Interviewing Bias: Keep It Out From The Start

Jun 11 · 3 min read
Photo by Steve Halama on Unsplash

It doesn’t matter where you’re located or what kind of company you are, unconscious bias can always seep its way into your organization. To help you keep it out from the start, we’ve outlined some best practices to make sure your interviews are both legal and fair for all candidates.

Let’s get into it.

There’s a handful of characteristics that legally a company cannot ask candidates questions about. For companies with a smaller or less experienced HR representation, it can become problematic if these subjects are approached.

Steer clear of the following:

  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Gender Identity
  • Country of Origin
  • Birthplace
  • Religion
  • Disability
  • Marital Status
  • Family Status
  • Pregnancy

Some of these may seem harmless, but interviewers have been known to manipulate these details when making decisions on a candidate’s ability. In fact, 75% of women are asked to answer questions during an interview concerning their marital status, family life and how they plan to take care of their children while they’re at work. None of which pertain to skills or experience. Should any information on those subjects ever be volunteered by a candidate, the best thing to do is disengage and move on as if it were never offered.

In addition to questions about home life, 84% of women are interrupted while answering questions and 60% have reported sexual advances while in an interview. This happens even more often when another female isn’t present on the interview panel, leaving men to steer an interview to their liking.

Unconscious bias doesn’t stop there. It’s so bad for some marginalized groups, that candidates have adopted a practice called “whitening the resumé” — removing or altering any race or ethnically-identifying factors on their resumés to better their chances of an interview. The sad thing? It works. Studies show African Americans saw a 25% increase and Asian Americans saw a 21% increase in the opportunity for an interview.

We know ridding bias in the interviewing process may feel impossible after reading all of this, but rest assured there are a few tips you can adopt to help eliminate any roadblocks in the way.

Find a tool

There are plenty of ways to remove unconscious bias from your interview process. Practices like blocking out names, locations, educational backgrounds and really focusing on a candidate’s skills. There are products like ours that supply diverse, qualified candidates without recruiters or HR managers having to do any pre-qualifying screening.

Copy someone else

Some companies have created interview processes that ensure candidates are represented fairly. Intel’s practice includes no less than two women or people of color in every interview. In two years of this practice, Intel increased diversity in their workplace by 14%. For a little perspective, as a whole the tech industry has only made an 8% increase in diversity since 1992. Try something like this in your organization and see if it makes an impact for you.

Read your job description, then read it again

Another determining factor for bias can be found in a company’s job description. There are over 25,000 problematic phrases a company can include that eludes to gender bias. Avoiding descriptive words like strong, competitive and assertive and opting for words like exceptional, motivated and go-getters will change gender implications instantly.

Unconscious bias can become a vicious beast if you don’t catch it early on. You won’t always see it, but those affected by it will always feel it. Take the measures you need to ensure a fair interview for all. To avoid any pitfalls, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has all the guidelines you need to conduct a safe and appropriate interview that your candidates will appreciate.


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