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“Diversity Hiring Without Compromise” Requires Eliminating Interviewer Bias

Developing a hiring process that opens the talent pool to everyone who’s qualified to do the work regardless of race, gender, age, physical challenges or sexual preference without compromising ability, performance and potential.

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A wordy but worthy description of the “Diversity Hiring Without Compromise” initiative: 

Developing a hiring process that opens the talent pool to everyone who’s qualified to do the work regardless of race, gender, age, physical challenges or sexual preference without compromising ability, performance and potential.

While this is a big and important goal that involves reengineering a company’s entire hiring process, it still won’t be enough. The problem is that even after a diverse candidate gets past all of the initial filters and screening, as soon as the interviewer meets the person, things will go badly. Especially if the person makes a weak first impression, is a little nervous or just doesn’t look right. In this case the person is assumed to be incompetent and the interviewer looks for facts to confirm his/her instant response and ignores any subsequent positive information. The exact opposite happens when the person’s first impression is positive. Eliminating bias starts by doing the exact opposite of what we normally do. In this case, it’s assuming those we don’t like are actually the most competent and those we do like, aren’t. While this will temporarily ensure objectivity, determining actual competency comes next. 

Long ago I learned how to overcome interviewing bias by accident when asked to interview someone the company was considering for a short-term consulting assignment. The person came highly referred but I was instantly put off by his appearance, age and accent. Regardless, since we weren’t going to be best friends or even work together too long, none of this mattered. After spending an hour with the person digging into his major accomplishments, I realized he was extremely competent to handle the job. More important, I was dumbfounded that I barely noticed his accent, his appearance was far better than I first thought, and I realized his age had nothing to do with his ability. As important, I was looking forward to working with him on the project. 

It’s now 40+ years later and I’m still using this basic approach to reduce bias and increase assessment accuracy. It starts by recognizing your first impression bias when you first meet someone, forcing objectivity by doing the opposite of what comes naturally, assuming competency to begin with, and then using a structured assessment process emphasizing past performance doing comparable work. Here are some more details about this important approach for evaluating everybody accurately and without bias.  

Use Past Performance to Control Bias and Objectively Predict Future Job Success

  1. By defining the performance objectives of the job before you start interviewing candidates there’s less of a chance that you’ll substitute your own biases to decide competency and fit. 
  2. Wait at least 30 minutes into the interview before making any yes, no or maybe hiring decision. Following this rule will help get you through these first treacherous 30 minutes: Use the interview to collect the evidence needed to make the yes/no/maybe hiring decision; don’t make it during the interview.
  3. Invite Sherlock Holmes into the interview with you. This is actually a totally new way to interview candidates by seeking evidence of how the candidate’s former managers and co-workers evaluated the person’s technical and team skills.  
  4. Conduct a semi-scripted three-part interview consisting of a work history review, digging deeply into the person’s major job-related accomplishments and conducting a give-and-take problem-solving session around the most important performance objective. 
  5. Conduct an exploratory phone screen first before meeting any candidate onsite using a shortened version of the above. This saves time by only inviting prequalified candidates onsite. This will naturally reduce first impression bias when first meeting since you already know something about the person.  
  6. Measure first impression at the end of the interview. At the end of the interview it’s okay to objectively evaluate how the person’s first impression will impact on-the-job performance. This post-mortem approach will also reveal your own biases. 
  7. Make the assessment public by having everyone share their evidence in a live and formal debriefing session using this type of talent scorecard to guide the conversation. Biased and superficial evidence is quickly revealed this way.

While I suspect you’ll be equally dumbfounded using this process, more importantly, you’ll stop making hiring mistakes due to bias and start hiring people based on their ability. That’s what the “Diversity Hiring Without Compromise” initiative is all about. And it’s about time.

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