We like to think that we have control over our lives. That our actions lead to predictable outcomes and that we can influence others around us.
In an interview setting we believe that if we do our research, practice in front of the mirror, and present ourselves well then we can convince companies to hire us.
The truth is, we have less control than we think.
Here are some of the ways that your job search, interview and selection for a job could be influenced by factors completely beyond your control.
#1 The whole system doesn’t even work
A long term study of job interviews of Fortune 500 companies showed that most interviews did not predict on the job performance after 1 year.
This means that most of the people companies hired either did not perform as expected, left the company or were let go.
The interviews were not indicative of their success on the job and were almost a random predictor.
In other words, companies could have randomly selected names from a hat and probably had more success in finding qualified employees. Or just selecting based on resumes.
In the book Work Rules, ex-Google HR executive Laszlo Bock explains that companies who have a structured interview process can create a more consistent and objective screening process. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a structured process.
#2 Your interviewer didn’t eat lunch
Let’s say your interview starts at 11am, right before lunch time. Stomachs are grumbling.
The interviewer’s blood sugar may be low, making him more irritable, hungry, and he is less likely to see you favorably.
This was shown in study of Israeli judges who were less likely to grant parole to prisoners before lunchtime.
Even if you try to schedule your interview after lunch, you can never be sure if the interviewer is having a late lunch for whatever reason…
#3 They don’t ask you the right questions
Many interviewers do a poor job of defining the job description. They might understand what you have to do, but they have not put it on paper nor have they articulated the specific, measurable results they want to see in the job.
They then proceed to ask you questions like “why should I hire you?” and cut the meeting short after 45 minutes.
In turn, they never truly understand what you’ve done, which would require at least a couple of hours and a lot more time to get to know you. In the end they rely on their gut feeling: “I have a good feeling about them” or “I have a bad feeling about them.”
This is akin to a voodoo hiring practice at best, and they’ll probably end up choosing someone who reminds them of themselves.
#4 It’s all about timing
You might be qualified to get a job and have flying colors during the interview. Everything looks good until suddenly the company receives an internal application for the position you are interviewing for via their internal referral program. Because it’s cheaper for them to hire/transfer the person, they give them the job instead.
If you applied through an external recruitment agency, the company will have to pay the recruiter a large some of money. It will likely be a lot cheaper for the company to take the candidate who was referred to them (it could be the difference between $1,000 and $20,000), even if you have the same qualifications. Also data shows that retention rates tend to be higher amongst referral program employees.
Better luck next time.
#5 They don’t like your accent
Recent studies on accent bias have shown that individuals tend to have a more positive outlook to people who share similar accents.
This makes sense because for most of history we lived together in homogenous tribes and small groups. Thus an accent can be an indicator of your geographical, socio-economic, and ethnic background. Different = bad. Similar = good.
Unfortunately if you have a deep southern Texas accent, people are going to make all sorts of assumptions. Whether consciously or unconsciously, interviewers will feel more at ease when they speak with others who look, talk and think like them.
I know, it’s all pretty disheartening, isn’t it?
There isn’t a silver-bullet solution in the short term that will level the playing field. There are simply too many factors at play.
But for now, what you can you do?
Well, it’s probably a mix of things.
Simply knowing that these biases exist is a step to mitigating them.
If you are a job seeker you shouldn’t take interviews too seriously because it’s a numbers game. Some days you win, some days you lose.
Second, you could create a structured system for yourself to make sure that you are approaching the interviews more objectively. There are several ways to do this, the STAR approach being one.
But the actual solution would be to replace the interviewers with machine algorithms that don’t get hungry, have no feelings, and don’t play favorites. It’ll happen eventually.
Until then, we can take comfort in knowing that no matter how hard we try, we’re still living in a pretty random world.
And if we failed once, we can keep trying and next time the odds might play in our favor.
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