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How to Deliberately Eliminate Bias in the Hiring Process

As we all know, the hiring process can be a stressful and uncertain time. From the candidates themselves to the HR professionals making the decisions, the stress is real. However, one thing that should prevail above all else is recognizing and addressing any unconscious bias that happens during a hiring event. As conversations surrounding diversity in the workplace continue, companies must reexamine their hiring process to eliminate any biases that influence decisions.

Whether we recognize it, unconscious biases do impact hiring decisions. By definition, unconscious bias is when a company makes a hiring decision based on unconscious thought processes. These processes cause one candidate to be preferred over another for irrelevant reasons, such as race, gender, sexuality, or simply “likeability.” Even in the beginning stages of the hiring process, bias can occur by judging a candidate’s picture, name, or hometown. Long story short, unconscious biases influence hiring decisions—sometimes positively, sometimes negatively—using criteria irrelevant to the job. This can cost companies time, money, and the opportunity to hire top talent.

Let’s discuss ways that HR professionals can be sure to keep unconscious biases front of mind and eliminate bias in the hiring process.

Utilize Hiring Technology to Increase Diversity

Many available tools help HR professionals be consistent in their hiring decisions. Software programs that blind the process are beneficial and go a long way in creating unbiased screening procedures. A blind, systematic approach for reviewing applications and resumes will help identify the most relevant candidates in the pool. Many platforms help uncover hidden gems that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. By cutting out unnecessary information, such as names and backgrounds, technology can be incredibly helpful in making unbiased—and increasingly beneficial—hiring decisions.

Not only does hiring technology help cut out the unnecessary, but it opens roles to a broader range of candidates than ever before. Now, a candidate halfway across the country is often able to apply for a previously unachievable role. In turn, this allows companies to broaden their horizons and consider a wider range of applicants.

Consider Leveraging a Skills Test

One of the biggest challenges of the hiring process is how easy it is to fall into the “requirements” trap. Feeling college degree requirements created an unfair advantage, many companies have simply eliminated them from their job descriptions. Instead, companies now turn to skills-based hiring processes to help eliminate bias in the hiring process. Unlike degree and experience requirements, skills tests open the door for a more diverse set of candidates who might otherwise not have bothered applying.

Take, for example, a candidate who doesn’t have any formal education but instead carries years of experience in the field. This person might never have made it past the initial screening due to their lack of a degree. But with the implementation of skills-based testing, they have the opportunity to compete on an even playing field with other candidates.

Consider Using Blind Written Exercises

Instead of asking questions about background, consider implementing a written exercise for potential candidates to complete. This process removes any unnecessary information that could lead to bias: no name, demographic information, or experience. And be sure not to include any data fields—like first and last name, education level completed, or schools attended. That might create a bias around how the written answers are perceived.

This less intrusive—and nearly blind—process results in HR professionals recruiting people who HR and hiring managers may never have considered but who are more than qualified for the job.

Continuously Evaluate the Hiring Process for Improvement

No matter how aware a company is of its diversity, more is still to be done if the goal is to eliminate bias in the hiring process. This begins with understanding our own biases. Then we must actively work against them through continuous improvement and development. When evaluating your hiring process, consider these tips:

  • Measure gender and race statistics by monitoring the percentages of female or non-white applicants who move through the hiring process.
  • Regularly communicate with hiring teams and company leadership about what criteria the company uses to evaluate applicants and make hiring decisions. (Also, always look for red flags that have little to do with the actual position.)
  • Be aware of modern hiring platforms that put solid practices into place with realistic goals for combating bias.
  • Consider hiring tools, such as structured interviews or discussion forums, to cut out the unnecessary noise.
  • Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when a process is not working—and quickly make adjustments.

Due to its often under-the-radar nature, bias in the hiring process can be tricky to address. However, with determination and a dedicated strategy, any HR professional can make strides toward combating this all-too-pervasive HR issue.

Recruiting’s New Reality: A People-Centric Paradox

The front line of HR has always been recruitment from my perspective.There’s no HR without talent. But talent is a new reality: The workplace is about to span five generations for the first time ever in history. Silents. Boomers. Gen X. Millennials. Gen Z. And we’re back on track with job growth: according to the BLS there were 5.4 million job openings in the U.S. in April, the highest number in 15 years. HR itself is experiencing above-average growth as well: the number of employed human resources and labor relations specialists is expected to increase 13 percent per year, some 2% faster than the average for all occupations. That’s nearly twice the 7 percent rate of growth for all business and finance professions.

Everything about HR — and its leading edge, recruitment, is being profoundly retooled. As Bersin has reported, most companies want to retool their own HR systems from the inside out. Work is global, networked, Cloud-based, inextricably tied to technology, multigenerational, mobile, social and 24/7, 140-character instead of a white paper. There’s a pressing need to fill STEM jobs and not enough candidates for them. There’s diversity. Inclusion. Global labor relations. To recruit in this environment is like being part wizard, part astronaut, part diplomat, part guidance counselor.

New populations, new tools, new culture, new outlooks, new roles for recruiters. Those who acquire and source talent have always worn many hats: shrink, detective, wizard, ship captain, cheerleader and flag-waver. But now, even those roles — what you might call the “soft” skills, though without diminishing their critical importance — are changing.

Here are just two of the top recruiter competencies, and how they’ve changed:

Shrink / Cheerleader / Detective / Closer

Psychology’s at the core of recruiting. I’ve known some top recruiters who even at the peak of the powers remain deeply empathetic, with a well-honed emotional intelligence and an impeccable eye for a good fit. Recruiting takes engaged and active listening, a quickness to pinpoint and tackle concerns, turn potential negatives into positives (the red to green reflex). It takes a sixth sense for a when a passive candidate can be nudged into an active one, an accurate gauge of personal decision making, and a closer’s sense of when to pounce.

Biggest change

That people-centric radar has to be recalibrated to work across an interconnected range of social media channels and multiple platforms, which means being an increasingly effective communicator who can bring a personal touch to an impersonal arena. Bersin describes it as the imperative to redefine recruiting as a network action — not just acquiring for present day positions from specific channels, but reaching out across myriad networks to develop pipelines for the future. What may be lacking in face to face is gained in access and reach, and benefits from the same precision in judgment and negotiating.  Moreover the very language has shifted with shifts in the workforce. For instance: turnover: once anathema to the Boomer generation, it’s now accepted among Millennials that changing jobs is part of working. And Millennials now make up the largest percentage of the workforce (34 percent).

Brand Strategist / Candidate Experience Facilitator

The employee brand as always had to be infallible, clear, and palpable, and it has long fallen to the recruiter to be able to convey the culture (and appeal) of an employee brand to candidates. But the issue of brand was less sticky than it is now. Perception was related to more discreet information, and it was perhaps easier to shape that perception.

Biggest change

An employer’s brand is far more pervasive — and also far more influential. The recruiter is still a conduit, but the integrated and multiplatform culture of work means that nothing dwells outside the purview of perception — and the recruiter has to be able to represent that brand, as well as manage its alignment across multiple platforms. According to findings from the 2014 Candidate Experience awards (CandEs), some 41 percent said the most important factor in their decision to apply was a company’s values. Nearly half of all candidates said their first relationship with a company was as a candidate — which means that’s the juncture when employers have to get it right. The recruiter’s role may extend as well to de facto benchmarking, since the CandE findings show that there’s a lag on the part of employers: Three-quarters (75.4 percent) of candidates said they were never asked about their experience by an employer.

The function of aligning talent with employment opportunities is a more multifunctional act than ever. By necessity, a recruiter has to thrive within a new paradox: a well-attuned personal acumen that effectively straddles myriad networks and platforms with a global reach.

This is also a time when HR as a field is taking on a greater importance — moving closer to the inner circle of business strategy. The 260-plus HR-focused undergraduate degree programs at US colleges and universities, as well as certificate and diploma programs offered by organizations such as SHRM and The Sourcing Institute reflect a legitimizing and consolidation. About time. Not only is recruiting still all about talent, there are a whole lot talented future recruiters out there I’m looking forward to watching them work.

A version of this was first posted on Forbes.