Your job interview is tomorrow. You know your appearance will matter, so you polish your shoes and brush your hair. You realize your interviewer will have your resume in hand, so you’ve come prepared to explain every minute detail included on it. You’ve even done practice interviews and prepared your responses to all the trick questions. Are you ready? Not yet.
There remains a single type of preparation that you should do that can make or break your interview-knowing how to handle the possible biases of an interviewer. You need this knowledge because of a simple reality; interviews are subjective, no matter how many objective indicators are introduced. Interviewers are human, and all carry with them some assumptions about different types of people. Despite what may be valid attempts to leave these assumptions behind in the process, even the most earnest interviewer may be letting some of these biases make their way into the decision-making process. The best candidate for a job has many a time been passed over in the interview process because of bias. You don’t want to be one of them.
You’re not likely to be able to change the bias itself in the short duration of the interview, and you may not be able to recognize it with so much else going on. You can, however, insure that the interviewer will not apply their biases or assumptions toward you. This means preparing for the possible biases of an interviewer before you encounter him/her. You therefore need to recognize the most likely biases people have toward you and prepare to address these biases in interviews to minimize their impact.
Pinpointing Potential Biases
Many people think biases surround visible differences that people have, like race, gender, or appearance. This is true. However, biases usually run much deeper and assumptions are made about a number of other potential differences you may have with your interviewer. An interviewer may unconsciously make assumptions about you based on the way that you speak, your age, or any of the background information you have listed on your resume.
To figure out some of the biases that may surface, give some thought to comments people have made to you in the past that surprised you. Have people thought you were much younger or older than you actually are? Have they assumed you were less intelligent because of your accent? Have you been labeled because of the way you dress? Have people been surprised to learn something in particular about you? Make a list of some of these assumptions or obstacles that could impede on the interviewer from seeing you as the best candidate.
Use your friends to add to your recollection. Ask them what their first impressions of you were. Colleagues from the past are especially valuable since they know you in a work atmosphere and work attire. Have friends read through your resume and create a list of five statements they would make about you based on your resume. Ask them to limit their responses to information on the resume and explain your goal in the exercise so you get honest answers. Combine these statements with ones people have made about you in the past and keep a list handy with all of these assumptions.
The Information Inundation Technique
Once you get a sense for the impression you make and the biases people may have against you, make sure you address them. You should still be focused on demonstrating why you are a qualified candidate for the job. Therefore, while delivering persuasive responses to interviewer questions, saturate your responses with information that will also undo biases. Here are some suggestions:
1. Match their speech and behaviors. It is a good idea in general to match your interviewers in terms of their speech and behaviors for etiquette purposes. If an interviewer is formal in their speech, you should be as well. If they sit up straight, don’t slouch. This will help reduce assumptions they make about you based on differences they perceive they have from you.
2. Acknowledge & Spin It. If you sense a bias, don’t be afraid to address what it is you think is being held against you. If you have an accent, explain what you do to make yourself understood. If you are young, note it, but also explain what your age adds and focus more on the experiences you have had that makes you worthy of the position. If you are a woman working in a male-dominated profession, explain what you can add to the position very specifically because you are female. Make a point to show the value of the aspect in question.
3. Find a connection. When you get the chance to ask your own questions at the end of the interview, work to establish a connection with your interviewer. Ask them what they like about the company in question, and communicate your ability to relate to some of the traits he or she identifies. Make a point of smiling and try to be friendly. An open, communicative style on your part is helpful to address any negative biases that person may unconsciously be holding against you.
4. Communicate your Bridge Building potential. A successful job candidate is not only someone who can do the job, but someone who can work in the organization’s culture and be able to do the job well in the long run. Interviewers with biases may assume that you will not fit well into the organization’s culture because of your differences. Communicate your ability to work with different people, think from different perspectives, and be open-minded. Give examples. Ask about the company culture and talk about your ability to work with and relate to different people.
5. Make it a strength. Have you had to deal with this someone who has been biased before because of something about the way you are? Use the experience to show your interviewer how you successfully overcame a difficulty. Emphasize the learning and growth you experienced as a result. This can help an interviewer recognize that their own unconscious bias is impacting their impressions. Make sure you don’t insinuate in any way that your interviewer is biased. Your job in the interview is to demonstrate that you are a highly-skilled individual equipped to do the job for which you are applying. Critiquing your interviewer is not a step in the right direction.
6. Stay positive. Have you noticed that it is that much harder to sit up straight when you are feeling down in the dumps? Most people show their emotions in one way or another, and facing a biased interviewer is likely to stir some serious emotions of anger, frustration, devastation, or defeat. It is important to push through these feelings during the interview so that it doesn’t impact your demeanor during the rest of the interview. You can decide later whether you want to work for the company the interviewer represents.
7. Make a Habit of it. Finally, get into the habit of building bias prep into your interview prep. Build these techniques into your responses and practice saying them so you are comfortable in the interview. Have a friend role-play the biased interview. Make it realistic. How will you face this practice situation?
Interview bias exists, but it doesn’t have to impact your potential to get hired. Use these techniques to improve your chances of getting hired based on your qualifications and motivation instead of your skin color or lifestyle.
Simma Lieberman works with people and organizations to create environments where people can do their best work. She specializes in diversity, gender communications, life-work balance and stress, and acquiring and retaining new customers.
Kate Berardo helps people from different cultures, backgrounds, and schools of though work effectively together. She specializes in cross-cultural awareness, international relocation, and multicultural team building. She is the co-author of Putting Diversity to Work and the founder of Culturosity.com.