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Why Job Candidates Should Prepare for a ‘Knockout’ Question

March 5, 2017, 10:00 PM UTC
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The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you avoid hiring the wrong people?” is written by Mark Newman, founder of HireVue.

When it comes to avoiding the wrong hire, I focus on overcoming the most subtle obstacle—unconscious bias. Unconscious bias triggers our tendency to hire people just like ourselves, because they reflect things we’re already comfortable with: our values, social background, or education. When ignored, unconscious bias lulls us into poor hiring decisions, as we lose the objectivity we need to find the right person.

To avoid hiring the wrong person, I subscribe to a more objective hiring process that protects me from my unconscious self. Here’s how I do it:

Rely on a team you trust

I have a team of trusted advisors who have no problem challenging me. They are skilled at playing devil’s advocate and picking up on the red flags I might otherwise miss.

I must remember that my unconscious bias is unconscious. Therefore, making hiring decisions in a vacuum leaves me vulnerable to bias without even realizing it. There is a natural tendency to gravitate toward people who are similar to us—whether in their age or alma mater. If I only hired people who had similar personalities, many of the people at HireVue who’ve helped make the company successful wouldn’t be here.

Being conscious of this is step one in not allowing unconscious bias to get in the way of the best person for the job. When I was looking for the first head of finance for HireVue, I knew I needed someone decidedly not like me—someone methodical and disciplined who could build a financial plan for the future. If I let the natural tendency to gravitate toward others like me influence my hiring decisions, I would have missed out on half of the company in key roles and we would not be growing like we are today.


Look deeper than resumes

I’m not a fan of resumes. They’re deeply flawed. They trigger unconscious bias based on a person’s name, gender, geographic location, and educational experience—none of which has anything to do with whether someone can or will perform. My resume out of college certainly wasn’t indicative of my ability to contribute to an organization, and most entry-level resumes look the same—apart from the very things that introduce bias.

Getting to know someone on a deeper level involves understanding their demeanor, how they work, and what their sweet spots and weaknesses are—factors easy to miss among the bloated power words on a resume. Instead of resumes, I use video introductions to pre-select candidates that will go on to personal interviews for my final hiring decisions. In a video introduction, everyone gets a chance to participate in a short three-to-five-question interview.

Carefully select interview questions

In fact, often one question serves as a knockout, allowing you avoid videos that don’t pass this simple pre-screening. This eliminates a resume screen, a phone screen, and sometimes a few team interviews because the video can be shared among the trusted advisors. This enables me to get to the top candidates before anyone else. Challenge yourself to figure out the questions that unearth the best fit for the job, instead of what you think you should be looking for, such as years of direct experience or a specific degree.

Hiring the wrong person happens occasionally; nothing is foolproof. However, if you find yourself doing the obvious things right (such as hiring for cultural fit, skills, and potential, and of course doing background checks), yet are still constantly regretting your hiring decisions, it’s time to reflect. Recognize that we are all subject to some level of unconscious bias and implement a strategy to prevent it from derailing your ability to find the right person.