We all have biases – consciously or not. It’s a natural part of our human condition. We rely on mental short cuts to make sense of the world and the enormous amount of information we encounter daily. However, biases can have unintended and adverse consequences in the assessment of leadership talent. Left unchecked, bias can derail the best intentions to build strong, diverse and inclusive organizations.
While virtual recruitment had been increasing in popularity for years, the COVID-19 crisis has expedited its widespread adoption. Once viewed as a means to address interview logistics and minimize travel costs, virtual recruitment is now an integral part of the search process. But how do virtual interviews impact perceptions of candidates? What bias considerations do committee members need to be mindful of in order to mitigate any potential impact on leadership decisions?
Virtual barriers and biases
As candidates invite committee members into their homes and personal spaces through the internet, new information is now influencing perceptions, from artwork and home décor to untimely interruptions from family and pets. Lighting, camera angles, audio quality and overall technical competence can impact how committee members perceive the candidate during an interview.
While more people are working from home than ever before, the use of technology adds new variables to the assessment of candidates. Internet connectivity as well as comfort with and access to technology can vary and should be considered in order to ensure all candidates have the opportunity to participate equitably.
Due diligence in preparing candidates and committee members for interviews should be exercised. Full participation in the recruitment process requires both parties to be aware of the process and technical requirements and to have equipment tested in advance.
Leveraging technology for objectivity
Some studies have suggested that people tend to find candidates they interview face-to-face more likeable than those interviewed through video, unfairly disadvantaging candidates who must connect virtually. The shift to interviewing all candidates by video conferencing technology provides for a more comparable basis for assessment.
There are additional opportunities for enhancing objectivity through video conferencing technology. With the permission of candidates, it is easy to record interviews. When individual committee members are able to review the interviews while assessing candidates independently, they are able to reduce the biases that can emerge from in-the-moment reactions and group dynamics as well as errors in their own recollection.
Video conferencing technology can also lend well to providing accommodations with such enhancements as closed captioning or adding written questions to the chat box to complement verbal questions. Arguably, communicating through a computer screen offers fewer body language cues and information about physical appearance that can contribute to bias in some cases.
Optimizing proven practices
The shift to virtual interviews requires Chairs to consider more carefully how they will facilitate discussion, respond to questions and ensure that all committee members are heard. When executed well, virtual interviews, like those conducted in-person, can contribute to a structured approach that can help mitigate the impact of bias.
The reality is that the best practices for promoting objectivity and equity in candidate assessment during in-person interviews still apply to a virtual setting:
Gather information strategically. It is essential to ensure that the questions asked of candidates and the criteria used to assess them are directly tied to the job description, the role’s mandate and the ideal candidate profile. Structured interviews, where the same questions are asked in the same way to all candidates, can contribute to a more objective assessment. Studies also suggest that a combination of behavioural questions (what you have done in similar situations) and situational questions (what you would do in this situation) have merit in effectively predicting performance. Together, they help identify examples of past performance as an indicator of future behaviour and provide insights into the candidate’s judgement and critical thinking.
Solicit multiple perspectives. Involve a diverse group of stakeholders in the assessment of candidates to help reduce the influence of individual biases – search committees lend well to this approach. It is also important to reference numerous sources of information to assess candidates including the cover letter, CV, statement of candidacy, and interviews. Finally, multiple references including input from peers, direct reports, and supervisors, can provide a 360-degree evaluation of leaders.
Create awareness of unconscious bias. Educate committee members and others involved in assessing candidates about the impact of unconscious bias in hiring decisions in the early stages of the recruitment process. Consider how equity, diversity and inclusion principles will inform the search approach, from engaging underrepresented candidates to promoting self-identification. Encourage open conversations about bias to help mitigate its impact on the assessment process.
Consider accommodations. Remember that not all diversity is visible. It’s important to make candidates aware of accommodation measures in order to fully participate in the recruitment process. As the virtual recruitment process is new to many, it is helpful to provide adequate detail about the technology and format so that necessary accommodations can be anticipated and requested. This consideration holds true for committee members too. It is important to ensure those assessing candidates are aware of their duty to accommodate in the process.
Regardless of the interview format, staying conscious of bias is critically important in making strong leadership decisions. Encouraging all committee members to remain focused on “must have” selection criteria established at the outset of the search and supporting thoughtful and intentional discussion in the assessment, will help to mitigate the impact of bias on your leadership decisions.