HR professor

Does Personal Attribute the Interview Decision?

Are we influenced by a person's attire, mannerisms, charisma? Or do such traits expose our own inadequacies and thereby affect rationale?

There is an old saying that goes: First impression is the last impression. Scores of job applicants are learning the benefits of personal grooming. People who otherwise dress sloppily wear their best for their interview. Why? Because they want to create a lasting impression on the minds of the interviewer.

The applicant adapts his taste to meet expectations of the interviewers. So, a person usually in jeans sticks to formal attire. The lady who loves to wear vibrant colors chooses to wear dull, sober colors. Out goes personal style, in come corporate etiquettes.

It is not just the clothes. Candidates bedazzle their recruiters with a host of other impressive things. The candidate has the best mannerisms on display. He flashes a benevolent smile now and then, which clouds judgment.

I am not against well-mannered candidates. In fact, I like professionals who behave like one. Their attitude tells me that they are serious about getting the job. The problem, however, is on the other side of the recruiting table. Sometimes, interviewers get so carried away by first impressions that they immediately form a bias for or against the individual. Objectivity gets overrun by prejudice.

To elucidate the point, let us take a typical example of a biased interview. A harried looking executive walks in for an interview. His disheveled appearance creates a negative bias. This bias reflects in the interview, which allows no room for comfort. In such a discomforting scenario, it is quite likely that the applicant would not perform well. From this point on, the interview goes downhill. Naturally, the applicant is rejected without a second thought. One can argue that the applicant lost out due to poor preparation. However, we cannot rule out the role of bias in this interview process. While most people would blame the poor performance of the applicant, it is also possible that the recruiters have to take a share of the blame.

Take the example given above with a modified outcome. A harried looking executive walks in for an interview. The recruiters ignore his looks and continue the interview as they would with any other applicant. There is an atmosphere of comfort. The applicant is encouraged to talk freely. In this situation, both the candidate and the recruiters are in a position to focus on 'real' issues. The recruiters can look beyond the external factors to evaluate the true potential of the candidate. The interview process can be termed fair and non-judgmental.

Psychologists say that bias is often a reflection of our own personality. Individuals have inherent preference or dislike for certain mannerisms. We see people as an extension of our own persona. We react positively when a person has a special skill that we don't have. For instance, a person with no driving skills admires others who drive well. Likewise, we tend to dislike people, who don't have the same set of values that we do. This explains why many people hate hypocrites or liars, because these qualities are against their values.

Very often, bias affects impartial evaluation of employees. A non judgmental interview can focus on applicant's real talents. Managers can avoid serious hiring mistakes if they keep objectivity in perspective while doing an interview. Employers must recognize that bias can have a significant impact on interviews. An in-depth analysis can reveal bias factors in decision making process. The first step in eliminating bias is to accept that bias can affect rationale. Once that is done, the road ahead becomes visible.

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