What Is Interviewer Bias? (Plus Tips On How To Prevent It)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 14 March 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

The hiring process can be complex and time-consuming, and it is important for interviewers to ensure that they are objective, fair and accurate in their assessment of candidates. Due to human nature, several biases can influence the interviewer's judgement and decision. Learning about the different types of interview biases and how to minimise them can help you improve your interviewing and hiring skills. In this article, we define interviewer bias, discuss the various kinds of biases with examples and share some tips on reducing such biases while interviewing and recruiting candidates.

Related: 13 Useful Tips For Interviewers And Hiring Managers

What Is Interviewer Bias?

Interviewer bias refers to the preconceived assumptions, notions and ideas about a candidate that can influence the interviewer's decision. Interview bias can be of different types and cause hiring managers to include factors other than the candidate's qualification in their evaluation and decision-making process. Bias during interviews can be conscious, which means that the interviewer is aware of their perception of a candidate. It can also be unconscious, meaning the interviewer may not be aware of their assumptions.

When interviewers are biased, their expectations or opinions can influence their objective assessment of a candidate. For example, a well-groomed candidate can create a positive first impression, and the interviewer may feel a sense of affinity towards them compared to other candidates who may not be as well dressed or groomed. Similarly, if a candidate does not maintain eye contact during the interview, the interviewer may develop a negative impression and assume a lack of confidence.

Related: Step-By-Step Guide On How To Be A Good Interviewer

Types And Examples Of Interviewer Biases

Besides conscious and unconscious, here are some ways to categorise biases that interviewers can have:

Contrast effect bias

This type of bias can occur when an interviewer compares a candidate to someone who they interviewed immediately before them. For example, if a strong and qualified candidate appears after someone who is less qualified, it can make the skills and abilities of the second candidate seem overly impressive. In contrast, after interviewing a strong candidate, the hiring manager can become overly critical of the following candidates and overlook their achievements.

First impression bias

First impression bias is when the first perception of a candidate creates a strong impression on the interviewer. This type of bias can occur when the interviewer notices a candidate's appearance, behaviour or presentation, sometimes even before the interview begins. First impressions can have a lasting impact on the interviewer and may significantly influence the remainder of the interaction and even the hiring decision, so it is vital to create a positive first impression.

Related: Grooming For An Interview: A Comprehensive Guide (With Tips)

Generalisation bias

Generalisation bias can manifest when the interviewer meets a candidate during the interview and extends their behaviour to the candidate's overall personality, skills and outlook. This can limit the ways in which the interviewer identifies new or positive traits in the candidate. Generalisation bias usually negatively impacts the hiring decision, and it is crucial for hiring managers to be aware when they are exercising it.

Variable questioning bias

Interviewers may often change the questions they ask to different candidates. They might do this based on the conscious or unconscious perceptions and notions they generate of each candidate. When an interviewer poses different questions to different candidates, it can be the result of or lead to biases. Doing this can also create a non-uniform evaluation process which can be unfair to the objectivity and fairness of the entire process.

Related: 10 Interview Guidelines For Human Resources Professionals

Negative emphasis bias

When any negative information about the candidate creates a strong and lasting impression on the interviewer, it can result in negative emphasis bias. For example, if a hiring manager who does not approve of career breaks and sabbaticals interviews someone with a long career break on their resume, they might develop a negative bias towards the candidate even if the candidate meets all other job requirements and expectations. Negative emphasis bias can result in the interviewer overlooking the candidate's skills, achievements and qualifications owing to one piece of negative information.

Confirmation bias

This is when the interviewer only acknowledges information that supports their preconceived notions and stereotypes about the candidate. Subconsciously, the interviewer may begin asking or framing questions differently to elicit a response they wish to hear. This type of bias can limit the interviewer's ability to adequately assess a candidate's capability and make impartial hiring decisions.

Nonverbal bias

Nonverbal communication such as body language, posture and hand gestures can be an essential factor in the candidate evaluation process. When a candidate's nonverbal cues create a positive or negative impression on the interviewer, they might get unduly influenced in their decision-making. This type of bias can make a false impression that the candidate has an overconfident, loud, timid, shy or impressive personality.

Recency bias

Hiring managers usually interview several candidates during the day, and it can be difficult to remember all the details and information from interactions. Remembering the details and responses of a recent interview can be easier, which can result in recency bias. Due to this bias, recently interviewed candidates can seem stronger and better qualified than earlier ones.

Related: What Are Recruiter Skills? (Plus How To Improve Them)

Similarity bias

Interviewers and candidates can discuss similar hobbies, perspectives, traits or attitudes during the interaction. Identifying shared similarities can influence the interviewer's perception, and they may unduly focus on these commonalities when deciding the interview's outcome. When similarities between the interviewer and the candidate influence the hiring decision rather than the candidate's qualifications, it is called similarity bias.

Stereotyping bias

Stereotyping bias can occur when interviewers evaluate a candidate based on perceived or imagined characteristics rather than their actual individual traits. When the interviewer's perception is stereotypical or assumptive, they may evaluate candidates using the same outlook.

For example, if an interviewer realises that the candidate is from a premium business school or has worked at a top consulting company, they may become positively biased towards them. This can result from a stereotype they may perpetrate about individuals who study at certain institutions or work at specific companies. This type of bias can result in the interviewer overlooking the candidate's actual skills and achievements and making erroneous hiring decisions.

Related: 13 Essential And Useful Interview Tips For The Interviewer

How To Reduce This Bias?

Here are some steps that hiring managers and interviewers can follow while hiring for different roles to reduce their conscious and unconscious bias:

1. Be mindful of the hiring goals and the position

Review the hiring goals, job description and requirements before each interview to remind yourself what to look for in candidates. Doing this can make you aware of your biases and follow more objective interviewing techniques during the interaction. If possible, create a framework of different soft skills, technical skills and personality traits you wish the candidate to possess and refer to this framework throughout the interview.

Related: What Is A Structured Interview? (With Example Questions)

2. Recruit diverse candidates

Hiring candidates from different backgrounds and sources can help increase the diversity of the talent pool and help you reduce unconscious bias. Use different strategies to find relevant candidates through job listing websites, social media and referrals. Similarly, inviting candidates from different locations, age groups, academic institutions or communities for an interview can effectively avoid similarity, stereotyping and first impression biases.

3. Involve multiple interviewers

Ask several interviewers to participate in the hiring process to reduce the impact of one person's biases. Create specific questions that each interviewer can ask the candidate to ensure uniform evaluation. If possible, divide the interview process across different steps and days to reduce the influence of first impression, generalisation and stereotyping biases.

Related: What Are Interviewer Skills? (With Tips And Suggestions)

4. Create specific and open-ended questions

Before interviewing multiple candidates, create a set of standardised, structured, specific and open-ended questions. Share these questions with all interviewers and a guide on what to evaluate in candidate responses. Fixed open-ended questions can give candidates more opportunities to discuss their skills, work experience and achievements, which can help alleviate variable questioning bias.

Related: 7 Types Of Interview Methods With Advantages And Tips

5. Reduce unrelated or personal discussions

Try to focus on discussing the job role and the candidate's qualifications in an interview setting. Avoid discussing topics such as personal hobbies, news developments or politics to avoid getting unduly influenced. This can reduce the similarity bias and help you assess the candidate's qualifications with higher objectivity.

6. Schedule candidate interviews in small groups

Avoid conducting too many interviews in a single day. Schedule interviews with adequate time for breaks in between to focus on other tasks. If the candidate pool is extremely big, organise them in groups of four or five and schedule interviews on different days. This can help limit recency and contrast effect bias.

Related: How To Create An Interview Template (With Tips And Example)

7. Take comprehensive notes

If the interview process continues for several days and you interview multiple candidates, take detailed notes about each candidate, their qualifications, responses and abilities. If possible, create an evaluation matrix to assess candidate skills uniformly and consistently. Besides reducing recency and contrast effect bias, doing so can help you remember important information and observations about different candidates long after the interaction occurs.

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