Before attending the in-person interview process, savvy job candidates learn how to talk and act during an interview. Realizing one mistake can cost a job offer, verbal and non-verbal communication is crafted to ensure maintaining professionalism.
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The same can't be said for some hiring managers conducting interviews. In a position of formal power, interviewers can consciously or unconsciously convey an attitude in a variety of ways and not even realize it. Though people are more aware today of unconscious bias, they don't always realize that attitude is expressed in even simple gestures, like facial expressions and the phrasing of questions.
Way of Thinking Leads to Miscommunication Cues
The interview is a two-way event. The interviewer and the job candidate are assessing each other. Though the interviewer has the power to say yea or nay, the interviewee is in a position of power in a tight labor market. You can't afford to lose out on high quality qualified job candidates, but a skilled labor shortage means people seeking employment have options. The job candidates who don't like the interview experience will find a job elsewhere. The interview experience isn't just about the questions asked, even in a structured interview. It's an experience consisting of skills and personality assessments, the structured in-person interview and the interviewer's communication cues.
Attitude is a settled way of thinking about something and is reflected in behaviors. It's the interviewer's communication cues during interviews that continue to cause companies problems when they convey negative emotions, a poor attitude, obvious dislike and/or cultural misunderstanding. As strong a direct message as eye-rolling may send, there are much more subtle ways people express bias towards someone. Stanford University conducted a study on the influence of cultural differences of how emotions are displayed and how they influence American hiring managers in job interviews.
The Ideal Affect Across Cultures
In the Stanford study, the researchers define the "ideal affect" which basically says that people's behaviors are influenced by the emotional states they value and want to convey and how they want others to see them. However, the way that people express emotions vary across cultures. For example, European Americans appreciate a display of excitement, but Hong-King Chinese put value in an even-tempered and calm state. Now think about the person conducting the interview.
The American manager values the job applicant who shows excitement and animation, but some people from different cultures are uncomfortable doing so. During the the in-person or video interview, the manager interviewing a person from a culture that doesn't show emotions is thinking the person won't be a good fit for the organization or the person doesn't really want the job. The interviewer ceases to be mentally present, having written the person off as a potential hire. It's likely that body language will convey the lack of mental presence, like the interviewer frequently checking a smartphone or clock for the time or regularly looking at the door.
Chasing Away Qualified Candidates with Attitude
Never underestimate the power of body language to turn qualified candidates away.
A hiring manager who seems distracted throughout the interview may actually be hiding a negative biased attitude.
For example, a minority job candidate walks into the interview, and the manager has already silently decided he is not hiring a minority. The interviewer asks the required questions but shows little interest in the answers or in getting more information. There are no requests for clarification, a lot of shifting in the seat and a quick end to the interview.
There are interviewers who ask questions and make statements that are really confirming unspoken bias.
- "I see you attended one of the HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities). Why did you choose that university over the more prestigious XYZ University in the same area?" (The question implies the HBCU is an inferior academic institution because he prefers not to hire an African-American.)
- "Your resume says you were President of your sorority. That's great, but did you serve in any leadership role in an academic or community group?" (Question minimizes leadership experience because he prefers not to hire a woman.)
- "Your resume and background remind me of myself when I was your age." (The statement emphasizes similarities because he wants to hire someone who is like himself.)
Interviewer behaviors that convey bias against a job candidate run the gamut. They include reading the resume right before the interview for the first time and proactively looking for reasons to not hire the person to justify ignoring high assessment scores. The interviewer may give vague instructions on the follow-up process; emphasize qualities and characteristics that have no bearing on the ability to handle the job; or transmit a clear lack of enthusiasm. The interviewer might refuse to make eye contact with the job candidate or make no response after a job candidate speaks, and so on.
Of course, the interviewer who is anxious to hire a job candidate because he or she has a bias for someone will act differently. The interviewer might be overly-enthusiastic, heap praise on the job candidate, let the interview run longer than it should and give the impression the person is getting a job offer soon, even though there are more candidates to interview.
Attitude Drives Unconscious Behaviors
Bottom line is this: The manager's attitude drives behaviors, even when the manager doesn't recognize what is happening, i.e. facial expressions, choice of words, inclusion of only people in interviews who "look like me" etc. A woman walks into a room to interview for a STEM job and all she finds is males. It reflects the organization's attitude – a belief that only men are qualified for technical jobs. Why wouldn't someone in the company involved in the interview process or a senior leader make it clear that the interview team needs diverse representation?
Bad hires are costly while the person is working. A Careerbuilder survey reported that companies lost an average of $14,900 on each bad hire, and almost three out of four employers say they've hired the wrong person for a position. The loss is due to lower productivity and lower work quality while the person is on the job. This cost doesn't include the cost of the ripple effect of disengagement of other employees when the wrong person is hired. A study conducted by FurstPerson found similar results for employee attrition. For example, it can cost $1,500 to $16,650 per call center agent that quits or is terminated.
Hiring managers must have good systems in place to identify the best available pool of applicants and good procedures for evaluating candidates. Good procedures for evaluating candidates means hiring decision should be based largely on hard evidence, which is what pre-hire assessments and job simulations provide, and fair structured interviews. Interviewers must hold their attitudes in check. It's the only real way to avoid the influence of personal biases.
Job candidates need a fair opportunity to pursue the position and not be turned off by the interviewer's biases expressed through attitude and behaviors. Standardized assessments do a lot more than identify a person's skills, personality and culture fit. They help the organization hold managers accountable. It's much harder for a biased manager to justify not hiring the most qualified person when the evidence shows the person is the best hire. Assessments also help to ensure that best person for the job doesn't look elsewhere.