New research says interviewers are biased toward candidates that remind them of themselves. Is that a bad thing?
Lauren Rivera, assistant management professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern Unversity, says yes.
Rivera’s study of job interviews was recently laid out on the KelloggInsights blog.
It’s a pretty interesting story.
Over the course of two years, she conducted 120 interviews with hiring professionals at elite firms, 40 each from the fields of banking, consulting, and law. Rivera asked the hiring professionals specific questions about what they were looking for from an interviewee and probed their thoughts on candidates they had recently interviewed.
That gave her the big picture. But she also wanted the inside scoop, so she gained access to the inner workings of a large professional service organization. She made the firm an offer: In exchange for her services as a recruitment-event planner, she would be privy to all aspects of the recruitment process, including hiring-committee meetings where job applicants’ fates were ultimately sealed. (She wasn’t permitted to sit in on the actual one-on-one interviews.)
What she found: By the time a candidate had made it through the relevant resume screenings and landed an interview, his or her evaluation was not necessarily based on “maximizing skill—finding the person who was absolutely best at the soft or the hard dimensions of the job,” as Rivera put it. Rather, the most common mechanism by which a candidate was evaluated was his or her similarity to her interviewer.
Rivera pointed to three factors that helped push the interviewers to their decision:
- company “fit” — for instance, some companies are “country club,” others are “scrappy”
- “Looking Glass Merit” — how people define positive qualities in terms of themselves, and
- “excitement.” “Rivera writes of one hiring professional, “Scanning the resume, his face lit up as he saw the candidate’s extracurricular pursuits. ‘She plays squash. Anyone who plays squash I love,” he said smiling, and immediately ranked her first.”
Rivera argues that this virtually automatic bias can lead to hiring the wrong people. Even in elite hiring pools, there is still important variation in qualities that are directly related to the job, such as prior work experience and coursework.
And, of course, there’s the possibility of missing out on high performers who are simply different from the average interviewer — by doing so, firms are giving up diversity of thought.
“Being likeable is important; you have to interact with clients, you have to get people on board on your team,” says Rivera in the blog post. “But there are other ways people can a) be likeable and b) be socially skilled other than being a mirror image, and I think that is what people are losing out on. We know from a lot of research that there are benefits to having diversity.”