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How biased are you when you act in the role as an interviewer?

SOMETIMES you don't have to dig too far below the surface to discover you have likes and dislikes when it comes to who you will hire or reject for a job opening.

As interviewers, we come to the selection process with a battery of biases that have developed through our life experiences, education, family background and other influences.

Many of these biases lurk a little below the surface and often we are unaware of their existence and how they influence our beliefs and our judgments about others.

Research tells us that we make up our minds about others within a few seconds of meeting them and our judgments are heavily influenced by aspects of their physical appearance.

We are bombarded with cues from someone's accent, dress, height, weight, elements of facial features and other aspects of physique.

Each and every aspect of the other person is filed as part of our impression of them. It's not accidental that when we speak of someone as being "thin-lipped", we assume they are mean or stern; or if they tend to "look down their nose", we see them as supercilious; or if their eyes are set a little closer together than normal, we think they are not to be trusted!

And what about people who are very thin: do we see them as nervous and anxious, and are their opposites assumed to be lazy and slow?

Apart from physical appearances, we make assumptions about interviewees based on our particular take on their biographical details.

If you come across an interviewee who has spent a while travelling the world, do you interpret that as a sign they embrace risk, are independent-minded and flexible, or do you see it as a negative because their experiences were within a different culture or you can't trust they will settle down to the routine of the job on offer?

It's the same item of objective fact on the candidate's CV but can be interpreted differently depending on where you are coming from as the interviewer. We run the risk of being similarly subjective in our assessment of candidates' leisure interests or where they went to school.

Probably one of the most serious forms of bias springs from assumptions that a candidate who worked in a particular company has the same characteristics as the company itself.

For example, all ex-bank employees are perceived to have poor judgment, or all those who work in the civil service are bureaucratic and slow to take personal responsibility.

Both are inaccurate generalisations, of course, but point to the need to be careful how we assess an interviewee's work history.

In the interview situation, these biases wash over and cloud our objectivity. In particular, they draw us to be attracted by people who are most like us, to people who are easy to get on with at first meeting, and to people who have less physical idiosyncrasies.

Those who might, even in the most sympathetic of situations, be classed as "not blessed with good looks" may stand very little chance of being selected for jobs, and some of the literature on the subject bears out this contention.

In our rush to select those who are most like us, we run the risk that we will fill our company with clones and we reason it by saying they will "fit in" more readily.

That may well be so, but when the going gets tough and you need the dissenting voice to give you an opposing view when making a major decision, you might regret being surrounded by the nodding heads of those who see things the exact same way as you – but after all, wasn't that why you chose them in the first place!

Mary Hanson is a HR consultant and joint author with Brian McIvor of the recently published guide: 'The Interviewer's Book – Hiring the Right Person'

Irish Independent