How to Develop Fair Interviews

March 3, 2022
6 min

Are your interviews fair?

That may seem like a simple question, but it’s deceptively complex. Because while your knee-jerk reaction may be a resounding “yes!” there’s a good chance at least some element of your candidate interview process is biased.

In fact, when compiling our 2021 Diversity and Hiring Report, we found 74% of underrepresented job seekers observed a lack of diversity in interview panels, and 67% said that, once they completed the interview process, they never heard back.

So while organizations are striving to be more inclusive, it’s evident that many still have work to do.

To better understand why bias is still so common in interviews (even among organizations actively working to solve it) and how to create a fair process, we invited two experts onto a recent edition of our Book Club Action Series.

Today, we’re sharing some of their advice.

5 Strategies that Support Fair Interviews

To start, here are five things your organization can begin doing right now to ensure you’re holding fair and equitable interviews:

1. Conduct an Interview Alignment Meeting

Schedule 15 minutes with the hiring team to ensure everyone is on the same page and understands their expectations.

2. Hold Time in Your Calendar for Interview Prep and Feedback

Set aside at least 15 minutes before the interview to review the job description and what you plan to ask, and set aside 15 minutes after the interview to write your feedback while it’s still fresh in your mind.

3. Ask the Right Questions and Avoid Improvising

Improvised questions may not be inclusive, and you may inadvertently use phrases that offend the applicant or violate fair hiring practices (which could get you into legal trouble).

4. Reduce Group Think

Have everyone write down feedback immediately after the interview, before discussing with others, and ensure they submit input independently. Share those initial insights with the group before a conversation begins.

5. Build a Representative Panel

Share specific guidelines with anyone involved in the interview process, prioritize representative panels (and remember diversity goes beyond race and gender), and pull in employees from outside the department to gain a fresh perspective.

Additionally, there are a few things you can do over the long term to make fair interviews a norm and meet your diversity and inclusion goals.

Always Start with Education

The first thing you should do is help people acknowledge their biases — because we all have them.

“Don't assume you don't have bias. In fact, I recommend you flip the script and assume you do have a bias,” says Danielle Holland, Recruiting Manager at Sonos. “Biases exist, and they don’t make you, by nature, a bad person. It’s about understanding where it shows up and how to help mitigate it.”

When everyone understands the pervasiveness of bias, it’s important to begin educating them on how to remove those biases during the interview process.

For example, before a hiring manager or interviewer can interview a candidate, they’re required to watch a video that educates them on unconscious bias and how it can show up in interviews. This resource also trains them on structured interviews and how they reduce the opportunity for bias.

It’s also a good idea to identify and make the most of learning moments.

For example, when a hiring manager at Wasserman said a candidate wasn’t “the right fit,” Mary Spencer, the organization’s VP Recruiting, Learning, and Development, dug deeper.

“I asked, ‘What do you mean by that? Are you sure?’ Because we're trying to have a diverse organization here, with a diversity of thought,” she says. “We decided to go back and push because we can't just let this slide.”

Create Repeatable, Accessible Processes

Once everyone is educated on bias and how to avoid it, it’s helpful to create streamlined interview processes that make bias mitigation a norm.

Mary and her team leverage the Mathison platform to ensure everyone can easily access the same information about conducting interviews. “Anybody who's preparing to interview a candidate has one place to go that will provide them with questions that they can ask, what they can’t ask, and what’s against our core competencies or our values,” she says.

Hiring teams at Wasserman meet before speaking with a candidate to determine who will ask which questions. This helps avoid asking a candidate the same question multiple times and ensures each candidate receives the same comprehensive evaluation.

Danielle agrees that having a centralized place for education and interview preparation is useful — especially for people who aren’t in an HR or recruiting role. “If you're a software development engineer, you don't live and breathe this every day,” she says. “It's a good education and also very applicable.”

Unfortunately, even with the best intentions, hiring managers often walk away from interviews with some amount of bias, which can impact the lens through which they field and judge candidates’ work samples. To solve this issue, Danielle ensures each candidate is given the same sample assignment, the same amount of time to complete the sample, and then removes the candidate’s names from their work before delivering them to the hiring manager. 

Lead By Example

Additionally, both experts shared the need to hold themselves accountable and ensure senior leaders model the right behavior too.

“As the head of recruiting and the head of a really strong recruiting team, I know we’re the first in line, and it's up to us to continue to reinforce everything that we know is right,” Mary says. She also pointed out that it takes more than merely talking about doing the right thing to create change in any part of your hiring process — you also have to take action.

And if diversity, equity, and inclusion are goals for your organization, you can’t stay silent.

“​​My advice for leaders is if this is something you care about, but you're not openly talking about it, encouraging it, and modeling the work yourself, it's going to be really hard for it to take off,” Danielle says.

Ensure Everyone is Committed to Growing

Finally, it’s crucial that everyone in the organization is aligned on fair interviews and open to continually learning, growing, and doing better. After all, as human beings, we’re bound to make mistakes, and progress is not always linear. Instead, everyone must consciously work to avoid bias and learn from their pitfalls. 

And when you need a touchstone, Mary suggests looking to the famous quote by Maya Angelou: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“At the end of the day, it is about respect and dignity and integrity,” Mary says. “I want to make sure that that individual walking away, even if they don't get the job, that they feel good about that experience.”

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