October 13, 2016

Is this the Way to Remove Bias in Hiring?

Business Insider reported on a presentation by Kennedy School Professor Iris Bohnet at the Financial Times Women at the Top Conference in London. She spoke about decreasing bias in hiring.

Bias is a real problem, and not just for candidates who are disadvantaged by it. Bias is a problem for employers, who can end up passing on superior candidates when unrecognized bias leads to selection of the wrong person. That hurts the bottom line.

The article quotes Bohnet:

“Panel interviews (when a candidate sits across from a line of interviewers) need to stop,” said Prof. Bohnet, who is also the author of “What Works: Gender Equality By Design.”

“Why? — These three people will not come up with independent assessments of the candidate. They will influence each other, so you are wasting that person’s time. You should do separate interviews to form your own opinion.

“You should in every interview make sure you ask the same questions, in the same order, and rank each answer.”

I can get behind her recommendation to end panel interviewing. I’ve never liked them anyway, but for an entirely different reason — they tend to feel like an inquisition, and result in conversations that don’t reveal any useful information about the candidate.

I couldn’t disagree more with her suggestion that every interviewer ask the same questions in the same order. If that tactic eliminates bias, it will do so at the cost of making the interview pointless. Asking a list of set questions turns the interviewer into an automaton, and destroys the opportunity to engage the candidate in spontaneous discussion, which is where the most valuable information is always uncovered.

That’s not to mention the fact that this process will repel candidates. Making prospective employees sit through a stream of identical interviews will drive them crazy, and give the impression that the employer is rigid and bureaucratic. Who wants to work for a company like that?

Eliminating bias is the right thing to do, both for people and for the bottom line. But this isn’t the way to do it.

of Praise

What differentiates Mike is his effort to understand the role and the company before he starts the search. This gave him the insight to attract qualified and interested candidates. He did a fantastic job keeping me, and our CEO, aware of his progress along the way. Most importantly the search was a success.

— David Lester, VP, Global Human Resources, Taconic Biosciences