Are you going to be interviewing job applicants soon?

On looking at some terrific work** on racism in the justice system, I realized there’s something a lot of us may not realize. 

So here’s something that you want to watch out for:  your experience may confirm your biases, but not for a good reason.  And the not-good reason is that biases, even ones we are completely unaware of, can shape our experience to a remarkable extent.  

One of the interesting ways this works out shows how unexpected the effects may be:  if you have the stereotype of black men as dangerous, then the darker a man’s color, the more dangerous he will probably seem. 

One thing this means is that if you go into an interview with thoughts like “I have an open mind and I am perfectly prepared to find out that minority candidates are among the best,” then you may be deceiving yourself.  Open minds are very hard to come by.  Just open your eyes and look and you may well just see what you unconsciously expect to see.

It’s hard for me to guess what cues might heighten biases, and so what interviewees should avoid.  However, it does look to me as though one should ignore any thoughts like, “I am going to demonstrate by my creative independence by not dressing like a cookie cutter academic.”  But I could be wrong!

** The work I’ve been looking at is Jennifer Eberhardt’s; here the link to her lab’s publication page at Stanford.  Some time ago, we mentioned videos of lectures by her  here and here.  There’s also a lot about vision and expectations in Simon and Cabris’ The Invisible Gorilla.

5 thoughts on “Are you going to be interviewing job applicants soon?

  1. Interesting because I am an unemployed US Air Force Paralegal Veteran who is told I have a good resume. And all interviewers say how much I fit their mold and look forward to having a candidate fill their position and exceed. But, no job offers. I am a black man, but I am far from the black man who blames all my problems on the “white man.” I try to stay as far away from that excuse as much as possible. But, lately I have been thinking being a black male and having the Islamic name, Rashaad, has placed me in a bad position. I don’t know if you have seen the movie, “My Name is Kahn,” but if so, you will understand this last comment. “My name is Rashaad and I am not a terrorist.”

  2. Rashaad, I am so sorry to say that your color and name may well play a role. Here’s an earlier piece on hiring that may interest you.

    People may not be consciously biased; the power of “implicit biases” is very strong. You could look in our “psychology of philosophy” page above at Jenny Saul’s paper on this. She tallks about biases against women, but you can see how it could apply elsewhere.

  3. Rashaad, sadly there’s quite a lot of evidence that you may be right. Here’s a study from Sweden about bias against Islamic names: http://www.econstor.eu/dspace/bitstream/10419/35622/1/587708050.pdf. And here’s an American study about “black” names: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ugWLgj5n6QcJ:www.economics.harvard.edu/faculty/mullainathan/files/emilygreg.pdf+bertrand+mullainathan+resume&cd=4&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari.

    For a more general discussion, you can look here: http://americansforamericanvalues.org/unconsciousbias/.

    I’m sorry to hear of the problems you’re having.

  4. That’s scary, Rashaad. You could try coming to Canada and applying for a job working with numbers or machines. They’re still pretty biased up here, too. But from what I understand, the biases will work FOR you (or guys with names like Chan) in certain fields.

    I had a class with a south Asian girl, Indian I think, but my memory sux these days, so don’t quote me on that. The topic of hiring biases came up, and she’s in engineering. She says her ethnic background gets her entry level jobs, probably because they’re expecting her to be a brown dude. But when she actually gets past the interview and starts working for the company, the brown dudes get promoted and she doesn’t. She’s debating whether or not to leave her second unsatisfying job right now. She’s been with her company for 3 years.

    If what she says is true, it might work for you. Can you put up with cold and cold and more cold and being buried under 3ft of snow 6 months out of the year?

  5. Thank you all for your words of advice and encouragement. I will definitely look at your article/research links.

    Keep on, Keeping on!

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