How To Standardize Your Interview Questions to Reduce Unconscious Bias in Hiring

Sabrina Son

Introduction

Everyone relies on gut feelings and personal biases a certain percentage of the time.

But for many employers it’s the primary thing driving the hiring process.

This is problematic.

It can lead to harmful effects to employees and lead to discrimination in the hiring process.

It also means hiring tends to be less structured.

Less structure usually means less organized. Which causes things to drag.

My guess is you’ve detected this already. And you want to fix it.

In this post , I’m going to show you how to standardize your interview questions.

This will help reduce the amount of bias in hiring and make the process more structured, which will save time.

Why Structured/Standardized Interviews Set You Free

I’ll show you how to remove bias from interviews later on in this post.

But you should also be proud of yourself for doing this.

When you have a structured interview process, it not only helps to ensure that everyone’s questions are on point and relevant.

It also allows you and interviewers to focus more on the candidate’s responses.

Rather than getting caught up in trying to remember what you wanted to ask next.

Plus, having a pre-planned structure for your questions makes it easier to spot red flags and inconsistencies.

This can be helpful when you’re trying to screen for potential problem employees before they even start working for you.

It’s just a strong play for any hiring process.

What is bias in interviewing?

“Bias” is when you allow your personal prejudices to influence your decisions.

It’s often unconscious, which can make it tough to spot.

What Is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is when we allow our personal biases to influence our decisions.

We all have them, and they’re not necessarily bad. But they can lead to problems especially when we’re not aware of them.

Examples of interview bias

Here are some common biases that can show up in interviews:

The Halo Effect

This is when you let one positive trait overshadow everything else. For example, if a candidate is really good at public speaking, you might assume they’re also great at sales and customer service.

The Horns Effect

The opposite of the halo effect, this is when one negative trait causes you to write someone off entirely. For example, if a candidate has bad breath, you might assume they’re lazy and don’t take care of themselves.

Confirmation Bias

This is when you look for information that confirms your pre-existing beliefs. For example, if you believe that all salespeople are pushy and aggressive, you might only ask questions that will confirm that belief.

The Primacy Effect

This is when you give more weight to information you hear first. For example, if a candidate’s resume is really impressive, you might be more likely to overlook any red flags that come up in the interview.

The Recency Effect

This is when you give more weight to information you hear last. For example, if a candidate does really well in the interview but then says something offensive at the end, you might be more likely to remember the bad thing they said.

The Availability Heuristic

This is when you make decisions based on the information that’s most readily available to you.

For example, if you know someone who had a bad experience with a particular candidate, you might be more likely to believe that candidate is a bad fit for the job.

So. Be on the lookout for signs of these.

Examples Of Unconscious Bias Interview Questions

Again biases are not 100% bad.

But you need to be aware of them and why they can be problematic.

Here are some examples of how unconscious bias can play out from seemingly unbiased interview scenarios.

“What are your greatest achievements?”

This question can lead to the halo effect. If a candidate talks about a time when they did something great, you might start to believe that they’re always great.

“What is your biggest failure?”

This question can lead to the horns effect. If a candidate talks about a time when they failed, you might start to believe that they’ve spent more than their fair share of time failing.

“How do you handle prospects who are unresponsive?”

This question can lead to confirmation bias. If you believe that all salespeople are aggressive, you might only ask questions that will confirm that belief.

“Why did you leave your last company?”

This question can lead to the availability heuristic. If you know someone who had a bad experience with the company, you might be more likely to believe that the candidate is a bad fit for the job.

“Tell me about yourself.”

This question can lead to the primacy effect. If a candidate’s resume is really impressive, you might be more likely to overlook any red flags that come up in the interview.

“Let’s wrap up. Anything else you want to share about why you’re a good fit?”

This question can lead to the recency effect. If a candidate does really well in the interview but then says something offputting at the end, you might be more likely to remember the bad thing they said.

Subtle. Right?

How To Structure Interviews To Remove Bias

The best way of reducing the impact of unconscious bias is to standardize interview questions.

It’s that simple. Across all candidates.

This will help hiring managers make decisions based on skills and qualifications rather than personal biases.

The Benefits of Structured Interviews

Structuring your interview process by standardizing the questions used will help you not only streamline the process, but also take the burden off interviewers to research or come up with questions.

While those more experienced with interviewing may not find coming up with questions very challenging, this task could be difficult for recruiters or employees who are not well-versed with interviewing.

It also helps remove any legal risks that could be related to unfair hiring practices (we’re looking at you unconscious biases) or inappropriate conduct such as inappropriate questions.

The benefit for candidates is that they feel like they’re being judged for their skills and experiences rather than who they are as a person.

A Structured Interview Framework

There are a number of different ways to develop standardized interview questions.

But here’s a simple one.

This framework consists of a set of questions that are asked in the same order for all candidates.

The questions are designed to assess the same skills and qualifications, which reduces the chance of relying on personal biases.

Here’s an example framework for a sales interview:

1. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer.

2. Describe a time when you went above and beyond for a sale.

3. What is your experience with XYZ software?

4. Tell me about a time when you had to manage a difficult project.

5. How do you handle conflict?

6. Tell me about a time when you had to give critical feedback.

The key is this: once you decide on the order of questions, stick with it.

And use them in that order every time.

Standardized Questions That Reduce Bias

Another approach is to develop standardized questions that are specifically designed to reduce bias.

These questions can be used alongside a structured interview framework or as part of an unstructured interview process.

Some example questions include:

– How do you handle difficult conversations?

– Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer or client?

– Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult coworker?

The key is to ensure that all questions are relevant to the position for which you are hiring and that they assess the same skills and qualifications.

How To Ask Unbiased Interview Questions

Have you ever sat through an interview that felt like you were answering a questionnaire instead of having a discussion?

You know, where the interviewer only asks yes/no questions? Yes, that happens too.

Start by creating a pool of open-ended questions and set up a question bank.

The question bank doesn’t have to be anything fancy

—it could even just be a shared document that lives on your company’s internal storage or network.

A Quick Framework To Reduce Bias From Any Interview Question

Here’s the key.

Come up with both behavioral questions (example: “Tell me about a time when …”) and situational questions (“What would do you if …”).

Having a combination of these two questions will allow you to access both someone’s real-life work experiences and also figure out their thinking process for various situations.

Examples of Bias-Reducing Interview Questions

Below are a few examples of interview questions you can start using for your question bank.

Behavioral interview questions that reduce bias

  • Tell me about a time when you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle that and what was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time you failed. How did you deal with the situation and what did you learn?
  • Give me an example of a time when you were able to successfully persuade someone to see things your way at work.
  • Describe a time when you saw some problem and took the initiative to correct it rather than waiting for someone else to do it.

Situational interview questions that reduce bias

  • What would you do if you made a mistake that no one else noticed? Would you address the error and risk slowing things down or ignore it to keep the project or task moving forward?
  • What would you do if an important task was not up to standard, but the deadline to complete it had passed?
  • You’re working on a key project that you can’t complete because you’re waiting on work from a colleague. What do you do?
  • What would you do if you were assigned to work with a difficult client?

Unconscious bias can easily slip into the interview process when interviewers are responsible for coming up with their own set of questions.

On the other hand, this can be mitigated when employers move to a structured interview process where questions are standardized and focus on skills and experience.

The Pitfall To Avoid

One challenge with standardizing interview questions is getting hiring managers on board.

Many managers feel that they should be able to ask whatever they want during an interview in order to get a better understanding of the candidate’s qualifications.

However, by using structured or standardized questions, you can ensure that all candidates are evaluated against the same criteria.

How To Get Hiring Managers To Adopt Your Structure

The best way to get hiring managers on board with your structured interview process is by socializing the idea and getting their buy-in from the beginning.

  1. Explain the benefits of using structured questions and how it can help reduce bias in hiring.
  2. Make them a part of the process. Encourage hiring managers to contribute to the question bank and help them understand how to use the questions in an interview. Seed creative ideas on how to come up with their own structured interview questions.
  3. But reserve your right to make the final call on the structure and expect hiring managers to follow, now that they’ve been a part of the creation process.

All of this will help hiring managers make more objective decisions based on skills and qualifications rather than personal biases.

Conclusion

By using a structured interview process with standardized questions, you can help reduce bias in your hiring process.

This will not only help you build a more diverse and inclusive workforce, but it will also ensure that you’re hiring the best candidates for the job.

And guess what? You’re speeding up the process and saving time by doing this.

Structured questions allow you to focus on what really matters and offer great thank-you’s to candidates who don’t fit your open roles.

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