Break the looking glass: beyond the conversational interview

If you’ve ever taken charge of hiring for a role, or even participated in an interview loop, you may have been subject to a bias called “looking glass merit.” Coined by Lauren Rivera at the Kellogg School of Management, this term refers to a phenomenon where interviewers favor candidates who remind them of themselves.

In reflecting on my own early experiences in recruiting and hiring decisions, I can pinpoint certain candidates that I may have unintentionally rated higher because they seemed to reflect my own skills, experiences, or even my personality. I am sure I missed out on candidates with relevant skills and job experience because I gave more weight to the familiar. For an organization that seeks diversity in hiring, getting caught in this trap can be a detriment.

The first step to combating looking glass merit is to acknowledge that it exists—even among those with the best of intentions. Next, it helps to establish interview questions that give interviewers a more defined focus on the job description. Moving from the traditional conversational interview to a more structured interview will allow you to ask clear and concise questions consistently across all candidates. Spend time with your team and hiring manager prior to starting interviews so you can define and prioritize the questions most relevant to the job. This will also help clarify the expectations of the role, for interviewers and candidates alike.

This may strike you as less personal than a typical conversational interview. However, more structure does not mean you should be any less cordial. In my experience, I find I come to these conversations with more curiosity around how candidates solve problems and approach challenges. Their ingenuity has led to great conversations and diversity across my teams.

As you begin to explore your own hiring biases, remember that there are active steps you can take to improve recruiting and hiring. Acknowledgment of biases and structured interview questions are just part of building out more diverse hiring practices.

If you’d like to learn more tactics, check out our latest e-book, “A practical guide to more inclusive recruiting and hiring.”