted by evidence. Interviewers have admitted to lowering the bar for those who are more likable. More alarmingly, these perceptions of similarity have been shown by researchers such as Paul DiMaggio to influence how we evaluate merit.

And sometimes it works. People who fit in assimilate easily are likely to gel with the team. The trouble is, alignment with the team is not necessarily alignment with company goals and objectives. And what about the benefits of healthy debate or disagreement?

Fortunately, there are better ways.

Use structured interviews

According to a 1998 study by Schmidt and Hunter, structured interviews are 26% effective in predicting how a person will actually perform in a given role, compared to unstructured interviews which are only 14% predictive. Structured interview guides should be drafted prior to candidate selection. In drafting, decide ahead of time what constitutes a great answer, a good answer, and a poor answer. Write up interviewers guides with criteria for determining the difference between a good, great, and poor answer. Stick to the guide and use it to make decisions.

When deciding to use a structured interview, the following are very important:

  1. The list of questions you choose should be constructed using critical competencies for the role that you have pulled from the job description

  2. Ask every candidate the same questions

  3. Create an objective rating scale for each question to evaluate every candidate consistently

Employ additional tools

Kathy Kolbe created the assessment based on conation, the idea that behavior is an interaction between knowledge, feelings, and instinct. The assessment asks participants to choose the action they would most and least likely do to solve a problem. The Kolbe A™ Index measures our natural and instinctive modes of problem solving. Placing someone in a role that requires them to work against their strengths, or “going against the grain” can lead to stress and conflict in the workplace. In turn, this can lead to inefficiencies, low productivity levels, disengagement, and turnover.

In 1998, Ryan Thomas conducted a study on the reliability of the use of the Kolbe Index Assessment in the hiring process. According to this study, a Kolbe Index is 67% predictive of how an applicant will actually perform.


Research shows that by combining a structured interview and some form of valid assessment tool in the interview process can be a preventative measure to biased hiring practices.

With so much at stake in hiring decisions, what are you going to do differently this year when selecting new candidates? How are you going to influence others to rely more on objective measures than instincts?


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