Blind Hiring Pros and Cons: Is It the Right Thing to Do?

Joe Caccavale

7

October

2021

11

min read

|

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Here at Applied, we spend a lot of time talking to organizations that are committed to building more diverse teams.

Anonymous hiring may not necessarily be the solution for every organization, depending on where they’re at on their journey. 

However, there are both misconceptions and valid concerns about the process that are worthy of a response…

What do we mean by ‘blind hiring’?

First off, we should clarify exactly what we mean when we say ‘blind hiring’ (which we’ll refer to as anonymous hiring from here).

We don’t just mean removing names and faces from applications.

Whilst this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, we believe - supported by 50+ years of research - that what’s left on a CV is still grounds for bias.

Instead of relying on weak indicators like where someone studied or where they’ve worked, we instead test for skills by simulating tasks excited with the job, and adding both structure and data to the hiring process to turn it into a true science.“It’s is too labour intensive for hiring managers”

Applied vs traditional hiring process


“Anonymous hiring is too labour intensive for hiring managers”

The degree of work required of hiring managers will depend - at least in part - on how serious you get with debiasing.

At the lighter end, we have the practice of simply anonymising applications manually by scribbling out identifying information.

And then there are processes like the one we use, which goes beyond anonymization by overlooking background altogether and testing skills upfront using more predictive assessments.

These assessments are known as ‘work samples’ - they’re designed to directly test for the skills needed for the role by simulating parts of the role itself (example below). 

Work sample example


At both ends of the spectrum, you will have to spend more time upfront:

  • Creating work sample questions
  • Drafting review guides 
  • Reviewing candidates
  • Anonymizing applications (if done manually)

But by putting in this work upfront, you will save time later on in the process.

Why? Because the more predictive your assessments are, the more effectively you’ll be able to identify talent.

Predictive validity of assessment methods chart


If they’ve scored highly in a work sample-based screening round, a candidate has already proven that they have at least some of the skills necessary for the role - which is more than you could accurately predict based on a CV.

This is why organizations using our process tend to see ​​3x more offer-worthy candidates.

If you can predictively quantify how suitable someone is at the screening stage, then you only need to interview those who have already demonstrated their skills.

So, while anonymizing personal information may sound like the more time-efficient option, making the full transition to a skill-based assessment process will enable you to only interview those who have demonstrated their skills.

“The process is too long for candidates” 

In the words of Scott Wintrip, president of Wintrip Consulting Group, “Not only does front-loading assessments and testing turn off talent, especially top talent, it unnecessarily lengthens hiring processes that are already too long.”

There’s no getting around this reality: an anonymous hiring process (at least how we do it here at Applied) will require candidates to spend more time and energy on their application than they would via a traditional hiring process.

Needless to say, answering even one question takes longer than uploading a CV.

And yes, some candidates won’t apply at all when they see they’ll have to answer 3-5 work sample questions.

The first question to ask yourself here is: if someone doesn’t want to spend 30-50mins mentally putting themselves in the role they’re applying for, then is this somebody I want working for my organization?

A work sample-based process will deter some candidates…

But this is not a negative consequence.

You’re essentially selecting from a smaller pool of more qualified and passionate people.

How off-putting your process looks is also a matter of execution. Work samples needn’t take long to complete and should never resemble an unpaid project.

We don’t want candidates to ‘do work’ for us. We simply want to see how they’d think through and respond to the tasks they’ll be doing should they get the job.

If we look at the data, we can also see that our average candidate experience rating is 9/10 - including unsuccessful candidates.

Average Applied candidate rating chart


We’re not sharing this to show off…

The reality is that most candidates prefer a fair, debiased hiring process, even when they’re not hired at the end of it.


“Senior candidates will be put off”

A common objection hirers have to anonymous hiring is that senior candidates will be either turned off by the work required of them (assuming they’re busier than your average candidate) or outright offended that their credentials alone are not enough to see them through to an interview.

This concern is completely understandable. However, there’s simply no evidence that this is the case. We have customers using our process for senior hires who have seen zero negative impact as a result.

You can read up on how Comic Relief used us to hire senior team members here.

If you do happen to run into any objections, you can always give candidates a quick call to explain how anonymous hiring works and why you’re doing it.

If you’re serious enough about Diversity & Inclusion to be considering an anonymous hiring process,  do you want to be hiring individuals who aren’t willing to appreciate the reason that you’re not interested in their CV for the sake of fairness and equality?

The truth is - people qualifying themselves out is not a bad thing if they’re not aligned with your mission and D&I commitment enough to go through the hiring process.

The research is clear - education and experience aren’t predictive of job performance.

Whilst it may be the norm for senior hiring to be more informal than more junior ones, this doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

We already know that the higher up the ladder you climb, the less diversity you’ll see...

Distribution of white employees by seniority chart


And if more is at stake with a senior role, should we not be ensuring our assessments are even more data-driven and objective?

“Isn’t past behaviour the best predictor of future behaviour? I need candidates with experience”

Asking candidates about past experience is as much a test of storytelling, memory and honestly, as it is anything else. 

We don’t deny that there’s evidence that suggests past behaviour does tell us something about how someone will perform on the job. The problem is that we can’t gain any meaningful insight into this past behaviour just by asking about it.

Candidates know what is expected of them and so ‘tell me a time when’ questions are usually just an exercise in repeating the skills listed in the job description.

Instead, the fairest and most predictive means we have of assessing skills is by simulating the tasks the job will require as closely as possible.

Anonymizing your hiring doesn’t mean that you’ll be filling your organization with people who have no experience.

We don’t dispute the fact that skills and expertise learned through years of experience can make someone the better hire.

But…

We’d rather test for these skills and expertise rather than making assumptions based on proxies like education and experience.

If your previous experience was indeed valuable, then this should yield the highest scoring answers.

It’s not about penalizing those with great experience (or even ‘privilege’), it’s about ensuring every candidate gets a fair shot by allowing them to show, rather than tell.

If you’re looking for somebody senior to fill a given role, then rather than specifying x years of experience, you can create work samples that take a higher skill level to answer well.

“What about culture fit?”

When all the emphasis is placed on skills rather than personality and background, this can cause concerns about whether or not hires will ‘fit in’.

The first thing to consider here is whether or not you should be testing for ‘culture’ at all.

‘Meet-the-team’ tests are often more about affinity bias than they are any objective measure of someone being aligned with your organization/team, and aren’t predictive of job performance or even how long someone will stick around.

Impact of culture fit on job performance chart


What we might think of as being our ‘gut instinct’ or ‘recruiter instinct’ is actually just bias.

When someone outside of the ‘norm’ applies - whether that be due to their gender, ethnicity, age or even just general personality, they’re unlikely to ‘fit in’ with your culture… but this doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be a valuable member of the team.

Although culture fit should probably be avoided altogether, you’d be absolutely right to want people who embody your mission and values - both of which can be objectively tested.

We’d recommend treating your mission and core values as if they’re skills.

Below, you can see how a value like ‘transparency’ can be tagged onto a work sample question.

Any candidate can find your organization’s values on your website and repeat them back to you.

What we’re doing below is looking for evidence of values within the answers themselves.

Example of work sample testing values


“Identity/diversity should be celebrated, not hidden”

Anonymous hiring serves two key purposes:

  1. Making the process fair
  2. Finding the best person for the job

Whilst using an anonymous process will improve diversity - and make no mistake, this alone is why many organizations use our platform - it also guarantees a fair process.

We know that by looking solely at ability and removing bias, diversity improves as a by-product.

Yes, we want to track the diversity of the candidate pool at each stage to ensure fairness.

Yes, we want to ensure diversity does improve over time.

However, when candidates’ identities become a reason for them to be favoured or overlooked - we start to enter muddy waters in terms of both ethics and legality.

Hiring bias is as much about favouring people like ourselves as it is actively discriminating against others. Anonymous hiring not only prevents unfair outcomes but also avoids tokenism (and all the baggage that comes with it).

The aim of hiring should be to accurately and consistently identify the best person for the job.

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be celebrating individual diversity… but this is where the inclusion piece of the puzzle fits in.

“Anonymous hiring doesn’t guarantee minority background hires”

This criticism is 100% correct - even if you were to implement a platform like Applied, there’s no guarantee your next hire (or even the one following them) will be from a minority background.

Although ​​teams using our platform tend to see a 4x increase in the attraction and selection of ethnically diverse talent, this doesn’t mean you’ll have a more diverse team overnight… maybe not even in 6 months time.

There is no quick fix when it comes to improving diversity in the workplace - at least not without questionable practices such as quotas and positive action

Genuine, sustainable diversity can’t be rushed. 

We’ve all seen the studies - people from minority backgrounds tend to be disadvantaged when it comes to hiring.

CV applications needed to receive a callback (by name)


Whilst we can’t guarantee a minority background hire every time… we can guarantee that if properly implemented and monitored, removing the bias that leads to these outcomes will improve diversity over time.

True diversity also goes beyond optics like gender and ethnicity. Whilst not every top-scoring candidate will be from an ethnic minority background, for example, they may be neurodivergent or from an atypical social class.

You might find that you end up with a majority-female engineering team or a majority-male HR team. These are wins that should also be celebrated for challenging the status quo of who we expect to see in a given role.

“It doesn’t fix structural racism - it’s just a bandaid” 

Yes, some organizations have used the smokescreen of unconscious bias to mask discrimination but these are fringe cases.

Whilst you could make the case that we should remove explicitly prejudice individuals from our workplaces, this would have little impact on high-level outcomes from those who are disproportionately overlooked, since most bias is unconscious - we simply don’t know we’re doing it.

This is why unconscious bias training doesn’t work - you can’t re-train human nature. This isn’t being cynical, it’s just the reality of the human condition.

Once we understand how bias occurs, we can then design processes that result in fairer outcomes.

Unconscious bias isn’t something to be ‘defeated’. It’s just an unavoidable part of being a human that needs to be designed around to minimize its impact.

Anonymizing your hiring process isn’t going to overturn systemic inequality or racism.

No matter how we tweak our recruitment practices, we can’t account for the number of pupils per class at the school somebody went to or their parent(s) income.

However, we can ensure they’re given a fair and equal opportunity when applying for a job, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

As a single person at a single organization, you may not be able to change the world. But, if we can change the diversity of workplaces we may be able to move the needle on wider public policy.

And, with time, we can also negate some of the privileges that come with public school educations and top name universities - which don’t tell us more about someone’s background than their future job performance.

Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymized applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

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