06Sep

First impressions count: how can you overcome interviewer bias?


Historically we find September to be one of our busiest interviewing and job placing months, so it’s imperative for us that our candidates are well prepared and have all their bases covered. And although the interview process should be completely unbiased, it is still found that pre-conceived opinions form within the first 90 seconds of meeting someone for the first time. Take a look at some of the strategies we’ve formulated for reducing the risk of an interviewer’s snap judgements working against you when you first meet.

1) Get off to a good start

Never underestimate the importance of making a favourable first impression. Research shows that interviewers are swayed by how people dress, act and walk through the door – and that many managers make a hiring decision within the first 90 seconds of meeting you.

Eye contact, a firm handshake, conservative rather than fashionable clothes, good posture and a smile all count in your favour. Don’t leave the first few seconds to chance. Ask a friend to assess the impression you make, which is ideally one of poise and polish rather than visible anxiety or over-confidence. Don’t neglect your exit either. You might be relieved that it’s all over, but remember professional courtesies and end positively with thanks and a handshake.

2) Find areas in common

Likeability plays an important part in hiring decisions. Find something in common with your interviewer as a conversation starter. If you have similar interests, areas of knowledge or career paths, use this to create and build rapport.

3) Brighten your halo

The “halo effect” is a type of bias where if you score highly on one aspect – for example, if you’re perceived to have great communication skills – you’re also considered to be good at everything else, such as analytical skills or business acumen. Make sure you prepare career stories ahead of the interview that show you excel in the key qualities or skills required for the role.

Be memorable for the right reasons. Think of the two or three of the most important things that you want the interviewer to associate you with. For example, “The candidate who set up a business at university that made £10,000 in its first year,” or, “the candidate who quietly re-organised the pub kitchen to eliminate order mix-ups and helped to double repeat business.”

4) Tackle assumptions

Pre-empt any red flag areas that might cause doubts in the interviewer’s mind. These may be gaps in your CV, or the reason you left an employer. Prepare answers to these types of questions so that you can answer them convincingly.

Negative stereotypes can be another problem area. For example, one hiring manager assumed that a candidate wouldn’t be right for a telephone sales position as his background was in maths – “not the right skills set”. The candidate failed to make eye contact during the interview, and the author decided it was “obvious that he lacked the social skills to build relationships with clients.” This was wrong as the role was for telesales. After the second interview and a job offer, the candidate ended up being the best sales person on their team.

This is a perfect example of bias: interviewers see what they want to see, and don’t see what doesn’t match their expectations. Think about what an interviewer might wrongly assume about you – for example that as an arts graduate you don’t have any commercial awareness – and be prepared to prove all your strengths and attributes.

5) Guide the interview

You may need to subtly move the conversation on to areas where you can highlight your strengths and suitability for the role. “That reminds me of when I….” or, “If that happened to me, I’d probably have…” can introduce success stories you want the interviewer to remember about you, or illustrate how you think or solve problems.

6) Welcome panel interviews and assessment days

A group interview may mitigate the risk of individual bias creeping in. You’re also more likely to experience a fairer process in structured interviews, where each candidate is asked the same question, and assessment days, where a team evaluates you on your performance in work simulations.

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