Blog Post

Mitigate Bias in the Interview Process with These Three Steps

By Stefanie McNamara
April 7, 2022

Over the past two years, there has been an increased focus on bolstering the recruitment and hiring practices of underrepresented talent (URT). These efforts are well intentioned, yet many organizations are still facing obstacles. Even organizations that take the necessary steps toward building inclusive cultures for all (i.e., provide unconscious bias training and workshops for all employees, implement sponsorship/mentorship programs, invest in Employee Resource Groups, and more) are struggling. It is challenging to find and hire from diverse interview slates and to be intentional about presenting a diverse group of candidates for vacant positions.  

“At Diversity Best Practices (DBP), we hear a lot from our members on the topic of inclusive interviewing and mitigating bias in the interview process,” says Megan Pierouchakos, Senior Director of DBP at Seramount and talent lifecycle expert. “Recruiters are working hard to present a diverse slate of candidates, and they may make it to the interview stage; however, those individuals are often not the final candidates selected. Organizations are trying to understand why by taking a closer look at the unintentional biases that often creep into the hiring process.” 

Research by Harvard Business Review found that when the final candidate pool has only one candidate from an underrepresented group, he or she has virtually no chances of being hired. If there are at least two female candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a female candidate are 79 times greater. If there are least two candidates from underrepresented groups in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a diverse candidate are 194 times greater. This methodology is referred to as the “two in the pool effect.”  

Requiring diverse candidate slates that include a proportionate number of both women and diverse candidates who are presented for interviewing is one of the most effective ways to increase the hiring of URT.  

Here are three steps organizations can take to mitigate bias in the interview process: 

1. Evaluate Before Acting  

“It’s critical that organizations evaluate their data before engaging in any activities that go into problem-solving mode,” Pierouchakos tells me.  

Partnering with Talent Acquisition to look at applicant tracking system data (when available) is essential to identifying where in the funnel women and other underrepresented groups may be falling out of the recruiting process. Look for trends to identify where candidates are not progressing to the next stage after the initial screening or meeting with the hiring manager. Then evaluate existing recruiting practices. These assessments could set the stage for unconscious bias training across the recruiting and hiring teams.  

2. Educate Recruiters and Hiring Managers to Recognize Unconscious Bias  

Organizations must work to eliminate inconsistencies and systemic bias during the interview and hiring process. This starts with recruiters and hiring managers. Unconscious bias training helps create self-awareness around any preconceived biases that these teams may be bringing to the table. Once these biases are discovered, these teams can then strategize around how to be intentional through their approach in weeding them out of the process.  

“If you’ve taken unconscious bias training, you have learned that the neuroscience of the human brain is equipped to recognize in-groups/out-groups and whether situations are threatening or nonthreatening,” says Pierouchakos. “Our brains are wired to work this way; it’s imperative that we recognize these biases in action and have the proper tools to change our behavior when working within processes that involve people.”   

One type of bias that shows up often in the hiring and interview process is affinity bias, also called “like-likes-like.” This bias refers to our tendency to gravitate toward people similar to ourselves. That might mean hiring or promoting someone who shares the same race, gender, age, or educational background. The best way to mitigate this bias is to require that diverse slates of candidates be presented for evaluation during the hiring and interview process. 

To that point, 94 percent of the companies on Seramount’s 2021 Inclusion Index provide training for recruiters in cultural competency during interviews. But education is just part of the equation. In order to really change behavior, there must be accountability. Expectations for inclusion and cultural competency should be included in the job descriptions of both recruiters and hiring managers so that when it comes time for their performance reviews, they would be evaluated accordingly and therefore be held accountable.  

Organizations that have diverse slate requirements (81 percent of the companies on Seramount’s 2021 Inclusion Index require diverse interview slates) have accountability built in, and explanations are required when those slates are not met. 

Teams can do this by establishing diversity commitments and then by reporting on and comparing to these commitments in three key areas of the talent lifecycle: hiring, promotion, and retention.  

3. Standardize the Interview Process Across Diverse Interview Teams 

Increasing the number of underrepresented candidates is important, but organizations must also focus on who is actually conducting these interviews. Diverse interview teams bring different ideas and important perspectives to the hiring process and also help candidates see how they fit into the organization. Interview teams must be reflective of the candidate pool an organization is trying to attract. That diversity should not be limited to gender and race/ethnicity but inclusive of secondary dimensions of diversity such as cognitive or communication style.  

Organizations should also strive to have a standardized interview process. Best practice organizations use a behavioral and competency-based interview approach. They also engage in an objective assessment (using a standardized form and discussion) to evaluate the candidate’s interview. When possible, include the recruiter and/or other talent business partners in the evaluation discussion.

“Recently, I have seen DEI Strategists such as Ruchika Tulshyan challenge organizations to hire for culture add vs. culture fit. This is a much better framing in which to have talent discussions. It signals that an organization is committed to a diverse and inclusive environment by making space for individuals to bring authentic contributions to their roles and organizations.”

Megan Pierouchakos, Senior Director, Diversity Best Practices

Throughout the interview process, the panel should proactively socialize the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Discussing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) is a great way to let candidates from underrepresented groups, especially those with hidden disabilities or those who are LGBTQ+, know that the organization is supportive and inclusive. ERG members can also be enlisted to help close a candidate who may be on the fence or evaluating an offer from another company. ERG members provide a great perspective into company culture before someone joins and can be a valuable asset during the onboarding process as well. 

And if the team is having trouble identifying a diverse panel of interviewers, leveraging other parts of the business is key. Direct reports or peers or ERG members can provide additional perspectives.  

Organizations also need to remember that retaining diverse talent is just as critical as hiring diverse talent. According to DBP’s Building an Inclusive Talent Strategy: A Guide, one of the greatest retention risks occurs in the onboarding period following hiring; nearly half of Millennial new hires said they would quit their employer within two years.  

People from certain backgrounds may choose to leave the organization if they don’t feel welcome, but it also could just be a matter of job descriptions not meeting reality. Organizations must have the mechanisms in place to measure new hire retention and long-term career growth of URT while also diving into the data to understand why these people are leaving. 

To learn more about how a Diversity Best Practices membership can help advance your hiring and recruitment DEI commitments, please contact us

Interested in an assessment of your recruiting processes? Please contact us to learn more about Seramount Assessments. 


About the Author

Stefanie McNamara
Director, Marketing Communications