5 Ways to Overcome an Interviewer’s Bias

Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel Prize winning psychologist famous for his groundbreaking work on behavioral economics and the psychology of decision-making.

He teaches us that our decisions are prey to certain fallacies. While we can’t shield ourselves from them, we can learn to recognize them and put processes into place to reduce risk.

The big decisions, like applying for a job or choosing how you prepare for an interview, need some careful thought.

Here are five concepts from Kahneman’s work that you apply to your job search:

#1 The Hungry Judge Effect

The hungry judge effect is a finding that judges were more inclined to be lenient after a meal but more severe before the break. In other words, when you’re working all morning and haven’t had a break, you’ll experience decision fatigue, and be more likely to make poor decisions — including your interviewer.

Action: Don’t schedule an interview right before lunch. Set them up early in the morning or after lunch.

#2 The Peak End Rule

The peak–end rule is a cognitive bias that impacts how people remember past events. Intense positive or negative moments (the “peaks”) and the final moments of an experience (the “end”) are heavily weighted in our mental calculus.

For example, I watched the movie Lucy with Scarlett Johansson, which had a really lame ending. I remember it as a not-so-great movie, even though most of the movie was good (except for the last few minutes).

Action: End all of your interactions, including emails and interviews, on a strong and positive note. Strong handshake, big smile, and reinforcing your excitement about the position. First impressions count, but last impressions count even more!

#3 Availability Bias / Saliency Bias

This is a distortion that arises from the use of information which is most readily available, rather than that which is necessarily most representative. For example, you see the grisly news about a recent plane crash where all the passengers died. You decide to drive instead of fly, even though plane crashes happen significantly less than car crashes.

Action: During an interview the hiring manager will remember the most salient points — the ones that stick out. Make sure to craft STAR stories (which are hardwired to capture our attention) that really let your achievements shine.

#4 Confirmation bias/Halo Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms or supports one’s prior beliefs or values.

An interviewer who does not like you for whatever reason will tend to seek out reasons to confirm that belief. This also goes the other way — if the interviewer really likes you then they may ignore the glaring issues.

Action: To prevent being derailed by an interviewer that’s latched on to one issue, at the very end of each answer you give, ask “Did that answer your question?” That allows them to voice any concerns. And, at the end of every interview you can ask, “Is there any concern that you have about any of my examples or background?” This lets you close off any lingering concerns (assuming the interviewer is open to tell you this).

#5 Similarity Bias

We prefer what is like us over what is different. If you can find something in common with an interviewer, they’re more likely to have a good impression.

Action: In a 45 minute interview, it can be hard to make room for chitchat. But you should try. You can ask follow-up questions to the interviewer like, “What were you doing before joining Google?” Or “I hear you guys work pretty hard at Amazon — how do you personally stay balanced?” The interviewer’s answers (“I was working in a startup…” or “I go hiking”) will probably hint at something they like to do, and a possible jumping off point to find common ground.

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