Five keys to hiring the best candidate—not the one your brain wants to trick you into picking
By Lily Zhang
People are naturally biased, which means even when you intend to be fair, your brain has a hard time being impartial. Subconsciously, you may let one major accomplishment overshadow a candidate’s shortcoming, only remember the last thing the interviewee said, or even favor better-looking applicants.
Of course, that’s no excuse to keep the status quo of unfair interviews. If you truly want to find the best person for the job, it’s essential that you commit to actions that will help you be a less-biased interviewer and objectively evaluate every candidate you’re considering.
How can you realistically do that? Here are a few ideas.
1. Standardise the process
Before you even start interviewing people, create a standard list of questions you plan to ask. Of course, there may be aspects of each candidate’s background you want to learn more about or get specific details on, but the more you can level the playing field, the more you’ll give everyone an equal chance of impressing you.
Similarly, attempt to have the interview in the same place for all your candidates. Don’t let some come in person to the interview and others Skype in. Keep the process as similar as possible each and every time.
Good to note: The time and order of interviews matters as well—but more often than not, there’s less you can do about it.
2. Take good notes
Human memory is notoriously unreliable. So, rather than relying on your recall abilities and opening yourself up to unintentional biases, try to take brief notes as candidates respond to questions. Ideally, write down as much of the interviewee’s exact response as possible without your own interpretations. Then immediately post-interview, jot down your thoughts on the interviewee before you get too scattered and you’re forced to trust your own unpredictable memory.
3. Use a rubric
Ability and fit are both hard to quantify, but you’re better off at least trying than avoiding it all together. Ideally, prior to the interview stage of the hiring process, create a rubric for what you’re seeking in the new hire. Include qualifications like specific skills and experiences, soft skills like communication and teamwork, and cultural fit with the company.
After interviewing all the candidates, select a numerical range and rate each person. Rubrics helps you avoid giving too much credit for one particular experience or qualification—it keeps things balanced.
4. Justify your decision
You might think a rubric is only marginally different than going with a gut feeling—and you would be right. Rubrics are only useful if you’re able to justify your scores. Going through the process of reasoning out why you believe something is a huge help in trying to avoid all the subconscious business going on when interviewing and evaluating a job candidate. Get real evidence—such as the notes you took of the interviewee’s responses—to back up your beliefs in order to avoid falling into the trap of cognitive biases.
5. Get input from others
Other people can have a huge influence on your decision. While you’re going through your rubric and justifying your choices, it’s best to do this alone to avoid the outside influence. But, once you’re done with that, it’s worth seeing what everyone else thought, too. Ideally, you want to receive feedback from others to add to the data you’ve already collected, not to impact the data you’ve collected.
It’s hard to admit that we can be biased even when we’re trying not to be, but studies have shown that it takes more than intention to overcome them, it takes action to right them. For example, when symphonies introduced “blind auditions” by using opaque screens to hide the musician auditioning, the rate of women accepted into symphonies increased dramatically. In the end, the process might be more cumbersome, but it’ll also be fairer—plus you’ll be more likely to get the best candidate for the job.