Interviewing Biases – Biases of Intuition

It is said by psychologists that it takes only seven seconds for us to judge another person when we first meet them.


It’s not a conscious process, so we don’t even realise we’re doing it.


Judging other people in the first few seconds of meeting them is part of our natural response. So, although we might understand that it’s a flawed and prejudiced way of evaluation, we can’t stop ourselves doing it.


How do we form impressions and make judgments?

You believe you know what goes on in your mind but most impressions and thoughts arise in your mind, and in your conscious experience, without you knowing how they got there.


You cannot trace how you came to the belief that your partner was frustrated and annoyed even though they said nothing about it, or about how you detected a hint of irritation in your bosses voice on the phone.


The mental work that produces impressions, intuitions, and many decisions goes on in the silence of our minds.


The power of body language

We know from the work of Professor Ray L. Birdwhistell, an anthropologist and expert on how people communicate with body language, who helped decipher body language, the part that nonverbal communication – the part that deals with postures of the body and movements of various parts of the body – plays in communicating, particularly while people are speaking.


Professor Birdwhistell was also adept at demonstrating communication through body motions. He could show how to communicate emphasis with the raising of an eyebrow or the flip of a finger or the tap of a toe, for example.


He estimated that no more than 30 to 35 percent of the social meaning of a conversation or an interaction is carried by the words.


Most meaning is conveyed through body language (posture, movements, gestures, stance, eye contact, etc.) and the voice (tone, pitch, pace and so on) of our voice.


What does that mean for interviewing?

When placed in the position of interviewing candidates for a role in your company, you will most likely spontaneously evaluate or judge the actions or statements of the candidates despite your best efforts and without knowing where that judgement really came from.


Are our judgments and impressions wise?

Many of our judgements may be wise. For much of our lives, we allow ourselves to be guided by impressions and feelings, and we build confidence in our own intuitive beliefs, and quite often it is justified. But not always.


Unfortunately, we are often confident when we are wrong.


And an objective observer is more likely to detect errors than we are.


Thus, we must improve our ability to understand and detect errors in our judgement, and limit the damage that bad judgments can make.


Interviewing mis-casts

Bad judgements at interviewing can indeed cause damage. Someone who is mis-cast in a role unfortunately can be damaged themselves through a dent in their own confidence and even career prospects, team morale and productivity can be damaged, customers can be affected, and the cost and time of the initial hiring and re-hiring process can add up very quickly.


Take this simple puzzle

Here is a simple puzzle. Do not try to solve it, but listen to your intuition:


A bat and ball cost €1.10
The ball costs one euro more than the bat.
How much does the ball cost?


A number came to mind. The number, of course, is 10c.


This easy puzzle evokes an answer which is intuitive and wrong!


Do the maths and you will see. The correct answer is 5c.


If you believe that all your hunches, intuitions and judgements are sound, think again before conducting the next interview.



(The source of the above puzzle is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics)