Job candidate-prompted biases
Physical attributes The candidate’s appearance and nonverbal behaviour provide an array of visual cues that can trigger a self-fulfilling prophecy (Hollandsworth, 1979; Hosoda, Stone-Romero & Coats, 2003; Nordstrom, Huffaker & Williams, 1998; Wade & Kinicki, 1997). In many Western cultures, piercings and tattoos have become more commonplace. In spite of this, interviewers may see piercings and tattoos as stigmas and hold negative opinions about the personality characteristics, work ethic and citizenship behaviour of individuals who have them. Research shows that individuals who have any type of bodily stigma often face discrimination in an employment interview (Breecher, Bragger & Kutcher, 2006; Dipboye, Gaugler & Hayes, 1997; Madera, 2008). Madera (2008) investigated the ways in which a stigma (birthmark, scar, piercing, tattoo) on the face affects interview outcomes. The study revealed that participants who faced an applicant with a stigma divided their attention between looking at the stigma and the interview process in comparison to participants looking at applicants without a stigma. Additionally, participants who looked at an applicant with a stigma rated that applicant lower than participants who viewed an applicant without a stigma.
Another physical appearance issue that can affect judgement is the job candidate’s weight (O’Brien et al., 2008; Roehling, 1999). Regardless ofwhether the candidate is thin or obese, a self-fulfilling prophecy can occur. When interviewers were shown videotapes of average-weight candidates and overweight candidates, they rated the overweight candidates significantly poorer than the average-weight candidate (Kutcher & Bragger, 2004; Pingitore, Dugoni, Tindale & Spring, 1994). The results suggested that bias against hiring overweight applicants does exist, especially for female applicants. Bias was most evident when applicants were rated by participants who were satisfied with their own body size. The decision not to hire an obese applicant was, however, only partly mediated by personality attributes (Kutcher & Bragger, 2004). Keep in mind that the cited studies were conducted in the United States, New Zealand and Australia, so the results may not be generalizable to all societies. There may be poor societies in which obesity is an indicator of good health and wealth, so that slender applicants may be perceived as impoverished and in poor health.
The physical attractiveness of the job applicant can cloud the objectiveness of the interview (Berscheid & Walster, 1974; Gilmore, Beehr & Love, 1986). Interviewers (like people in general) link attributes such as physical attractiveness to other socially desirable traits and successful job outcomes. Dipboye and colleagues (1977) found that the perceived attractiveness of the candidates affected hiring decisions made by student and professional raters. Interestingly though, the interaction between applicants’ sex and physical attractiveness have produced mixed results, which researchers posit is due to the perceived relevance of physical attractiveness for job performance (Cash, Gillen & Burns, 1977; Gilmore, Beehr & Love, 1986). But what the studies do point to is that physical attractiveness is an advantage in the interview process (Cash, Gillen & Burns, 1977; Dipboye et al., 1977; Gilmore, Beehr & Love, 1986). The idea that ‘what (or who) is beautiful is good’ in both the workplace and in general has been found to be a cross-cultural phenomenon using samples of French and Chinese participants (McColl & Truong, 2013; Zhang, Kong, Zhong & Kou, 2014).
With an increasingly global and diverse workplace, interviewers will be faced with applicants who are non-natives to the country and have ethnic accents, as well as class or regional accents. In the UK an accent is an indication of upbringing and education (Coupland & Bishop, 2007). An accent can result in unintentional bias in an interviewer’s ratings. A study by Purkiss and colleagues (2006) conducted in the US examined two implicit sources of bias in the selection interview: accent and name. As hypothesized, an interaction existed between the applicant’s name and accent which affected participants’ positive judgements of the applicant’s characteristics. Specifically, an applicant with an ethnic name and speaking with a foreign accent was rated less positively by interviewers than an ethnic-named applicant without a foreign accent and non-ethnic-named applicants with and without an accent. Another American study (Deprez-Sims & Morris, 2013) replicated these results. In this second study participants were asked to evaluate an applicant with one of three accents (Midwestern US, French, Mexican) at two levels (low and high). The interviewers were played audio versions of the applicants’ voices. The results revealed that the applicant with the Midwestern accent was viewed as more hirable than the applicant with the difficult to understand French accent. The researchers’ path model showed that the accent condition - the hiring recommendation relationship - was mediated by similarity, interpersonal attraction and understandability. Cross-cultural studies support these assertions. Hansen, Rakic and Steffens (2014) conducted a study in Germany with standard-accent job candidates and nonstandard Turkish accent job applicants. The researchers found that the interviewers discriminated against the Turkish accent applicants and perceived them as less competent. Interviewers should definitely be versed in the potential biases that can occur when interviewing a non-native speaker. It is imperative that safeguards be integrated into the interview process, such as standardized response rating scales and interview training to mitigate potential interview bias.
Diversity features Almost every country, including many developing countries, have legislation that prohibits discrimination in the workplace, based on factors such as race, gender, disability, age and sexual orientation (O’Cinneide, 2011). But even with legislation in place, it has been documented that diversity factors (race, disability and sexual orientation; Baumle, 2013; Sacco, Scheu, Ryan & Schmitt, 2003; Tews, Stafford & Shu, 2009) can bias evaluations during employment interviews. Though blatant discrimination is generally declining, more subtle forms of discrimination, which the perpetrator is often unaware of committing, occur (Dipboye & Colella, 2005). Sexual orientation is a nonobservable form of diversity and research about it is scarce (Van Hoye & Lievens, 2003). Most research on sexual orientation discrimination during the selection interview is qualitative and based on self-reports with small sample sizes (Crosteau, 1996). However, a Belgium study by Van Hoye & Lievens (2003) used an experimental approach with professional recruiters to determine if applicants’ sexual orientation affected their hirability. The researchers, after examining paper applicants in which their sexual orientation was revealed, found that the recruiters were just as likely to hire qualified gay applicants as heterosexual applicants. Though this is just one study from one country, the results are encouraging with regard to how some interviewers are managing diversity during the interview process. One should bear in mind though that numerous countries still have legislation that criminalizes homosexuality (2013 Report from the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans and Intersex Association).
As with sexual orientation, research on the effect of applicant disability in the interview process is scant (Hayes & Macan, 1997; Miceli, 1997). Miceli (1997) found that applicants who revealed a disability reduced the favourable impact they had made during the interview and decreased their chance of being hired.
Unique responses In addition to the physical and diverse features of the applicants, the uniqueness of their interview response can potentially bias the interviewer’s rating. Research has explored the methods applicants use to ‘stand out from other applicants’. Rouline, Bangerter and Yerly (2011) tested how an applicant providing a unique answer was evaluated relative to applicants providing qualitatively equivalent but non-unique answers. Applicants providing unique answers received higher evaluations and increased their chances of a job offer. The study indicates that interviewers can be influenced by the uniqueness of applicants’ answers, regardless of applicants’ true abilities to perform on the job. The researchers believe that a contrast effect can come into play when the previous job candidate gives competent, but non-unique answers, and is then followed by a candidate who supplies unique answers to the interview questions, regardless of the content. Ultimately, unique answers can give these candidates an advantage over their rivals (Rouline et al., 2011). The study also showed how applicants giving unique answers to interview questions received better ratings on knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics in comparison to candidates who supplied non-unique answers.