Illusions and Interviews

6 min readDec 22, 2020
Müller-Lyer illusion

Look at the above image. Which line is longer?

Müller-Lyer Illusion

Most of the people would see the first one as the longer one This is the famous Müller-Lyer illusion. Here, both the lines are of equal length. You can use a ruler to check. Or you could hide the fins and then see that they are of equal length.

Even after knowing that both these lines are of equal length, you still continue to see the lines of different length. It is only when you apply the knowledge that you know both to be equal is when you are able to get out of the illusion trap.

Similarly, we face a lot of illusions in life, and during interviews, doesn’t matter which side of the table you are on.

In this article we discuss few of the illusions that impact us when we are taking interviews.

Knowing the limitations can help you override them as in the case of the above illusion.

Illusion of Confidence

Do you remember the person who was full of confidence when he/she was giving the interview. How did he fare against another person who was shy and limited himself to answering only the question you asked?

Dunning-Kruger Effect

We subconsciously process a person who is extrovert, full of confidence differently from a person who is shy. We take confidence as a proxy of knowledge.

This sometimes is manipulated and the person, irrespective of knowledge, moves ahead because of the proxy.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect shows that confidence is not proportional to knowledge. In-fact, a person who accepts limitations to his knowledge, has better grasp of things than a person who is outwardly confident.

How to overcome?

Have a set of objective questions that you can ask. Have a benchmark of the answers that the person is expected to reach and objectively asses the candidate irrespective of how much or how much not he speaks.

Some of the best persons I have worked with have been both introverts as well as extroverts. Do not take the illusion against extroverts, that would be another illusion. Instead create an objective criteria.

Bias of Looks

Throughout our history as a human species, looks have played an important role. Fitness has been an indicator of survival and has taken the genes forward. This continues to bias us. We take 5–6 seconds to create an impression about a person.

Have you ever heard the phrase, the interviewers mind is made during the first minute or so?

It is because the interviewer has subconsciously assed your looks (and by looks I mean fitness and appearance acceptance as a society). For example, if you are looking for a particular role, people get dressed, so as to fit the bill for appearance acceptance.

We tend to have biases on how different segment of people look like. You have a broad pattern matching for people who are criminal, who are honest etc. We use the same to asses the interviewee to see if he fits the patterns which you have for the role.

It does not hurt to be fit, still this should not and cannot be made a criteria, conscious or subconscious for hiring decisions.

How to overcome?

In case of F2F interviews, you cannot close your eyes and still proceed, so the only way out is to know about the illusion, and consciously override the bias. Know that you would be biased by looks, and work upon objectively assessing the candidate.

Bias of Food

Do you remember when you were hungry and were not in a good mood?

Hunger is directly proportional to our mood as well as decision making capacity. People who just have had food will be in a better mood and asses the candidate in more positive light. When it has been some time since having had food, the same candidate would appear not so great.

Even when you had breakfast at 9, and in subsequent interviews at 9 & 12 there would be a bias because of hunger (even if you do not feel hungry yet).

Same goes for thirst. Liquid is the most critical element for brain, and when your brain is hydrated it is able to make better decisions.

As for the sense of touch, if you hold a hot beverage, you are most likely to asses the person with warmth, and if a cold beverage, you are most likely to asses the person as aloof and cold.

How to overcome?

If possible, always take interviews during the same slot, i.e. after the same duration has passed since you have had food.

Stay hydrated, always drink plenty of fluids before each discussion.

Ensure your beverage is always of the same type on all interviews. Well, do avoid a lot of coffee if your entire day is full of interviews.

Illusion of Memory

Do you think you have perfect recall? Each one of us likes to think that our memory is dependable. We have the perfect memory, and we can recall everything as if it is stored in a disk with access to each frame.

Well, the bad news is our memory is highly contextual. We change our memory to accommodate new information.

Have you ever observed how subtly a candidate that you were absolutely sure of, looks not so sure when you have access to feedback from other interviewers? Did you recall suddenly the case which he was not able to solve for?

We get biased and our memory transforms itself in order to adjust for the new information. Make sure that you do not trust your memory completely when recalling feedback about a candidate.

How to overcome?

Always prepare your notes during the interview process itself. If you do it after the moment has passed, it will become influenceable by external factors. Note down the details in as depth as possible. When discussing about the candidate stick as much possible to the written details.

Illusion of Knowledge

We always tend to underestimate the amount of information that other people posses. For example, if you know the solution to a particular problem, you would underestimate (by a lot) the percentage of people that know the solution to that problem.

We ask questions that we know the answers to, and we almost always wrongly judge the difficultly level of the same. We tend to overestimate, and assume a lot of people know the answer, or can arrive to the answer, to the same question, the answer to which we already have.

We are biased when we judge people with our knowledge.

How to overcome?

Have a set of questions that you use. Benchmark the same through the series of interviews to understand the difficulty level. Use the questions internally to benchmark against the people already in the organisation and how interviewers are faring against the people.

Bias of rejection or acceptance

We get biased by the resume and by the factors working in the system. Your team is under extreme pressure and you need a helping hand. You go with a bias to hire, and always work to figure out reasons to hire the person.

You are under pressure to hire high quality talent, you go with a bias to reject.

How to overcome?

Learn to keep the context (external factors) aside from the candidate. Use experience to have the same benchmarks for people.

Final words

If feasible, the best solution, is to get an interview done with the help of technology, where no human intervention is required. This would avoid all of the biases above and have an objective assessment of the candidate.

A second alternate, could be to allow the interviewee spend time with the team. Brainstorm and work with the team to figure out and implement a solution. This would help with the assessment of the soft as well as the hard skills.

Pay high emphasis on the work done by the candidate in the past. The world is small, get references and check on the quality of work done.

If the work done by the candidate in the past is of high quality, there is a very high probability that his work in your organisation will also be of the highest quality.

After all, if not to increase the probability of a good hire then what is the interview process for? If the same can be increased by looking at the track record for the candidate then why should it not be given a high preference?

Look out for the illusion of confidence when checking for the work. Ask questions that go deep to understand his role and work.

Do you know of any other bias or illusions? Share your thoughts on above in the comments.




I am passionate about designing and developing complex systems that impact people’s life. A avid reader and a believer of multi-disciplinary teaching.