How To Beat Interviewer Bias

Contrary to popular belief, interviewers are just like you or me; just as prone to bias as the next person. Despite their bad reputation, biases are actually helpful and make perfect sense from an evolutionary viewpoint. They arise because we use rules of thumb to govern our decision making so we can make choices efficiently. Rather than re-analysing things from first principles, we take to using shortcuts.

OK, science aside, what can you do about it? Surely there is no way to counteract this? On the contrary! Being aware of potential judgments heading your way and pre-empting them means you can stop them in their tracks, or even better, use them to your advantage!

We’ll now take you through some common types of interview bias felt by students and graduates on the job hunt and show you what you can do about them.

Let the mind games begin!

The first impression bias

This is the fancy name given to the effect associated with that all important first impression. It’s often said that interviewers make their mind up about whether they want to hire you within 3 minutes of meeting you. We’re not sure how much truth there is in that, but first impressions are certainly important!

Temporary nervousness at the start of an interview will make you speak rapidly, avoid the interviewer’s eye contact and, of course, sweat. Although nerves usually subside within 15 minutes of an interview, the damage may be already done.

What to do:

Don’t leave the first few minutes to chance! No matter how nervous you feel on the outside, you can’t let it show. Fake it till you make it! Enter with a strong handshake, a confident manner, and of course, a smile!

The beauty bias

It’s not fair, it’s not right, but job candidates who are more physically attractive stand more chance of being successful in interviews. Unfortunately, research in cognitive psychology suggests that job candidates who are more attractive physically have substantially higher odds of being hired. Ouch.

What to do:

This is why it is so important to be looking at your absolute best. While you can’t control everything about the way you look, there are some things you can do to help yourself. Make sure your hair is neat and tidy, choose flattering clothing and make the best of what your mamma gave you!

The mini-me bias

Research has shown that interviewers have an unconscious tendency to favour people who are similar to themselves. They look for mini-me protégés that they can train up. Narcissistic yes, but true.

What to do:

Good news, there are several things you can do about this kind of bias:

Find something you have in common with your interviewer. If you have the name of the interviewer, research them beforehand. Google them and look them up on LinkedIn. So it’s a little creepy, sure, but it’s all in the name of securing a job, so it’s OK! Just make sure you don’t let it slip to the interviewer!

If you don’t have the name of your interviewer, make sure you do extra research on the company culture. By aligning yourself with the culture and ethos of the company, you’ll be able to convince the employer that you will easily assimilate with their existing colleagues and they will start to visualise you in the team. As well as finding things in common with your interviewer, a great way to develop automatic rapport is to mirror the interviewer’s behaviour, body language and use of language. (Subtlely of course!)

The halo bias

This is a great one. The "halo effect" is a type of bias in which the interviewer takes one of your key attributes/achievements and positively generalises about the rest of your skills and experiences based on this! For example, ‘Jenna is great at working in a team; she must therefore be highly analytical and creative too.

What to do:

Always prepare examples that show you excel in the key qualities or skills required for the role. If the job specification indicates that business acumen is important for example, make sure you have an interesting anecdote up your sleeve about a time you demonstrated real enterprise. Once you’ve impressed them with that, hopefully the halo effect will do the rest for you!

The stereotyping bias

We’re all guilty of making snap judgments about somebody now and again and interviewers are no different. You might have an Arts degree in Creative Writing but it doesn't necessarily follow that you’re hopeless at budgeting with zero commercial sense. How can you overcome the interviewer’s preconceived ideas about your abilities then?

What to do:

Think about what employers might unfairly assume about you and be prepared to prove them wrong! A good way to combat stereotyping without directly accusing your interviewer of it is to say upfront that it’s something you fall victim to now and again. E.g. ‘People see that I have an Arts degree and so extrapolate from that, that I have no commercial sense but my experiences in x, y and z clearly disproves this.’

The self-fulfilling prophecy bias

This bias is when an employer makes an initial judgement about you (good or bad) and subconsciously looks for ways to prove themselves right when they meet you at the interview. Of course, this is all well and good if they get a good feeling about you right from the get go, but really tricky to overcome if their first reaction to you is unfavourable.

What to do:

Try turning something that they perceive to be a negative into a positive. Yes, you are young and inexperienced in the industry but that makes you great at thinking outside the box! The most important thing here is not to give into their preconceived ideas about you. Don’t admit defeat in the face of stubborn opposition! Address any negative biases you feel the interviewer has towards you and show them just how eager you are to prove them wrong!

Related content -

5 Questions You Should Ask The Interviewer
How To Answer Killer Interview Questions Part 1


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