iStock_000019535463webBy David Allen,

Everyone does it.  We make assumptions (and you know what they say about assumptions!); then we use those assumptions to make decisions.  Sometimes we are lucky and everything works out fine; sometimes we are wrong – dead wrong.

This happens during the interview process…usually (according to Monster) within the initial 30 minutes when the candidate and hiring manager first meet in person.  As hiring managers, we attempt to mix what we know about an applicant on paper with the person sitting in front of us.  Sometimes we make judgments quickly – sometimes too quickly, based on 1 or 2 comments or actions, or simply by looking at a candidate.

Stereotypes, Biases, Preconceptions…Oh, my….

We all carry prejudices and stereotypes in our head.  The accuracy, validity and/or righteousness of those feelings are beyond the scope of this blog, which is simply trying to help you to identify stereotypes and negate their effects during the interview.   

Some of the more common stereotypes include:

  • Applicants’ appearance makes him/her seem unable to do the job.
  • Applicants’ age indicates that they will (not) be technically savvy.
  • “Shy” applicants will not perform well on the job.
  • “Macho” female applicants should learn to be more feminine.
  • Older workers will have health issues.

What Can You Do?

As the hiring manager, it is your responsibility to minimize any/all stereotypes during the interview process.  Remember, your goal is to find the best-fit candidate…not the one with the right hairstyle or the one who is the right age.  Some steps you can take are:

  • Create an accurate job description and then use it as the basis for your interview.  Interviewers who go into an interview “cold” are more likely to make stereotypical judgments about candidates than interviewers who have detailed information about the job.
  • Identify your individual scope and work with all interviewers to identify the scope of their individual interviews.  What topics and areas of interest do each of them want to cover?  What questions do they want to ask?  Outline their interview, and help them focus on only asking interview- related questions.  These questions should be:
    • Reflective of the job and tied to the competencies laid out in that (well-written) job description
    • Open-ended
    • Clear and concise and free of industry or company jargon
  • Train, train, train.  The truth is that many interviewers are inexperienced and unable to conduct effective interviews. Work with all your managers so that everyone is trained on a variety of interview strategies and tactics, including how to avoid stereotyping applicants.
  • During the interview:
    • Heed’s advice of the 30 minute window. Vow never to make a hiring decision within those first 30 minutes. Revisit your impressions after they have expired. According to Monster, about 1/3 of candidates will appear stronger, 1/3 will appear weaker and 1/3 will appear the same.
    • Focus on comparable accomplishments.  Ask questions that allow you to write (and later compare) concrete, results-oriented achievements.

You Can Be Stereotyped Too

Remember, interviewing is a two-way street.  While you are evaluating applicants, they are also evaluating you.  First impressions are crucial – for both you and the person sitting across from you.  No one wants to be negatively stereotyped.  Superficial factors such as clothing, hairstyle, or the fact that you are both alumni from the same college should be avoided.  Even interviewers can be pegged into the same stereotypes that everyone looks to avoid….intimidating, aggressive, condescending.

Keep Perspective

Don’t write off a bad first impression as a deal-breaker. First impressions are simply that – first impressions.  Making assumptions about the way the candidate is dressed (did they have to take off time from their current job and therefore are dressed according to that dress code?) or any other superficial element could mean that you are walking away from a “Peyton Manning” of your industry.

If you are in doubt, dig deeper.  Bring the candidate back in for the second more in-depth interview.  Invite them to shadow you or one of their potential peers around the office.   Work to figure out if that nagging issue is truly relevant to the position or is just a stereotype/bias/prejudice.  If it is the latter, then let it go and move forward.


NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.