Sandbox is incredibly excited to debut this guest blog post, written by Dr. Kristen Liesch, Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Tidal Equality. Dr. Liesch is a strategist and educator who empowers individuals and organizations to design equitable change in processes, products, services, and more, in radically simple and effective ways.

Continue reading the below article to learn more about the effective and ineffective ways that surround the job interview process. 

I recently had a conversation with a friend who described his first experience interviewing for a job. He was applying for a role at a top financial services company. He walked into the interview, introduced himself to the hiring manager, and they were exchanging pleasantries when they struck upon a shared interest in mountaineering. They spent the next twenty minutes discussing the peaks they had climbed, after which the interviewer lobbed him a few soft-ball questions followed by a hearty handshake and a promise to be in touch. He got the job.

My friend was likely hired because of the “halo effect” created by the love of mountain climbing he shared with his interviewer. Like a glowing halo, that common interest cast a warm glow over the remainder of his interview, causing his interviewer to view him in a favourable light.

The halo effect worked to my friend’s advantage, in this case, but maybe not to the advantage of the company that hired him. He quit a few years later after realising that the company’s values weren’t aligned with his own, and that the role wasn’t going to offer him the upward mobility he was looking for. I’m sure my friend worked hard for his company while he was there, but he was a “bad hire” nonetheless, and bad hires cost an organisation from 16% to 213% of their salary (depending on the seniority of the employee). To put those numbers in perspective, a company can lose up to $213,000 when it needs to replace an employee that makes $100,000 per year.


First impressions and implicit biases determine who is hired when an interview is unstructured. But unstructured interviews are favored by hiring managers who like to “go with their gut,” or who want to “get a feel” for the candidate’s fit with the organization. After all, most people believe they are a good judge of character and need look no further than their closest friends for proof.

We select our friends based on social characteristics that are important to us, but our friends wouldn’t necessarily make for our best employees. Consider that friend whose company you enjoy, whose perspective you appreciate, and who can be counted on… to be late. Thirty minutes. Every time. But you don’t mind because they’re loyal and funny, or whatever. The same lack of punctuality, however, can be perceived very differently within an organization.

Unstructured interviews give implicit bias free-reign

Unstructured interview: an interview that does not follow a pre-determined format, but proceeds in an organic manner.

A Harvard Business Review article reveals that “unstructured interviews consistently receive the highest ratings for perceived effectiveness from hiring managers” while “dozens of studies have found them to be among the worst predictors of actual on-the-job performance.”

A number of psychological phenomena factor into interviews and skew the interviewer’s evaluation of the applicant.



As a (recovering) academic, I am aware of the psychology behind recency bias and the peak-end rule, which is why I write articles, chapters (or a PhD thesis) that end with a bang. I know that my reader is more likely to evaluate the work based on their most recent and most memorable and most intense experience with the writing. For example, if I am presenting a contentious concept, I don’t want that to be the last thing my reader experiences. Instead, I want them nodding their heads in agreement and with enthusiasm. Research shows this will work to my advantage, even if the reader disliked or disagreed with elements of my work, because they will not be making a judgment based on the total sum of my work, or even an average thereof.

The same phenomenon affects an interviewer’s evaluation of a candidate. Imagine a candidate sits an exceptional interview, but before leaving, lets loose a loud and offensive fart. The interviewer will have a hard time completing their assessment of the candidate without the flatulent finale subconsciously affecting their decision. I’m serious.



Time and time again, we hear from organizations that are “trying to hire more women” but just can’t figure out where they’re going wrong. As it turns out, if they are already suffering from low representation, then using a woman to evaluate female candidates can be counterproductive and prevent an organization from hiring the best person—man or woman—for the job.

If an organization is male-dominated, then scarcity threat affects the ways woman employees interact with one another. It can create a scenario whereby women feel there are a limited number of positions available to them, and can put them in a destructive competitive position – creating what’s sometimes called the “Sisterhood Ceiling”.

In this example, scarcity threat can affect all sorts of interactions the underrepresented group has with members of their group. Female employees responsible for promoting talent will be less likely to promote the best candidate (if they are also female) because that woman is perceived as a threat. Research shows, woman interviewers are likely to view a top woman applicant as a future threat, and will make hiring suggestions accordingly, even if it means recommending a less qualified candidate.



A study was conducted where participants were asked to determine the best candidate for the role of Police Chief. Participants were presented with a male and female candidate.

One group of participants was given blind applications where one candidate had more experience and less education, and the other candidate had less experience and less education. Participants overwhelmingly preferred the candidate with more education.

However, two more groups of participants were involved in the study, and these groups were given applications which identified the gender of the applicant.

Of these two groups of participants, one group was given applications where the female candidate had more experience, but less education and the male candidate had less experience, but more education. The other group of participants was given applications with the reverse: the female candidate had less experience, but more education and the male candidate had more experience, but less education.

Across both groups, the male applicant was preferred.

Participants were asked to explain why they had selected the male candidate. The first group identified his greater education as the reason for their preference, citing education as the most important characteristic for a Police Chief. The second group identified his greater experience as the reason for their preference, citing experience as the most important characteristic for a Police Chief.

This study reveals that stereotypes lead us to modify our criteria.
In this case, the male applicant suited the stereotypical preference for the role of Police Chief, and that this preference determined the most important criteria.

“It’s as if the bar is higher for women than it is for men.”


How to defend your interviews from implicit biases


Unconscious bias training doesn’t train the bias out of anyone. Read more about that HERE. In fact, in organizations that run unconscious bias training programs, certain underrepresented groups – namely Black men and women – are less likely to become managers than in organizations that don’t train on implicit bias!


Period. A study that reviewed nearly years of research in personnel psychology across nineteen different selection methods found conclusively that unstructured interviews are not effective evaluation tools. They do not help you hire the best talent. (Feel free, though, to use unstructured interview techniques to find your next best friend.)


Structured interviews feature pre-determined questions based on pre-determined criteria which reflect what is most desired in your successful candidate. Here are a few tips:

  • Determine desired skills, experience and characteristics

  • Create questions that position the candidate relative to those criteria

  • Respond to each question in real-time, don’t wait until you’re back at your desk

  • Ask the questions in the same order during each interview

Our friends at Applied have a great resource for you, The Interview Playbook.


Evaluate your candidates one category or criteria item at a time, and rank them accordingly. This technique is proven to eliminate for gender bias and group stereotyping by focusing your attention on individual performance; this makes comparative evaluation more fair, and more likely to yield the best qualified candidate.


This costs your organization the same amount of time per candidate, but requires the candidate sit more than one interview. However, you can mitigate the effects of group-think by conducting separate interviews. After the separate interviews are conducted, compare results—again, horizontally—and discuss any discrepancies based on the structured interview notes.

Job interviews are like first dates:

Good impressions count,
Awkwardness can occur,
and Outcomes are unpredictable.

But job interviews shouldn’t be like first dates. If your organization is looking to hire right the first time, consider evolving your hiring practices.



Dr. Kristen Liesch has been named a Forbes D&I Trailblazer, and is a strategist and educator who empowers individuals and organizations to design equitable change in processes, products, services, and more, in radically simple and effective ways. Co-CEO and co-Founder of Tidal Equality, Kristen is also the co-creator of the Equity Sequence™️ – a powerful practice made up of 5 equity-focused strategic questions – that continues to equip people around the world to make equitable change wherever they work, learn, and play. Read more courageous content at Tidal Equality.

 Sandbox Centre, and Partners that are committed to making change, excitedly invite you to join the Equity SequenceTM  Program. Become equipped with the framework and tool that can be used in every day life, work, and any key decision to reduce bias, make it more inclusive, and equitable.

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