Strategies and Tactics for HR Professionals

While business dynamics are disrupted due to public health concerns, leaders understand that rapid mid-term recovery and long-term growth depend on having the best people in key roles who will thrive and advance business objectives.

As leaders adjust talent strategies, innovative HR organizations are asking themselves (and their business partners) some tough questions.  In an effort to support our clients seeking guidance on these critical issues, APTMetrics will be addressing a range of topics and sharing our point of view, providing some insights, and offering practical tips here at Workforce 20NEXT.

We’ve identified a number of topics that are top-of-mind with many HR professionals, and will be posting regularly. We encourage you to send us ideas for additional topics.

Just like me

Just Like Me

A new installment of our series on (unintentional) bias in hiring and the related risks to an organization: reminders and recommendations…

Similarity / Affinity Bias occurs when an interviewer is inclined to rate candidates who they view as being like them more favorably, even if those qualities aren’t correlated with on-the-job performance.

For example, let’s say you’re a baseball fan. At your company, you have a few colleagues who are also into baseball (like Mike) and some that are not (like Anthony, who can’t stand to watch any sport, let alone baseball). You are naturally much closer to Mike than Anthony, even though you and Anthony actually have more in common.

Social identity theory suggests that people’s sense of self is strongly formed by their group memberships. In doing this, we naturally feel closer towards similar people because those people help us construct our own individual sense of self. Those role models become the “in” crowd and we continuously want to surround ourselves with these people. While these types of interactions may be generally harmless, in an interview they can lead to discrimination. When this happens, it is called Similar-to-me bias or Affinity bias.

This silent problem causes unfair hiring practices by causing interviewers to look past qualified candidates in favor of those that remind them of themselves. The affinity can stem from almost anything – gender, ethnicity, educational background and yes, even a favorite sports team. This results in a biased interview process that will not produce the best hires for the organization.

An Indeed article mentions other examples of Affinity Bias in the hiring process:

  • Similar education background
  • Matching professional qualifications
  • Comparable work backgrounds
  • Relatable age and socioeconomic backgrounds

Okay, so Affinity Bias is bad; how do we mitigate it?

Several parts to an answer:

  • Comparable/unbiased evaluation processes
  • Structured Interview Guides
  • Proper training of interviewers
  • Rotating interviewers


One good way to minimize Affinity Bias is by rotating interviewers to reduce natural affinity and to standardize the interview process by utilizing structured interviews. This way candidates are evaluated on objective measures rather than the interviewers’ perceptions.

In an article from the Academy to Innovate HR titled 11 Ways to Avoid Interviewer Bias in Your Selection Process, the author writes:

“For each job, have a set of questions that you ask every candidate. This way, you don’t veer into similar-to-me bias as well as inconsistency in questioning. You won’t accidentally forget to ask one candidate about X, and then reject that candidate because X is an important skill.”

Best Practice Interview Training Option

With structured interviews, you’re more likely to create effective, diverse teams, and help to prevent interviewers from solely hiring people who think, act, and look like them. With the right standardized questions, their focus will be on hiring the best person for the job — a decision they can arrive at only from a candidate’s responses to the objective, skill-based questions — which naturally expands your pool of qualified candidates.

To achieve this, an engaging and effective structured interview process is required and interviewers need to embrace it. APTMetrics has taken a unique approach to structured interview training called the Interviewer Experience. This simulation-based training environment is designed to help enterprises to effectively teach hiring managers the unbiased interviewing skills that lead to better hiring and increased inclusivity. Complimentary evaluation licenses are available.


Halo Horn Bias

Angels and Demons

Everyone carries various prejudices, positive and negative, based on their cumulative life experiences.

That is natural and normal. For example, let’s say you’re a business manager looking to hire a new operations supervisor. If you are a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin (UT) and, in scanning a candidate’s resumé, you notice they attended Texas A&M (a hated rival), then it’s obviously reasonable to dismiss the candidate and their potential for your company since they cannot possibly be any good, right?

This is a (shallow) example of Halo-Horn Bias in hiring, where we recognize one “perceived” good (halo) or bad (horn) trait in a person, and then we assume that they are good or bad as a whole. This behavior is a type of cognitive bias and, in the extreme, it can manifest itself in hiring. For example, where males are summarily selected over females or where minorities are unfairly filtered out of candidate pools.

In a post by Ebin John Poovathany on LinkedIn, other research-based examples of Halo-Horn Bias in talent management are described:

  • Skinny people make more money than overweight people
  • Tall men are promoted more often than short men
  • White women are paid more than black women
  • Bald men make less money than men with a full head of hair
  • Men in general are paid more than women

Halo-Horn Bias is potentially one of the biggest underlying causes of a lack of diversity in talent acquisition. It is not always blatant; a subtle, unconscious prioritization of certain people over others is enough to negatively impact inclusivity.

Okay, so Halo-Horn Bias is bad. How do we mitigate it?

The answer lies in establishing two critical practices:

  • Comparable/unbiased evaluation processes
  • Proper training of interviewers


In an article in the Harvard Business Review titled 7 Practical ways to reduce bias in your hiring process, Rebecca Knight writes that:

structured interviews, whereby each candidate is asked the same set of defined questions, “standardize the interview process” and “minimize bias” by allowing employers to “focus on the factors that have a direct impact on performance.” Bohnet [Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School] suggests using an interview scorecard that grades candidates’ responses to each question on a predetermined scale. “Ideally interviewers don’t know the specifics about how well each candidate did in terms of the CV review and work sample,” she adds. The goal is for the “interview to become a third independent data point.”

Structured interviewing mitigates Halo-Horn Bias in interviewers from the candidate-evaluation and hiring-decision making processes.

Going further, in an article in titled 11 Steps to reduce unconscious bias in hiring processes, Lisa Coleman, a member of the Forbes Expert Panel recommends:

“Develop the [structured] interview while developing the job description, creating questions to discern candidates’ knowledge, skills and abilities relative to the job. Be disciplined about asking all applicants the same questions, which allows hiring decision makers to base decisions on informed comparisons about applicants’ capabilities rather than their first impressions.”


With regard to training hiring managers on structured interviewing, research suggests that structured interviews are underutilized because they are incorrectly perceived as hindering interviewers’ need for autonomy and power, they may not be in alignment with organizational culture and norms, they require time and money to implement, and many hiring managers are simply not aware of their credibility and practical usefulness. Consequently, there can be organizational resistance to effective training even if there are clear corporate goals for greater diversity and inclusivity which unbiased hiring would address.

APTMetrics has effectively addressed these issues with its recently released Interviewer Experience, a cost-effective, engaging simulation-based structured interviewing training environment, which helps enterprises to effectively teach hiring managers the unbiased interviewing skills that lead to better hiring and increased inclusivity. Complimentary evaluation licenses are available.

First Impression

Looking Past a First Impression

Everyone has heard the phrase ‘You get only one chance to make a first impression.’

A first impression frequently sets a tone for the rest of an interaction or experience. But, if a first impression turns into jumping to a conclusion, then outcomes can be unsatisfactory.

Every talent acquisition process includes one or more interviews of a candidate. And every interview has a ‘first impression.’  As an interviewer charged with helping identify the best candidates for position, one of your responsibilities is to not fall victim to First Impression Bias.

For example, if a candidate comes in for an interview and they clearly need a haircut, you may be prone to thinking that this candidate could be lazy and underprepared and will most likely bring those habits into their work.  Even though grooming style shouldn’t override evaluating a candidate’s unique set of experiences, competencies, and characteristics.

But human nature is powerful, and a first impression can quickly influence whether an interviewer “likes” a candidate and sets the stage for the rest of the interview to simply confirm the first impression. These snap judgments can result in bad hires because none of the judgments you can make about a candidate in the first few minutes of meeting them will be a useful indication of their motivation or skill, and are really just thin comparisons to past experiences you have had with other “people like that.” You are (unintentionally) filtering out potentially excellent employees by tainting the candidate evaluation process with bias.

Okay, so First Impression Bias is bad; how do we mitigate it?

Two parts to an answer:

  • Comparable/unbiased evaluation processes
  • Proper training of interviewers


The way to create and execute comparable evaluations of candidates is to utilize structured interviews, which “ensure candidates have equal opportunities to provide information and are assessed accurately and consistently.”

Google, which reportedly processes over a million applications to hire approximately 20,000 new employees every year, has standardized on structured interviewing. On their re:Work page, they state:

“Structured interviewing simply means using the same interviewing methods to assess candidates applying for the same job. Research shows that structured interviews can be predictive of candidate performance, even for jobs that are themselves unstructured. Google uses structured interviewing — using the same interview questions, grading candidate responses on the same scale, and making hiring decisions based on consistent, predetermined qualifications.”

New Training Option

With regard to training hiring managers on structured interviewing, traditional options range from simple on-demand recorded-and-narrated PowerPoint videos to in-person guided role-play sessions. The former are frequently criticized as non-engaging and having low knowledge retention, while the latter are typically expensive, time-consuming and challenging to scale.

APTMetrics has addressed these issues with its recently released Interviewer Experience, a simulation-based structured interviewing training environment, which helps enterprises to effectively teach hiring managers the unbiased interviewing skills that lead to better hiring and increased inclusivity. Complimentary evaluation licenses are available.

Organizations at Risk

Managers need more training to conduct effective interviews!

In a recent article, Managers Need Training on the Interview Process, SHRM discussed some of the challenges associated with letting managers with insufficient training conduct interviews for selection and promotion. 

The bottom line – untrained and undertrained interviewers are not only far more likely to miss out on the best candidates, but also far more likely to put their organizations at legal risk of violating any number of critical employment laws.  Their recommendation is that organizations make the investment to properly train managers on the hiring process, and here at APTMetrics, we couldn’t agree more!

Traditional interviewing practices are clearly failing organizations and candidates, and the research is startling:

  • Interviewer bias occurs within the first 30 seconds (source)
  • 4.9% of interviewers made hiring decisions within the first minute, and 25.5% decided within the first five minutes (source)
  • 95% of hiring managers receive less than 1 hour per year of interview training (source)

Unstructured.  Uninspired.  Biased.  Ineffective.

In response to this preventable dilemma, APT has developed a new immersive interviewing training tool, known as Interviewer Experience, which helps enterprises effectively teach hiring managers the unbiased interviewing skills that lead to better hiring and increased inclusivity. Complimentary evaluation licenses are available.

APT is preparing a series of posts to drill down into different types of systemic biases in various hiring and promotional practices. Do you have a tough question regarding hiring bias you are wrestling with?  Please let us know, and we may include it in future installments of this series.

Workforce Alignment

Is your workforce aligned with your evolving business strategy?


While business dynamics are temporarily disrupted due to public health concerns and social unrest, organizations are looking internally and having deeper discussions about how their businesses are being impacted.

According to a recent article in Harvard Business Review, “One lesson from previous downturns is that companies that are proactive and growth oriented, even as they shore up their vulnerabilities, will have an edge coming out of the crisis.”

Successful business strategies are defined with mission, values and culture in mind, but with our economy changing daily, these strategies must be adapted accordingly.

As HR professionals look at their organization and discuss their organizational strategy with leadership and key stakeholders, one of the critical questions has become, “Is our workforce aligned with our evolving business strategy?”

Diversity and Leadership

How do we objectively identify & develop high potentials to build a diverse leadership pipeline?


A Robust & Diverse Leadership Pipeline Drives Strategic Goals

In the current environment of social and economic disruption, companies generally regard Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) initiatives as a timely and necessary response to correct for long-standing inequities and biases. However, the latest global research from McKinsey reports that while our country’s workforce continues to increase diversity representation at lower and mid-range levels, this does not tend to be the case at higher levels within the organization, where women and people of color are systematically screened out at senior leadership levels.

While most corporate leaders seem to appreciate the significant business arguments in favor of D&I initiatives, they often struggle with how to apply them within the context of their own firms.

Character of Culture

How does adversity reveal the true character of culture?


There is an old saying that “adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”

Much like character, true organizational culture and core values tend to be revealed when organizations face adversity. It can be easy to gloss over potential issues when profit margins are high and the economy is humming along. It’s often only when disruption occurs that organizations are forced to take a hard look at what’s working and what needs improvement, including making an honest and objective assessment of their culture.

The US economy is currently facing the greatest economic adversity since the Great Depression,  having lost over 22 million jobs[1] in the last few months alone.

Assessment in a Virtual World

How will we adapt assessment practices to a more virtual world without losing sight of valid and defensible hiring practices?


The need for attracting and promoting top talent never slows down. Rigorous, defensible assessments continue to be the best way to equitably identify individuals with the highest potential for success.

But, your in-person assessment center schedule for a high-potential cohort is on hold indefinitely due to the current health crisis. The imperative to accelerate readiness and identify future leaders, however, only continues to grow as organizations place a premium on building a talented workforce able to thrive in an uncertain and highly dynamic business environment. While the assessment center has traditionally been the foundational component for identifying and developing the high-potential population, you now start to ask yourself and your team the “new world” question…

“How do we transition our assessment program to a virtual delivery format, while still providing the same level of rigor, objectivity and results as before?”

Handling the Surge

How will we handle the surge in applicants after the pandemic subsides?


While many of our largest clients are seeing an increase in hiring due to market demands, others have put a pause on hiring, furloughed employees, and closed out their open requisitions. Most people sense that the economy will come roaring back – when that happens, how will you handle the surge in applicants? Below we explore three ideas that can help you prepare now to be ready for a surge in applicants.