A company’s hiring process has everything to do with employee turnover – especially early turnover. Bad hires don’t last - - they leave or are asked to leave. They choose to leave when they don’t like the job, the company, or the people. In this case a bad hire “fires” you and your company. On the other hand, bad hires are asked to leave when they can’t learn, won’t learn, or demonstrate some character flaw. Managers get involved and you fire them. In too many cases though, the bad hires choose to stay; management tolerates them or shuffles them around to other jobs until he eventually becomes “deadwood”.

In any case, bad hires were miscast and set up for failure from the beginning. Whose fault was that?? In most cases the interviewer(s). They may have shortcut the hiring process or, more commonly, lacked the interviewing skills necessary to retrieve the facts needed for an intelligent hiring decision. But in the final analysis, someone could be out of work and going through the trauma of another job change, because of your mistake!

Interviewing is serious business. Interviewers have the moral obligation to do their utmost to investigate candidates and gather facts needed for better hiring decisions. Interviewing and hiring well is an ethical standard in great companies.

Common Causes of Interviewer Bias

There are four pressures working in the hiring arena that interfere with objective interviewing. The first, and most obvious, is the interviewer’s desire to find a successful candidate. It’s amazing how good candidates look when you’re under severe pressure to fill a critical position. In desperate situations it’s quite common for interviewers to justify and approve candidates that should be rejected. We call it “hiring in desperation”.

Hiring in Desperation
When critical positions can’t be filled quickly, the temptation to compromise hiring standards is always there… always. It takes a very well trained and disciplined interviewer to overcome the temptation to compromise. The best way to avoid the pressures of desperate hiring is avoiding the situation in the first place with “bench strength”. Large companies have training and development programs and succession plans in place to fill open positions internally. Most small companies must hire from the outside. Their bench strength relies on the effectiveness of their hiring process. Maybe you’ve never looked at it this way but, if your company depends upon outside hires to fill critical positions, your hiring system IS your bench strength.

Emotional Attachment
Another pressure that can cause interview bias is emotional attachment. Human beings tend to be attracted to people like themselves. Interviewers must be very careful not to allow this twist in human behavior to cloud their objectivity. But it’s hard to resist. It’s only human nature that we are attracted to people like ourselves. We like socializing with people who have common interests. I’ve seen many managers stray from their interview plan and waste valuable investigative time socializing with candidates they like. They talk at length about a mutual interest, their golf game, hobby, favorite vacation, etc. Here again, it takes an experienced disciplined interviewer to avoid this temptation. In situations where you know the candidate personally, it’s always best to excuse yourself from the interviewing process and leave interviewing to others.

Pick of the Liter
The third pressure that can cause interviewer bias is more subtle. Have you ever played a game of cards and had a significant investment in the pot which caused you to stay in the game when you shouldn’t have? You probably had doubts about winning the hand, but felt that you had too much invested in the game to fold. So you hung on to the end, only to watch someone else rake in the pot. In the “game” of interviewing, the same pressure is there and hard at work. It’s called the “pick of the liter”, or cut your losses syndrome. It works like this…

You’ve been interviewing candidates for several hours, maybe the entire day. Let’s say it’s a college campus. You traveled 200 miles to get there and you have just finished interviewing the 10th candidate for a trainee position. You’re really not wild about any of them. No one has impressed you enough to invite them to a second round of interviewing. But you’re tired, with a 200 mile trip ahead of you and, look at all time you’ve invested.

“I really don’t want to go back empty handed”, you think. “Who was the best I saw today? Who was the best of the 10? I’ll call him tomorrow and invite him in for more interviews.”

This is a classic example of choosing the “pick of the liter” to cut your losses of the time and work you have invested in the process. The problem is - none of the ten was qualified. You have picked the “best of the worst”. You have allowed the value of your time and effort to cloud your objectivity and taken a step towards a bad hire.

Moments of Silence
The final pressure that can bias and ruin an interview is silence and the strange need that some of us have to kill it. Many interviewers have a serious problem handling “moments of silence” the crop up in most interviews. They fill gaps of silence with “noise” – the sound of their own voice. I think that there are two reasons for this. One: the interviewer lacks self confidence to wait, or force a candidate to answer a question or, Two: the interviewer is embarrassed for the candidate and takes the lead in the conversation.

I’ve witnesses this phenomena dozens of times. The interviewer asks a good question and the candidate remains silent. Then the interviewer jumps in to take control with a long diatribe of some kind. It’s usually about the company’s history, accomplishments, products, etc. I saw a lot of this in sales interviews when inexperienced Sales Managers would fill silence with a good company sales pitch. It worked like this…

Interviewer: (for the Acme Anvil Co.) “Tell me about the most difficult sales call you ever made.”

Candidate: “Well…let’s see…” (Silence)

Interviewer: “That’s OK. Tell me what you know about Acme Anvil Company.”

Candidate”: “well… uh…” (Silence)

Interviewer: “That’s Ok. Let me tell you about Acme. We were founded during the great depression in our founder’s basement. We grew and it wasn’t long before he moved the business to the garage. After that we moved …blah…blah…blah.”

In the game of interviewing, silence is golden. Sometimes silence speaks volumes about a candidate’s qualifications, motivations, self confidence, and even character. You shouldn’t fear it … use it. Silence can be the best question you ask.

All of these situations – Hiring in desperation, emotional attachment, pick of the liter, and moments of silence – are all common pressures interviewers must overcome to judge and hire objectively.

William E. Miller, Performance Leadership

Author's Bio: 

Bill Miller has a unique blend of practical management experience and creative talent. His experience spans a 35 year career with Cintas Corporation. Bill was Vice President of Cintas’ Great Lakes Region operations before returning to the Cincinnati headquarters to lead the company’s Management Training and Development programs. He helped the company build one of the most successful management teams in the country.

Bill is now focusing on helping other companies develop effective management teams through improved leadership and people skills and effective hiring systems. He has also initiated new approaches to lower rising employee health care costs.