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Job Hunting? Use These 5 Tricks To Make Unconscious Bias Work In Your Favor!

By Dr. Darla Shaw, SPHR, MBA, MLS, PhD.

We all know that bias is wrong. There are even laws against discrimination that prevent bias from influencing decisions based on race, gender, age, disability, sexuality, etc. But that doesn't mean it doesn't still happen, and in more ways than you might think!

As an HR Executive, I am always trying to educate hiring managers and recruiters on unconscious bias and how to avoid it, but I know it still happens.

So, to even out the odds, here are some very specific ways the CANDIDATE can make unconscious bias work in your favor!

1. Be First Or Last At Every Stage

It turns out that the order in which people are introduced to information impacts both what they remember as well as how they think about that person. Sometimes people compare everyone to the first person they interviewed, or the last person they interview is easiest to remember and thus, they think they're better.

For you as the job applicant, these means you want to be either the first or last during every stage, from application to interviews!

Found a job ad online that just posted? Apply quickly! Interviewers are most likely to select applicants from the first 100 resumes, and then if that first round of interviews fails, they'll go to the resumes that just came in last (often two to three weeks later).

Scheduling your interview? Try to find out where they are in the hiring process. If you're right in the middle, try to get a slot early in the morning or be the last interview of the day. It's always best to come in at the beginning or tail end of the hiring process if possible.

2. How You Look And What Colors You Wear Actually Matters!

People are naturally biased towards people who are more attractive. That's just a sad fact, but we all know that unconsciously, which is why I'm sure you'll spend plenty of time in the mirror perfecting your look before the interview!

But did you know what you wear and what colors you wear matter too? Especially for women!

A study conducted by Professor Sandra M. Forsythe shows that women who wear more angular/masculine lines and masculine colors like black or navy blue are more likely to get hired. Black and navy blue are also associated with professionalism, and are good for anyone to wear at an interview! Skipping high heels for flats? Bad idea. High heels are considered more professional!

Do you wear contacts instead of glasses? You might want to put on those spectacles for the interview. Studies show people with glasses are perceived as smarter!

Gentlemen, avoid the color red in your ties, as this color is associated with anger and aggression. Wear the color blue instead! People who wear lighter blues are considered friendly and personable, while people who wear green are considered more disciplined.

3. Big Accomplishments Overshadow Everything Else

So you got your interview! Congratulations. You now look the part and you're first on the list. So how do you use that to your advantage? It's called the "Halo Effect". In short, it's the assumption that a positive attribute or impressive accomplishment in one area implies aptitude in other unrelated areas.

Did you graduate from an Ivy League school?

Saved your last company millions of dollars?

Be sure to come armed with stories about your biggest accomplishments!

4. Find Things In Common

Did you go to the same college? Love the same sports team? The best thing you can do in an interview is find common ground. Look around the office! If you see Spock on a shelf and you're both Star Trek fans, be sure to bring it up!

The "Similar to Me" bias is a powerful one, which states we are more likely to like and remember people who remind us of ourselves. Just mentioning a few things you have in common with your interviewer can make them inclined to like everything that comes out of your mouth!

Also, mirror their body language whenever possible (without looking ridiculous or obvious about it). Mirroring a person makes them thinking you are like them, and also gives the impression you're a great listener and that you're mentally in sync.

5. It's Not What You Say But HOW You Say It

Say there is a drug that heals one out of every three patients and another drug that fails 66% of the time. Which are you more likely to go with?

It’s a trick question (the likelihood of success are roughly the same for both), but most people are much more likely to go with the first drug. It’s called the framing effect, and it’s the reason why how you present information is so important.

On your resume, this means writing bullets out as achievements and not as responsibilities. And in an interview, this is why you want to keep all your language somewhere between neutral to positive—even when you’re talking about a negative experience. “I certainly could have had a better relationship with that client—it’s an experience I learned a lot from,” sounds a whole lot better to a hiring manager than “I hated working with that client.”

Also, percentages are better than fractions, as demonstrated, and so it's always better to use percentages and even numbers when you're talking about your statistical accomplishments.

If All Else Fails....

Sometimes nothing can make up for just being the best applicant for the job and having a really good conversation with your interviewer. In the end, they'll go with a combination of your qualifications and their gut. Leave a good impression, make sure to smile and practice promoting your achievements.

We're all human, and in the end, there's nothing we can do to entirely eliminate bias, but hopefully, the odds are a little more even now.

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