“Almost everything about interviews, as they are now, reinforces a hiring manager’s bias and conceals the real person,” said Katie Magoon, HR guru and CEO of People Solutions Center. When I asked her to elaborate, she said, “That’s because…

  • One hour is hardly enough time to get to know someone
  • Managers haven’t been trained to recognize their bias
  • We don’t give managers questions to help them
  • Managers don’t know what answers to look for.

So how does a hiring manager really get to know a candidate? This was the question that prompted Katie and me to talk about the importance of using cultural intelligence in the hiring process to find the right candidate for a job, to truly see and hear the person being interviewed. By putting our heads together, we discovered there are three elements an interviewer needs to really see the person their talking with:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. A structured interview
  3. Cultural intelligence.

Step 1 – Self-awareness

Katie explained that we humans make 11 judgments about people within the first seven seconds, creating instant bias. “That means by the time you’ve said hello and commented on the weather, you’ve already created a story about the person you’re interviewing.” Then if you’re not aware that your bias is in play, everything in that interview will confirm what you already think you know about that person.

The first step in creating smarter hiring practices is to recognize that every viewpoint is a view from just one point. Unless we recognize our personal and cultural viewpoint, we will not be able to get past our own way of thinking and seeing. We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we want to see them, and then may miss something that’s right in front of us.

When we lack self-awareness, we only see the things that confirm our assumptions about a person or situation; that’s called confirmation bias.

Author, Brian McLaren explains, “In a matter of seconds we ask ourselves, what do I already believe? Does this new idea or piece of information confirm what I already think? Does it fit in the frame I’ve already constructed? If so, I can accept it. If not, I simply reject it as unreasonable or unbelievable. I do this not to be ignorant but to be efficient. My brain (without my conscious awareness and permission) makes incredibly quick decisions. Ideas that fit in are easy and convenient to accept, and they give me pleasure because they confirm what I already think.(1)

“When ideas don’t fit easily, requiring me to think and rethink, that’s incredibly hard work,” McLaren continues. “My brain has a lot going on, so it interprets that hard work as pain and wants to save me from that extra reframing work. So it hits the Reject button.”(1)

That means an interviewer may reject a more than qualified candidate because they’re unaware of all the snap judgements their brain is making about straight teeth, gender, race, voice, school, extra-curricular activities, ability to relate to people, accents and names. For example, Allison and Matthew get 50% more call backs than Laquisha and Jamal, even if their résumés are identical. Candidates with foreign accents get less call backs too; they’re often judged as less savvy.(2) As a result, interviewers inadvertently weed out the diversity of background and diversity of thought that their company may need in order to appeal to a broader market or to realize more innovation.

After becoming aware of your bias, it’s important to set up the interview to expand your understanding of the person.

Step 2 – A structured interview

“A structured interview is key,” Katie said. It’s important to take the time to identify the values that are essential to the department or organization. Then more specifically for the job, best practice is to define the competency, skills and motivations needed for the job, Katie explained. For example, for a customer service representative, a core value may be to ensure that every customer feels valued and heard. And the competency, skills and motivations may be…

  • Be people-oriented and gregarious
  • Have the skills to listen actively and problem solve under stress
  • Enjoy talking with people.

I wondered how an interviewer would know if a candidate is being real or faking it for the interview. Faking is stretching the truth to protect your image or ingratiate yourself with the interviewer. In fact, 90% of college seniors engage in some kind of faking.(2)

Katie told me that candidates often do tell interviewers what they think they want to hear, which is why it’s important that the interviewer ask behavior-based questions. That way, even if the candidate is faking the story, they’ll still be explaining the actions they’d take and results they’d get from within their own context. Because they’ll only be able to talk from their own frame of reference, the actions and results they describe will reflect what they know. Also, you can ask follow-up questions that go deeper into details which helps you understand their actual depth of experience.

Behavior-based questions give the interviewer a good idea of what candidates have excelled and struggled with in the past. The principle is that past behavior can predict future behavior. The way a candidate worked in the past signifies how they’ll work in the future.

“The goal is to encourage a candidate to share a series of stories,” Katie said. Stories will also help the interviewer slow down and decouple from the assumptions in their head because they’ll be taking the time to get to know the other person. We can use behavior-based questions like…

  • “Tell me about a time when you were working under pressure and how you handled it.”
  • “Describe a time when you disagreed with a colleague and what you did.”
  • “Give me an example of when you worked successfully with a team and what happened.”

The interviewer is looking for key information in the candidate’s story that helps the interviewer understand their behavior. To help her remember what to look for, Katie uses the acronym S.T.A.R…

  • Situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

Katie warned that it can be tempting to get caught up in the Situation and Task of the candidate’s story, but what the interviewer really wants to focus on are the Action and Results. These are what express what the candidate really knows and understands. They allow the interviewer to know and see what the person is really is about. To get a deeper understanding of the person, the interviewer can ask for more detail about their actions and results.

To understand the kinds of actions and results you’re looking for, based on the team’s values, create an answer key by giving the questions to your current employees and see how the star performers at the company answer the same questions.(2)

Consistency is key with this style of interview. Standardizing the process also helps interviewers and recruiters make fairer comparisons between candidates. Prepare to ask each candidate the same key questions to reduce confirmation bias and really see the candidate’s potential.

Step 3 – De-center with cultural intelligence

To really see the candidate, their context and their potential, an interviewer needs not just solid questions but cultural intelligence. Each tip and how-to in this blog is offered from the perspective of cultural intelligence, the ability to appreciate another and change behavior to show genuine respect for their perspective and background.

To appreciate another’s perspective, we must first recognize our own biases so that we can hold them more lightly. Katie pointed out that, if you feel judgment coming up in the interview and you’re thinking, “This person is awful” or “This person is wonderful,” that’s all bias. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s all judgment and blocks us from getting more information about the person.

Next, to de-center our thinking and get to a place of genuine appreciation and higher understanding, we need to slow down the conversation. Take a breath. Wonder what you might be missing. Active listening can help. After you ask a behavior-based or other open-ended question…

  1. Hear the candidate out. Don’t interrupt. Use listening strategies like eye contact, a quiet body and some nodding. You might also say: “Uh huh” and “Okay.” Then when there is a quiet moment, you can encourage them to continue and…
  2. Label their emotions. This is a key step for creating a safe space for candidates to reveal more of who they really are. This is the step that communicates you’re interested and you care. You can use these phrases with emotion words:
    • It seems like…
    • It sounds like…
    • It looks like…
      • For example, we can use prompts such as:
    • It seems like you’re inspired.
    • It sounds like you’re confused.
    • It looks like you’re angry.
      • Interviewers (listener-facilitators) may need to label the candidate’s (speaker’s) emotions in that way two to three times to get the whole story. Allow for quiet think times, particularly for more introverted candidates. In the U.S., we tend to tolerate only four seconds of silence before we feel the need to talk. Sometimes I count to 10 in my head to help me allow for a few more seconds of quiet. When you feel they are finished sharing their story, you can…
  3. Seek understanding. You can use words such as:
    • What happened that made you feel so _________.
    • You’re feeling so _________ because?
    • What caused this?
      • You can specifically use these questions to encourage the candidate to elaborate on actions and results.

Your goal as an interviewer is to feel a measure of respect and appreciation for the candidate, even if they’re not the person for the job. That feeling of respect (or connection) for who they are and what they can contribute, even if not for the role you have in mind, is your indication that you’ve gotten a fairly accurate read on the candidate. And they might be the right person for a position that opens up in the future.

Self-awareness, a structured interview and cultural intelligence are the keys that allow you to de-center your perspective and conversation to stay open and see differently. It ensures you don’t miss opportunities that may be sitting right in front of you. The right hire allows the hiring manager the peace of mind that they can count on the person they’ve hired to exceed expectations and be an asset to your organization.     -Amy Narishkin, PhD ©2021

To learn more tools, take my online course, Awkward to Awesome. Discover two tools in each of the six 30-minute sessions to bridge divides and generate more productivity, engagement and commitment in any workplace and community. Hosted by Maryville University.


  1. McLaren, B (2019) Why Don’t They Get It? Overcoming Bias in Others (and Yourself) Self-published e-book. https://cac.org/confirmation-bias-2021-03-02/?utm_source=cm&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dm&utm_content=summary
  2. Grant, A. (April 20, 2020) Worklife with Adam Grant: “Reinventing the Job Interview.” Podcast: https://www.ted.com/talks/worklife_with_adam_grant_reinventing_the_job_interview?language=en
  3. Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/vzfgh3RAPzM[email protected]