BBC ‘Halt’ Applications if Candidates Don’t Answer Personal Background Questions

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
January 28, 2020
min read

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Do your parents have a ‘modern, professional occupation, such as teacher, police officer or nurse’? 

Were they ever ‘senior managers or administrators’?

These might seem like very odd, personal questions, but if you’re applying to work at the BBC, you can’t apply without answering them.

Here’s exactly what was said in a recent article by HR Grapevine:

Whilst the possibility of not disclosing the information (diversity/ background data) with a 'prefer not to say' option, the Express reported that when this box is ticked, the application process is halted.


Stop it right there.

We’re not going to lie to you - we collect candidates’ background data too, but there’s a distinct difference…

Applied candidates don’t have to fill out this information.

Not wanting to share personal information shouldn’t stop applications

Let’s be clear about one thing: a candidate's unwillingness to submit personal, identifying information about themselves should never be a reason to halt an application.

Whilst this data could be useful to ensure that sourcing and assessing is inclusive, it shouldn’t be mandatory in order to apply, since there’s numerous reasons that applicants might not want to share this information.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg, but candidates may be...

  • Worried about the data harming their chance of selection (this could apply both to 'privileged' and 'disadvantaged' demographics)
  • Concerned about data security
  • Too busy to fill this out
  • Morally against giving out such information

None of the above reasons should prevent someone applying for a job.

If diversity initiatives are about including different types of people in the workplace, then why are candidates being excluded for withholding information that has absolutely nothing to do with the job itself?

Whilst we definitely don’t condone the BBC’s approach to diversity tracking, we do know that it can be used to do a whole lot of good.

Why it’s important to collect diversity data

You can’t change what you can’t track, and so collecting data around diversity (this includes socioeconomic background as well as race and gender) can be an invaluable tool for building a more inclusive, data driven recruitment process.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that all companies that collect these stats are using them wisely, or at all, but asking candidates to share background information isn’t bad in itself.

For instance, we collect this data so that we can ensure we’re advertising jobs in the right places - we want as wide a range of people as possible to see our ads, and also to prevent any given part of the hiring process from disadvantaging a particular group.

The information is only ever used at an aggregate level. It can’t be traced back to a person or used built picture of them, which means you’ll never be able to use the data to make decisions, it’s solely for tracking the inclusivity of the overall process. 

Let’s say that we start off with an initial candidate pool that’s fairly diverse, we’d want to keep an eye on the stats over the course of the hiring process. If the candidates brought in for interview were all from the same background, then we might want to check that the sifting stage wasn’t favouring any single type of candidate.

If one group does disproportionately well or badly on one sift question (our data-driven CV alternative), then it may be worth looking at how that question could be made more inclusive. 

Does this mean that we only try to hire people from minority backgrounds?


It means that we ensure we have a diverse pool and give every candidate a fair and equal chance. If you’re using a blind hiring platform like Applied, diversity will improve without you having to take any further action. 

Our research on this was actually quoted in the article about the BBC:

“Applied research stated that companies utilising blind hiring are 22% more likely to have a diverse workforce”.

Of course, there will always be candidates who don’t want to share these details about themselves, which is why there should always be the option to skip.

For the most part, if it’s made clear that the information will not be used to identify or judge candidates, the response rate shouldn’t take too heavy of a blow.

We found that our background information form has around an 80% completion rate.

Whilst it would be useful to get the extra 20%, the form is still optional. It’s simply not worth missing out on these potentially talented candidates - several Applied team members have revealed that they opted to skip these questions.

Bottom line: diversity data can be useful but should never be mandatory

The BBC’s pledge to “hardwire diversity into everything we do” is ultimately a good thing. Being conscious of diversity is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

We’re not questioning whether or not diversity data should be collected at all, we’re fully aware of how valuable it can be in the fight to make hiring fairer.

What we are questioning is the means used to get this data. 

The end goal is to make the workplace more inclusive, is it not?

So, it must be inclusive of those who’d rather not share details about their background too, for whatever reason.