Diversity & Inclusion, Recruiting, Technology

Subconscious Bias in Virtual Interviews

With the move toward virtual interviews, hiring managers have to be careful to avoid not only the biases they might encounter during an in-person interview but also a whole new set of potential biases when interviewing someone in their home environment.

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All of us have been influenced by a variety of factors that form who we are and how we view the world and the people in it. These factors include our families, friends, and communities and our cultural, geographic, and socioeconomic upbringing. Our gender, age, and race contribute to our views, as well. 

These influencing factors have inevitably formed a “comfort zone,” where we have inherent biases and motivators to act, behave, and think a certain way. Unfortunately, this leads us to draw conclusions about others that are not always fair or accurate, often without realizing we are doing so, regardless of how good our intentions may be. This defines subconscious bias.

No two people share the same influencing factors, so we are all guilty of subconscious bias when we meet new people. This includes meeting candidates in interviews. The potential negative impact of these biases is often increased when we do not have the chance to meet a candidate in person and instead do so over video in a “virtual” interview. 

While virtual interview tools are powerful enablers, especially in the current climate created by COVID, hiring leaders, HR professionals, and candidates alike must be aware of the potential for subconscious biases in virtual interviews.

A Unique Look into Candidates’ Lives

Over video, interviewers are getting a unique glimpse into “what’s behind the candidate,” literally and figuratively, which often includes a view of home environments. Biases on home life and personal lifestyle choices, including choosing to display a piece of artwork on a wall, can be viewed as distractions or unfair evaluative considerations.

There are other factors that can be revealed, such as socioeconomic status, whether there are children in the household, the presence of a disability, or other protected class information. As a hiring manager, you don’t need to or even want to know these things. You may be presented with them anyway, and you have to know how to handle them.

There are several risks to a hiring organization when allowing subconscious bias to occur. Organizations that don’t appropriately reflect their customer base and the communities they are a part of not only risk increased turnover, lower employee engagement, and reputational issues but also are missing a real business opportunity to positively impact their company’s bottom line. 

What should organizations do to prevent subconscious bias in virtual interviewing? First, executives must display their focus on the issue through their own behaviors and, ultimately, their hiring decisions. Additionally, those doing the hiring, including HR professionals, must be on guard for subconscious bias and own the issue while leading the effort to find solutions.

Second, education is critical. Training helps interviewers understand the concept of subconscious bias and adjust as needed. Helping people understand there are differences, and those differences can be leveraged as an advantage to the business, ties together doing “the right thing” with doing what is right for the company. 

Keep the Interview Process Structured

Finally, the interview process itself needs structure and discipline, which are often difficult to achieve in a virtual environment. Use structured interview templates with multiple interviewers. Asking each candidate many of the same questions during the interview process ensures candidates are being treated similarly and makes the debrief with the larger team a more straightforward process. Also, interviewers should ensure they are gathering evaluative data that are measurable and standardized. 

Many assessment and “organizational fit” tools exist to help organizations achieve this consistency and objectivity in their recruitment process. At Kingsley Gate Partners, we leverage a cloud-based mobile app that helps hiring leaders and candidates better understand their personal motivators and how strongly they lean toward certain behaviors or beliefs to ensure that a good fit exists between both parties.

Addressing subconscious bias in hiring is critical as we continue to navigate this pandemic. To do so, leadership will need to take ownership of the issue and develop solutions. Those who do will realize a positive impact on their culture and bottom line.

Mike Bergen is a Senior Partner and the Global Practice Leader, Human Resources Practice with Kingsley Gate Partners. Bergen brings almost 20 years of experience in executive search and an additional decade as a corporate Human Resources professional prior to his executive search career. An expert in the HR talent market with a deep understanding of evolving talent expectations across the entire C-suite, he has placed executives and professionals across all industries, geographies, and functional areas. Bergen is committed to developing a consultative relationship with each of his clients and prides himself on the long-term partnerships he has built with premier organizations and leaders. Respected for his contributions to the advancement of the HR profession, Bergen is a current advisory board member for CHREATE (The Global Consortium to Reimagine HR, Employment Alternatives, Talent, and the Enterprise).

Meghan Cullen is a Director with Kingsley Gate Partners. In her role, Cullen is responsible for executing on senior level searches across multiple functions and industries. She began her search career at Korn/Ferry, a large publicly traded executive search firm, where she focused on placement of executives in financial services organizations. Directly prior to joining Kingsley Gate Partners, Cullen led talent acquisition, talent management, and employee relations for a prominent real estate development company in New York. Earlier in her career, she was a practicing litigator with a focus on professional liability and insurance defense. She earned her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and Sociology from the University of Vermont with honors and her Juris Doctor from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Meghan is based in the Kingsley Gate Partners’ New York location.

Greer Hopkins is a Director with Kingsley Gate Partners who works with a broad cross-section of clients across Technology, HealthTech, Life Sciences, and Professional Services. Hopkins specializes in conducting assignments across the Board and C-Suite, including CEOs, COOs, functional leaders, managing directors, and practice heads. Previously, Hopkins was a civil litigation attorney with Zipkin Whiting Co. where she focused on employment law matters, representing clients in cases involving companies ranging from Fortune 500 and family-owned to government agencies and municipalities. A graduate of Allegheny College, she earned her master’s degree from Purdue University and received her J.D. degree from Case Western Reserve University. Hopkins was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 2006 and she works out of the Kingsley Gate Partners’ Cleveland location.