The Definitive Action Guide For Minimizing Bias and Increasing Diversity Hires (Part 2 of 2)

As seen on ERE Media July 3, 2017.

This is the second part of a two-part article covering action steps on how to minimize biases that negatively affect diverse recruiting. The first part of this article was published on June 26, 2017. It explained the two types of biases that can reduce diversity hiring. It also covered how to reduce biases on your corporate web and social media sites, during sourcing and in your job postings. Part 2 of this article covers action steps for reducing biases during resume screening, while selecting candidate slates, and during interviews.

IV) Minimize Opportunities for Bias During Resume Screening

Bias errors during resume screening are especially damaging because once a resume is rejected for biased reasons, that candidate is lost forever. And that means that you may never know what you missed out on. So start out by identifying the components of resumes that are most likely to trigger biases, and use one of the following approaches for minimizing that bias.

Action steps include:

  • Require a score sheet to keep resume assessment focused — the most effective bias reducing tool for resume screening and the easiest to implement is to require your resume screeners to use a score sheet that is unique to each job. Because these scoresheets only contain valid selection factors, they in effect force recruiters to assess resumes only on the predetermined selection factors. Forcing recruiters to use this sheet also has a side benefit, because it leaves no room for judgments using the recruiter’s personal (and usually biased) knockout factors.
  • Mask or redact any resume components that frequently lead to screening bias — often the best way to avoid bias is to completely hide the factor that triggers bias. Start with names because research has shown that they are at the top of the list for triggering biases. You should mask names, (and substitute a random number) because a name might indicate gender, race, national origin, an international prospect, or even your age. If you receive CVs with pictures, also mask them. And consider masking dates on resumes because they may reveal a candidate’s age and they may restrict the hiring of women because women generally have less experience. In many cases, it also makes sense to mask home addresses and hobbies. You can mask or redact items manually using MS Word’s hidden font, white color font, or inserted black boxes. You can also mask items using software like Blendoor or most commercial security software to mask items.
  • Mask pictures on LinkedIn profiles to reduce an opportunity for bias — LinkedIn profiles are often used by recruiters and hiring managers to validate resume content. However, because these profiles usually include pictures, you should consider using masking software like io, which is a Google Chrome extension that automatically removes faces and names from LinkedIn profiles.
  • Also, mask any resume elements that may not predict on-the-job success  mask any provided resume element that does not predict success on the job. Every job is different, but many firms routinely redact grades, education level, the fact that a candidate works at a troubled firm, and their home address. Consider masking information that reveals job jumping or unemployment. Recruiters should be educated not to make snap judgments based on the length of a resume and or even spelling errors (in cases where it’s not relevant to the job). If you measure quality of hire (i.e. performance on the job) over time, you can identify which selection criteria to drop because they no longer predict on-the-job success.
  • Because “fit assessment” is so biased, postpone making assessments — resumes provide very little information on whether a candidate would be a good fit for the company or team. Because fit assessment is one of the most inaccurate and inconsistent selection criteria, postpone this assessment until after the first screening call.
  • Use advanced technology to screen resumes because it is so objective — vendors in recruiting are beginning to offer machine-learning driven software that can screen and sort resumes objectively with a minimum of bias. If you use this type of software, it makes sense to, periodically, test a few “mystery shopper resumes” to assess whether it actually treats diverse candidates fairly.

V) Minimize Bias When You Select Candidate Slates

Even after you have objectively selected the best resumes, it is still possible for bias to enter into the candidate slate selection process. Obviously, if a quality candidate is not put on the interview slate because of bias, you miss out on any opportunity to hire them.

Action steps — start by requiring that the interview slate is chosen solely based on the objective data from the resume score sheet. Have an employee in the field periodically conduct an independent assessment to see if they agree with the recruiter’s slate. And finally, consider implementing a Rooney Rule (like the one recently implemented by Uber). This rule guarantees diversity representation because it requires that at least one diversity candidate be included in the final interview slate.

VI) Minimize Bias During the Interview Process

Because they involve so much direct human interaction, interviews provide the most opportunity for unconscious and conscious bias during the entire hiring process. Maintaining objectivity and minimizing bias are especially important because the interviewee is a critical part of the process. And that means that if any obvious bias occurs, the interviewee can sue.

Action steps include:

  • Educate your hiring managers on the high bias areas in interviewing — start out by educating your hiring managers and your recruiters about which interview steps have the highest probability of bias. Keep it short and simple to increase the likelihood that they will read it.
  • Require an interview score sheet — one of the most effective but easy to implement bias reducing tool for interviews is to require all interviewers to use an interview score sheet that is unique to each job. Because these score sheets only contain valid and objective selection factors, they in effect force interviewers to assess candidate interviews only on the predetermined items. These sheets can also reduce an interviewer’s use of informal “knockout factors” like handshakes, eye contact, tattoos, and body language.
  • Require a structured interview because they reduce the chance of bias — most interviews are unstructured, meaning that the interviewer is free to ask any question that pops into their mind. Unfortunately, these unstructured interview decisions can be no more accurate than a coin flip. However, firms like Google and Facebook add structure by requiring that all interview questions come from a “validated” question bank. Another form of structure is requiring that each question is job-related, which means that only questions that correspond directly to one of the job requirements can be asked. Another structural element that helps to reduce bias is to have all interviewers agree, in advance, on what is a great, mediocre, or failed answer to each question. Finally, record interviews so that they can be reviewed later to ensure that the structure was followed.
  • Discourage highly biased first impression decisions during interviewing — one of the top problems with interviewing occurs when interviewers make a yes or no determination based only on their first impressions. Unfortunately, quick first impression decisions trigger the use of unconscious biases. And, that means that first impression decisions are mostly wrong because they are based solely on non-job related factors like looks, handshakes, voice inflection, and eye contact. The best ways to minimize first impression biases are to force interviewers to use an objective score sheet and to encourage the holding back of any assessment decisions until the end of the interview.
  • Blind interviewing and voice masking can reduce bias — face-to-face interviews have many biases because the interviewer can see the person and hear the candidate’s voice. Thus the goal of “blind interviews” is to minimize those biases. The original blind interview was made popular by symphony orchestras that literally had potential members perform behind a screen. Other ways to avoid seeing/hearing the interviewee include mobile phone text interviews and questionnaire interviews options, where they answer interview questions on a computer screen. Telephone interviews are effective at limiting biases that occur when you see the individual. And there is now software available that allows you to distort the voice on telephone interviews so that the hiring manager can’t easily guess their gender or age because their voice is modulated.
  • Giving them a real problem creates a focus on what they can do — the most effective way to assess a candidate during an interview is not through traditional questions covering career goals, strengths, and weaknesses, A much superior approach is to assess them based on how they would solve a real existing problem that will be on their desk their first day. And then the interviewer simply asks them to walk through the steps that they would take to solve this problem. Of course, make sure that you have determined in advance which steps are critical to success. Other more “work like” alternatives to consider include using online technical tests or in-person whiteboard tests for assessing key job skills.
  • Minimize candidate stress to improve interview performance — candidates find interviews to be quite stressful. But few interviewers realize that high levels of stress actually degrade interviewee performance. And if you don’t take action to reduce stress, that means that the interview performance that you see probably doesn’t accurately reflect the real person. Firms like Blackberry and Johnson & Johnson have significantly reduced candidate stress by providing interviewees with detailed information covering what will happen and why during each of the steps of the hiring process. Traveling long distances to an interview can also dramatically increase stress. And as a result, many firms now use live video interviews for a candidate’s first interview to reduce that stress and to save money.
  • Standardize and make the assessment of “fit” more objective — the least accurate of all interview assessment elements is the assessment of fit. This is because the criteria for fit assessment are often vague and subjective, leaving room for a great deal of subjectivity and bias. Clearly define the factors that are relevant to fit and hold off on doing a fit assessment until the final interviews.
  • Accurately assessing soft factors may not be possible during interviews — many interviewers attempt to assess factors that are almost impossible to accurately assess by non-psychologists during 60-minute interviews. Some of those soft factors that you will likely assess inaccurately include attitude, aggressiveness, personality, confidence, and energy levels. Measuring these characteristics accurately is even more problematic because many interviewees have learned to “act to meet your expectations” during the short time period of an interview. But, it is unlikely that they will continue that behavior on the job.
  • If the leader expresses their opinion early on, they will taint the decisions of others — when you have a team of interviewers, any positive or negative comment from the leader will directly influence the decisions of others. So, the best practice is for the leader to wait until everyone has completed their assessment and made their comments before revealing their own.
  • A hiring committee can or eliminate a hiring manager’s bias for candidates just like themselves — it is quite common for managers to hire individuals who reflect themselves. This can be problematic when what your organization really needs are individuals who are diverse. One way to eliminate this “just like me bias” is to use a hiring committee for key openings. The hiring process will be more objective and accurate because after so many hires, hiring team members will have so much more experience in hiring than any individual manager could.

Some Additional Tips for Improving Diversity Recruiting Results

Increase your chances of diversity hiring success dramatically by learning to make decisions based on data. That is because the best counter to subjective biases is data that proves objective criteria are more accurate predictors of new-hire on-the-job performance. Many firms have demonstrated that you can also reduce biases and improve diversity hiring results if you hold hiring managers and recruiters accountable for consistently meeting diversity hiring and retention results. Other firms have also found that you can improve diversity hiring by simply involving your current diverse employees in every aspect of the hiring process.

Final Thoughts

There is one final bias area that needs to be covered. It involves the unequal treatment that female new hires receive when it comes to their starting pay. Many firms require a candidate to provide their salary history during the hiring process. However, many women have been traditionally paid less in their career; when firms use previous salary history as a benchmark, women get paid much less. So if you want to help eliminate biases that result in paying women less, stop asking for salary history. Instead, use a fixed compensation formula that routinely results in equal pay for newly hired women.


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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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