There is bias in your hiring process

As a design leader, it is your responsibility to design the outcomes and work conditions for your team to succeed.

There is bias in your hiring process

Let's fix it

As a product or design leader, it is your responsibility to design the outcomes and work conditions for your team to succeed. Let's talk about interviews.

Making sure great talent is interested in joining your organisation is part and parcel of the leadership job if you want the right outcomes. Just like the products we work on, assumptions and bias are everywhere.

Design leaders often work on designing products at the expense of designing the work environment. We often put our worst foot forward by not understanding and consciously designing how our teams hire. You can design against bias in the first interaction future employees have and throughout your hiring pipeline.

Interviews are rife with bias

A common problem with interviewing is that it's subject to opinion, and especally first impressions. A study conducted at the University of Toledo in 2000 found that judgments made in the first 10 seconds of an interview could predict the outcome of the interview. Culture fit is a failed idea in American hiring, and it's losing steam.

Interviews run like the one in the study are built on a form of bias called confirmation bias. We make snap judgments all day, every single day.

In Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman wrote "we can be blind to the obvious, and we are also blind to our blindness." Many of our interview techniques are inherited and can be based on these forms of blindness.

Gut evaluations of candidate performance are only one part of the problem. Teams using incomplete or ambiguous values can also run into confirmation bias problems, by structuring their hiring process around the notion of culture fit. Previously, I've written about how culture add can change the conversation on hiring. It can also change the mindset of hiring panels and train them to gather evidence for how candidates can bring talent into the organisation.

Intel uses diversity panels to reduce unconscious bias. Each hiring panel is required to have 2 women and underrepresented minorities. Panels are easy to put together and powerful tools. Intel improved diversity by 15% in just 2 years.

Seeing bias together

Hiring is hard. Bias is already everywhere, because humans have bias in hiring and other daily tasks at work. Structure helps us eliminate bias.

Increase the number of perspectives

A simple way to reduce bias is to increase the diversity of perspectives in hiring. Intel uses diversity panels to reduce unconscious bias. Their hiring panel is required to have 2 women and underrepresented minorities for every candidate.

Panels are easy to put together and powerful tools for making sure things are more equitable. A big factor in making improvements on panels is to give the less represented perspectives equal air time and to welcome challenges to the status quo.

Improve hiring debriefs

Here are a few questions to ask when you debrief on a candidate that can add some clarity and enrich conversations.

  • Is this feedback relevant to this person's ability to do the job?
  • What does this person bring to our culture or the role?
  • In what ways is the person likeable vs. capable? (Focus on capability over likeability)
  • Can the person do the job?
  • What kind of support would they need? How can we make that happen?

Structured interviews

Over the years, I've learned a lot about hiring and have put together a few tools that have helped me hire people and turn them into high performing product teams. One of the most important hiring tools I've learned to use over the past few years is the structured interview.

Structured interviews are a form of interviewing in which candidates are asked the same questions and evaluated on the same criteria across all the interviews. Doing this can eliminate bias and help weigh candidates on more equal measures across interviews. Don't take my word for it, here's a bigger piece from Forbes on the same subject.

Structured interviews are twice as likely to predict good performance on the job compared to unstructured ones. Not only that, unstructured interviews are a very poor predictor of job performance. In fact, when it comes to assessing someone's performance in the future based on unstructured questions, these interviews are less valuable than random selection.

When candidates know that the interview questions are the same across all the people being evaluated for a role, there's an increased perception of fairness. Fairness in turn is a qualitative value that engages candidates. It improves the candidate experience, and helps you make hiring a more scalable, equitable process.

Further Reading

If like me, you're thinking about reducing bias in hiring, here's a few helpful leads.

17 Ways to Reduce Hiring Bias - Mya Systems
Unconscious bias has many ways of entering your hiring process. Learn 17 ways to identify bias and 17 actions to reduce hiring bias.
11 Ways to Reduce Hiring Bias - Harver
Reducing hiring bias fosters diversity and inclusion. With diverse workforce, you’ll build a more successful business. Learn how to reduce hiring bias!
Bias-Free Hiring: Interview questions not to ask | CharityVillage
Make your interviews bias free by understanding what interview questions should be avoided.