How to reduce interviewer bias: 7 lessons from a hiring pro
Job interviews are the most decisive form of candidate assessment. But when personal assumptions come into play, even the most skilled hiring teams can make mistakes. The best Talent Ops professionals know this and work to eliminate bias in their processes. In a world of remote hiring, it’s an ongoing struggle to stay aware of our own assumptions: Video interviews have introduced new avenues for bias, like rambunctious kids in the background or poor lighting that makes a home look small or run-down.
Leaders in inclusive hiring take steps to increase their awareness and put measures in place to counteract unconscious bias. Intentional, standardized practices are key to achieving any meaningful change in terms of diversity.
We talked to En-Szu Hu-Van Wright, Talent Ops Manager at SaaS company Chili Piper, to see what that vigilance looks like for her team. Chili Piper recently launched an inclusive interviewing initiative that holds participants accountable for creating a fair evaluation process, and the company has already seen more equitable outcomes.
Here’s how you can follow Chili Piper’s model to remove interviewer bias and find the right candidate for every position.
1. Identify bias and train interviewers to counteract it
Unconscious bias is good at slipping under the radar. Your company needs a system that tracks outcomes in a way that surfaces inequities. Then you need a way to address the problem.
En-Szu relies on Gem’s diversity tools, including Pipeline Analytics, to identify areas for improvement. Chili Piper’s inclusive interviewing initiative started because Gem showed that marginalized candidates were disproportionately exiting the hiring process at the interview stage, despite having a strongly representative pool of candidates at the application phase.
This problem wasn’t one Chili Piper’s Talent Operations team could fix on its own. The department launched two training workshops for everyone involved in interviewing candidates. The first, “Interviewing 101,” covers what bias is and how it shows up in interviews. Hiring managers receive further training that walks them through identifying the skills a candidate needs and assessing them fairly and accurately.
“So many people came back to our team afterward and said, ‘I didn’t realize asking this question was distracting from what we’re actually looking for. What else am I missing?’” En-Szu shared. “It was a learning moment for our team as well. We realized we have to actually establish a baseline of knowledge.”
En-Szu believes the self-guided workshop format her team used worked because it allowed people to interact and learn by doing. Another key to an effective educational process: Not allowing managers to skip out. Chili Piper’s Talent Ops team requires all new hiring managers to complete training before they can begin hiring.
2. Define the job, not the person
Fair hiring starts with job descriptions that are based on skills (ability to communicate complex ideas quickly and effectively; ability to adapt to changing requirements) rather than personality traits or certifications (outgoing; Scrum Master). Managers should create documentation for each role on their team that lays out the traits and competencies necessary for the position.
Chili Piper uses career growth SaaS tool Progression to document the required skills and competencies in each role throughout the company. Managers use results-based statements to define what is expected, what an employee owns, and what they are responsible for. This framework makes it easy to pinpoint the skills and experience a strong candidate needs.
The Talent Ops team depends on ProgressionApp to guide the hiring process. “During our kickoff calls, we walk through all those skills with the hiring manager and create candidate scorecards together,” En-Szu says. “Managers can’t launch a new job unless their role is in ProgressionApp first. It’s our way of accurately measuring success, and ensuring we’re only measuring for those criteria and not anything else.”
3. Standardize your interviews
Every interviewee for a specific role should go through the same process so they can be evaluated fairly. En-Szu audited Chili Piper’s interview flow and realized it needed to be standardized and streamlined.
The first benefit of this overhaul was a less strenuous process. “We’ve been able to combine interviews. We used to have two technical interviews and asked, ‘Can those skills be assessed in one?’ Actually, yes,” she says. “And if we had multiple people assessing for the same objective things, let’s have one person assess for all of it. So it’s just one interview instead of three. And then we can rotate amongst three people.” The changes have also reduced time-to-hire, a plus in today’s competitive job market.
Every interview process now starts with a discussion between Talent Ops and the hiring manager who will be evaluating certain skills. The two create candidate scorecards to serve as interview guides so each participant knows the goal of their questions.
We asked whether her team enforced the standard structured interview process of asking each candidate the same set of questions in the same order. “All that we ask is that the question is achieving the same goal,” En-Szu says. “There is a level of trust that needs to go into this when you’re working with a hiring manager. It’s worked a lot better in the rollout because people still feel like, ‘Okay, I’m having an organic conversation.’”
4. Use a rubric and take detailed notes
Your note-taking system should also be standardized to help your team compare interviewees fairly. Anyone who conducts interviews at Chili Piper takes notes on their candidate scorecard in real-time. This is the best way to make sure interviewers have accurate takeaways, and that they’re assessing the right skills rather than making judgments based on small talk.
Scorecards also provide a record of the interview, including any deviations from approved topics. “If we see in the notes that it doesn’t look like the interviewer evaluated a certain attribute, or they went off-script a little bit and assessed something different than they put in the notes, or there’s information that we haven’t seen elsewhere,” En-Szu says, “then that’s a conversation we can then have with the hiring manager.”
5. Give sample work assignments
Use sample projects or assignments to learn how good each candidate is at working rather than how good they are at interviewing. En-Szu knows interview questions can only reveal so much about someone. Projects that are tailored to the position and its core requirements allow interviewers to see how candidates work and make it easy to compare interviewees’ performance.
Be careful not to require too much, though. “We won’t ask people to do free labor for us,” En-Szu says. “It’s more to see how people handle a problem or a situation. So give them two hours and say, here’s a problem. How would you approach it? For a more technical interview, it might be a live coding exercise.”
Include the project on your candidate scorecards to help interviewers assess them fairly. This is especially true if you’re looking at the process as much as the results—your team should know exactly what to look for in the moment.
6. Justify your decisions
Your team should be able to clearly explain why each candidate is (or is not) moving forward in your process. Hiring managers should refer to the skills and grading criteria on the filled-out scorecards—and nothing else—to identify the best candidates. Chili Piper’s scorecards lay out “what’s a strong yes, what’s a yes, what’s a no, and what’s a strong no” to help with decision-making.
An unforeseen benefit of this change, according to En-Szu, is a better experience for both candidates and the Talent Operations team. “If someone is exiting the pipeline, we can tell them why,” she says. “We don’t have recruiters constantly hitting up hiring managers asking, ‘Why is this person not making it?’ because they already have all that information.”
7. Realize removing interviewer bias is an ongoing process
Implementing practices to improve equity won’t help if accountability isn’t an explicit (and foundational) part of your interview process. That means making sure hiring managers and Talent Ops professionals follow the guidelines and watching to see whether the changes are actually making a difference.
En-Szu uses Gem for a high-level view of Chili Piper’s pipeline, and she’s encouraged by the results so far. “We have seen people moving through the process a lot more equitably, which is really exciting. But, you know, you have to keep a really close watch.”
All of Chili Piper’s candidates are asked for feedback to help improve the company’s interview process. Some candidates shared they wanted to know more about the benefits before the offer stage. En-Szu’s team added benefit overviews and videos earlier in the process to keep them informed. Along with keeping candidates excited, this step signals to those who may have specific needs—flexibility to support parenting responsibilities, good health insurance—that Chili Piper wants them on the team.
Reducing interviewer bias can have a ripple-effect
Removing interviewer bias isn’t just an end in itself. It’s also key to hiring the right people for your team. En-Szu’s work at Chili Piper has empowered hiring managers to make better decisions so the company can thrive. Hiring managers don’t spend as much time on interviews. There are more educational opportunities available to everyone in the company. And as a bonus, the adoption of ProgressionApp has helped current employees have clarity in what is expected of them, and find opportunities for development whether within their current team or on other teams.
En-Szu and her team have plenty of new ideas based on what they’ve learned. They’re planning to build on the visible impact of their hiring workshops to launch diversity-focused initiatives. “Once people get here, we’ll be able to support them, too,” she says.
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