Hiring for bias

I read yet another article on bias in in-person interviews lately. This comes as no surprise, bias is incredibly hard to overcome in hiring processes which is why US Civil Service hiring procedures look so arcane. The money-quote is this one:

Studies have shown that hiring randomly off of the short-list is just as effective as conducting interviews.

Which is a great way of saying that hiring without interviews works just as well as the expense and effort of doing it with interviews.

Now, humans are incredibly social creatures and the idea of hiring off of paper scares the willies out of us. We at least want to see who we're buying hiring so the drive to at least look at candidates is very strong. However, looking at candidates introduces a whole range of unconscious bias into the equation, especially if 'culture fit' is one of the top criteria being selected for. If those biases are not adequately controlled for, they're going to dominate the final pick off of the short-list. Also, candidates are very aware that this is a singular high-pressure marketing opportunity and will cheat every way possible to put themselves forward in a favorable way.

First, lets look at how candidates can skew things.

No one likes bait-and-switch, especially when it comes to hiring. If you've done enough interviewing and hiring you've definitely seen this before. A candidate gives a wonderful interview. Smart, engaging, knows their stuff cold and shows enthusiasm when it comes to explaining it. Yet when they walk in the first day, within a week they've regressed to a cube-dweller who only talks to people over email and IM and doesn't seem to know how to talk during meetings. They're crazy good so long as you never actually talk to them.

What the hell happened??

That is an introvert who knows the research that shows extroverts are seen more favorably in interviews and spent all of their being-around-people points on that one two hour interview. You didn't see them retreat into their cave for three days after the interview so they could decompress. You saw the marketing glossy in the interview, you didn't see the real them.

Giving a good job-interview is a learnable skill. Heck, it's teachable. A lot of tech-people aren't so good with the in-person high pressure sales thing which is why interviews usually work for our demographic. But some of us have learned the Speaking to Management skill and know how to direct people away from our flaws and highlight our specialness.

And then there is bias.

Two men give an interview. Same background, same job history. One of them is a mid-20's white male from the midwest, the other is a mid-20's black male who speaks African American Vernacular English. The white guy will be seen as an up-and-comer worthy of taking a chance on, the black guy will be seen as needing some seasoning before they're ready for the challenges of the job. Or make it two white guys, but one speaks with a deep-south drawl and the other speaks with a West Coast vibe; the southlander will be seen as needing some seasoning. Or make it one has a decade of Perl the other a decade of Python; the Pythonista will be seen as more able to pick up Ruby than the Perl writer.

And this happens even though the posting said "Equal Opportunity Employer" on it. If they were hiring just off of the short-list this whole unconscious selection bias wouldn't have come up. But these men were interviewed in person, so it did come up and did impact the outcome.

It's there, it's ever present, and people don't even realize they're doing it. The same holds true for any visible minority. Women of color in tech positions or men of any kind in pre-K child-care roles. Same dynamic, "you don't look like you should be able to do this, even though your resume says you can." This is why job-advice for black job seekers is full of ways to not seem black until the last minute, and to blunt the impact when that step inevitably happens.

In-person interviews are full of peril for both sides. Maybe they really are not worth the bother.