First impressions count: how can you overcome interviewer bias?
Interviews are not always objective and fair, so here are some strategies for reducing the risk of an interviewer's snap judgements working against you.
Get off to a good startNever underestimate the importance of making a favourable first impression. Research shows that interviewers are swayed by how people dress, act and walk through the door – and that many managers make a hiring decision within the first 90 seconds of meeting you.
Eye contact, a firm handshake, conservative rather than fashionable clothes, good posture and a smile all count in your favour. Don't leave the first few seconds to chance. Ask a friend to assess the impression you make, which is ideally one of poise and polish rather than visible anxiety or over-confidence. Don't neglect your exit either. You might be relieved that it's all over, but remember professional courtesies and end positively with thanks and a handshake.
Find areas in commonLikeability plays an important part in hiring decisions. Find something in common with your interviewer as a conversation starter. If you have similar interests, areas of knowledge or career paths, use this to create and build rapport.
Brighten your haloThe "halo effect" is a type of bias where if you score highly on one aspect – for example, if you're perceived to have great communication skills – you're also considered to be good at everything else, such as analytical skills or business acumen. Make sure you prepare career stories ahead of the interview that show you excel in the key qualities or skills required for the role.
Be memorable for the right reasons. Think of the two or three of the most important things that you want the interviewer to associate you with. For example, "The candidate who set up a business at university that made £10,000 in its first year," or, "the candidate who quietly re-organised the pub kitchen to eliminate order mix-ups and helped to double repeat business."
Tackle assumptionsPre-empt any red flag areas that might cause doubts in the interviewer's mind. These may be gaps in your CV, or the reason you left an employer. Prepare answers to these types of questions so that you can answer them convincingly.
Negative stereotypes can be another problem area. For example, one hiring manager assumed that a candidate wouldn't be right for a telephone sales position as his background was in maths – "not the right skills set". The candidate failed to make eye contact during the interview, and the author decided it was "obvious that he lacked the social skills to build relationships with clients." This was wrong as the role was for telesales. After the second interview and a job offer, the candidate ended up being the best sales person on their team.
This is a perfect example of bias: interviewers see what they want to see, and don't see what doesn't match their expectations. Think about what an interviewer might wrongly assume about you – for example that as an arts graduate you don't have any commercial awareness – and be prepared to prove all your strengths and attributes.