Unconscious bias can influence our hiring processes in ways we don’t readily recognize. This makes it hard for us to recognize qualified candidates who may not conform to our expectations. Once you’ve ensured that your job postings are inclusive, it’s time to take the next step in your selection process. This article, adapted from my forthcoming book Network Beyond Bias, offers four suggestions for reducing bias when ranking resumes and interviews.
Measurable Criteria for Resumes and Interviews
Have very clear scoring criteria in place before you receive the first resume. When we don’t have clear, objective criteria, we tend to go with the people that we like the best. If liking the person is important, make that one of your criteria. Just don’t make it the only criteria. Otherwise, we can tell ourselves stories about why we’re making a particular choice. Those stories may or may not be true.
We also tend to look for “culture fit.” Culture fit is great in theory, but it’s why we tend to have homogeneous organizations. So, instead of culture fit think in terms of “culture contribution.” Everybody should bring something to the team that no one else has. If you hire somebody who can bring in a different perspective, make it your mission to ensure the team is working together in harmony.
Diversify Your Selection Team
A lot of times in big companies, there are management teams or selection committees. In smaller companies, though, you can become isolated. Whenever possible, have a panel of people reviewing resumes and conducting interviews. Most of us don’t go into our selection process alone. If you typically fly solo, find a peer in another department with whom you can partner. Look for someone who is not like you in ways that are important to you: gender, race, educational background, or job function within the company.
Share your scoring criteria with your selection team or partner. Score the resumes independently, and compare your scores. This is a great way to combat the unconscious bias. If you’re looking at what you believe are objective criteria and a resume, and your partner is looking the same criteria and resume, your scores should be similar. But if one of you calculates a score of 75, and the other comes up with a score of 22, then somebody’s biases are at work.
As you go through the resume scoring process you’ll understand what your biases are pretty quickly. Then, you can work to counteract those biases through redacting. Study after study has found that superficial criteria can drastically impact the success of a candidate’s resume. Minority-affiliated names, an address is in the wrong part of town, or graduating from the wrong school can all be barriers for well-qualified candidates. When we screen resumes, we zone in on those things as biases; some of them may be relevant in certain situations, but most of them are not.
It’s really easy to have someone take a black marker and redact anything that’s not relevant to the job criteria. Then, when you get the resume, you’re seeing a first initial and a last initial, rather than a name. The person’s name could be Jose Rodriguez or Jane Reynolds or Jamal Robinson, but you only see J—- R——-. You may see the type of degree the person has, but not the year they graduated. Skills and experience may be highlighted, but specific job titles are hidden.
Finally, make sure that interviews are standardized, so you’re asking the same questions of each candidate. If possible, have a diverse panel of interviewers. Each interviewer should have his or her own script, and then score each candidate on the same criteria.
This runs counter to what a lot of people say, but I believe phone interviews are another great way to mitigate bias. Because we tend to judge people based on very superficial things, such as how they’re dressed how, much they weigh, how much makeup they wear. These superficial things have nothing at all to do with performance on the job. If you have a panel of interviewers, try having one person who only does phone interviews. If your candidate scores very differently in a phone interview then he or she does in a live interview, explore whether personal bias is a factor.
What other steps have you taken to reduce the biases in your hiring processes?