Overcoming Bias In An Interview

Bias in job interviews occurs although it is rarely overt.  It is often quietly disguised in perceptions before the interview even occurs. Unfortunately, it is not easy to deal with; however, if you know what to look for and how to prepare to meet it head-on, you can overcome its negative effects.

Two types of interview questions- Laura Huang, the author of Edge:Turning Adversity Into Advantage, says there are two types of questions in an interview: promotional questions which are designed to assess opportunity, and prevention questions which are designed to measure risk.  

Promotional questions– An example of a promotional question is: ‘What does success look like to you?’.   These are the preferred type of questions because you can talk about your skills, talents, and strengths that promote you as a preferred employee.  I like to think of these questions as being on offense. You have the “ball” and are running to make a goal of presenting yourself as the preferred candidate.

Prevention questions– An example of a prevention question is: ‘What do you think your biggest barrier is to success?’. For a prevention question, you switch to defense.  Instead of promoting yourself and your qualifications, you have to defend why you would be a good employee. The prevention questions are likely to be biased questions you need to watch for carefully.

Uncovering reasons for biased questions- An interviewer’s job is to assess a job candidate’s fit for an organization. He or she may to come into the interview with pre-conceived notions of what the candidate will be like as an employee.  For example, if the applicant has an accent, the interviewer may test out the stereotype that the person is not a good communicator. The interviewer may ask a prevention type question such as ‘Tell me a time when your communication skills caused you to fail’.  Through this interview question, the employer is assessing the candidate’s communication skills and the potential risk they might pose to an organization’s success.

Understand what bias you may be facing- To handle bias in interviews, know what perceptions and stereotypes interviewers may have about you.  If you don’t know immediately, ask friends and colleagues.  Although this process may be unpleasant, it is better to be prepared before the interview than to be caught off-guard during the interview.  

Prepare stories of successes.  Think about all of your successes.  Pay special attention to the examples where you overcame possible negative perceptions.  Write your success examples down and practice telling stories about them.  In your story, tell about the challenge you had, the action you took to resolve the problem, and the final result.  Often people get so caught up in the story, they forget to give the final outcome, and that is the most important element in the story. 

Guide and redirect- When asked a prevention question, guide and redirect your answer to tell about a success story.  Going back to our example question of ‘Tell me a time when your communication skills caused you to fail’, an answer might be “I am glad that you asked that.  Early on in my career, I struggled with people not understanding my accent but then I learned how to make it work for me rather than against me.  For example, I was giving a presentation to my colleagues and they couldn’t understand my pronunciation of “enthusiastic” when it came out more as “oosiatic”.  I made a joke about it and everyone laughed.  It became a word for the team and now everyone is “oosiatic” about things that we are excited about.  We are even known as Team Oosiatic throughout the company and I have to say the whole situation brought the team closer together.”  In this example, the person acknowledged the accent, but redirected the answer to show how it used be used in a positive way to bring people together.  The answer flipped the perception of bias about the accent and instead, caused the interviewer to see the person’s communication skills in a positive light.

Face bias head-on It would be awesome to live in a world without negative bias, but until that time comes, prepare to confront it. “Remember, it takes courage, vulnerability, and humility to admit what you don’t know and experiment with new behaviors.”- Mikaelea Kiner

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Stacy Harshman

Stacy Harshman, founder of Your Fulfilling Life, brings her experience as a recruiter for a Fortune 500 corporation to her work as a career coach. In addition to helping people discover their passions, she also provides clients with insight into the mind of a recruiter, unlocking the secrets of what employers look for in potential employees. Stacy offers individual and group coaching in person and by phone to those seeking positive change in their professional lives.