Hidden Biases to Watch for in Executive Interviews

Adapted from a twitter thread by @askrobmerrill

Unpopular, but be wary of executive “final interviews”. Under the right scenarios, they’re OK, but often a source of bias and could decay the culture from within.

I am talking about “final” interviews, normally held after the “onsite” interview; before/after debrief.

I am not arguing they should not be held, but be wary of the following trends:

  1. Exec gives contrary hiring decision to hiring panel, yet their opinion wins
  2. Exec scorecard relies on conjecture/vagueness, not demonstrable facts
  3. Exec refuses to follow hiring process

Each of these trends are symptoms of an underlying concern the People & Talent teams need to watch out for.

Recognizing that execs, by definition, have outsized influence and decision-making power on teams, watch out for hidden biases or unintended consequences.

In short, a rigorous, thought out hiring plan keeps people on the same page, and helps eliminate unconscious bias and group-think from the hiring decision.

Recognizing that subordinates are highly attuned to non-verbal cues from execs, things as unrelated as the exec being momentarily distracted or thinking quietly or mentally preparing for their next meeting could unintentionally lead to a candidate not being hired

And here’s the rub, since these are all non-verbal, biological responses to human physiology in groups, nobody would be able to recall when/what/why decision suddenly shifted, though many/all opinions would suddenly be skewed different

Only an unbiased observer could see it.

How to Counteract These Biases

To counteract some of these issues, I recommend the following simple interview techniques that work across all levels of hiring:

  • All interviewers keep opinions private & fill out separate scorecards that are private except to hiring mgr/recruiter until ALL are submitted.
  • NO verbal/non-verbal sharing of “hints” or thoughts about candidates between interviewers anytime until the end of that hiring stage. Watch out especially for slack or hallway messages like “wow, they’re perfect for the role” or “oof. Good luck on that interview…”
  • All hiring team members are pre-briefed on their responsibility in the interview and what tactile objectives their interview is intended to result in. Everyone, even execs, need at least one KSA: (Knowledge/Skill/Ability) they need to vet.
    And, no “CULTURE FIT” is not a skill.
  • All hiring team members and execs follow a written scorecard submission process. If ATS does not provide this, a webform or email submission process may be used. EVERYONE needs to write their specific reasons why the candidate should/not be considered.
  • If a verbal debrief is held (not required) then be exceptionally cautious of team members providing opinions “in the room” contrary to their written opinions. They may have “been thinking about it and…” These are opportunities to delve for bias.
  • Finally, nobody, including the exec, is privy to scorecard information before they are all collected/collated. Nobody is exempt from following the process.

In Summary

In short, a rigorous, thought out hiring plan keeps people on the same page, and helps eliminate unconscious bias and group-think from the hiring decision.

Everybody should be regularly reminded of the hiring feedback process, especially executives, since they are busy and often forget key parts of the process when it matters most.


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