Blind Hiring: the secret to increasing your organisation’s performance by 33%+

Joe Caccavale

30

June

2020

|

9

min read

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Here’s a promise: by using blind hiring, you will hire better people from a more diverse range of backgrounds.

Here are a few key findings from our own research:

Hiring teams using our blind hiring platform found that they have up to 3x as many offer-worthy candidates (and you can achieve similar results just by following our methods below).

In a randomised control trial, we found that 60% of people hired ‘blind’ would’ve been missed in a traditional CV sift.

Diversity will improve as a bi-product of bias removal too: blind hiring could bring you 4x more candidates from ethnically diverse backgrounds…

And companies ranked the top quartile for diversity financially outperform those at the bottom by 33%.

The blind hiring guide

  • What is blind hiring?
  • Why blind hiring: unconscious bias explained
  • Replacing the CV sift with blind reviews 
  • How to 'blind' the interview stage

So, what is blind hiring? Here’s a quick definition...

Blind hiring does what it says on the tin: removes all identifying information from job applications so that candidates remain anonymous.

The philosophy behind this is a simple one, we, as humans, are prone to unconscious bias, so to make hiring more objective, why not remove any information that might trigger these biases?

Typically, blind hiring removes the following information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Profile photo

But genuinely unbiased and data-driven hiring can’t be achieved without removing more than just these obvious details...

We took this a step further by removing education and experience - they’ve been proven not to be reflective of skill

Here at Applied, we removed education and experience from applications by completely ditching CVs in favour of skill-based assessments. We use work samples, which have been proven to be 3x more predictive than CVs.

No, we haven’t lost our marbles: education and experience are some of the poorest predictors of actual skill.

Knowing where someone went to university (if at all) or where they’ve worked may seem like essential information when hiring new talent… but trust us, it’s not.

Just look at these results from Schmidtt & Hunter’s landmark metastudy - education and years of experience ranked pretty poorly for predictive validity.

Source: Schmidtt & Hunter


Why blind hiring? Because unconscious bias negatively affects decision making 

You’ve been around the block.

You know your stuff.

But the data doesn’t lie: when it comes to hiring, your gut doesn’t help you find the best talent.

What we think of as being our gut instinct, is actually our unconscious bias coming into play. We respond to candidates differently when we know details about them, which can stop us from being fair.

This is how unconscious biases can affect the CV process…


This is why we got rid of education and experience - although they may appear to be indicators of ability, they actually act more as bias triggers.

Did someone go to a good university? That must mean they’re very intelligent.

Did someone work at a big-name company? They must be competent then!

As the graph above shows, this just isn’t how it works in reality.

Someone’s background might make them the best person for the job, but we’d rather they demonstrated their acquired skills rather than just assume they’re the best based on their ‘credentials’.

Now, let’s be clear: unconscious bias is natural and unavoidable. 

We gravitate towards the familiar, this doesn’t make us evil people, it makes us human.

However, if you want to build the best team possible, it must be removed from the hiring process.

Take a look at the results of this German study - if we don’t take active steps to remove bias, decisions aren’t made objectively and talent is missed… all of these candidates had the same resume.

An equally-qualified Muslim Turkish woman would need to send 3.5x more applications to get the same rate of call back from a secretarial role, and 7.5x more for a chief accountant role.

Do you have to change your hiring methods to remove bias? Short answer: yes

Simply educating people about their biases doesn’t have any impact on the outcome. These biases are largely unconscious - we’re not even aware we’re being biased! 

This is why unconscious bias training doesn’t work - awareness of bias just doesn’t go far enough.

Bias is triggered when we use our ‘System 1’ brain (the fast-thinking, instinctive part of our brain) to make decisions that should be made by ‘System 2’ (the slower, more logical part).


Since our brains are built for efficiency, we tend to take mental shortcuts based on patterns in our experience. 

For the most part, this is a good thing...

Life’s too short to spend hours deliberating on every tiny decision.

Unconscious bias comes into effect when we draw on these patterns to jump to a conclusion too quickly.

These misinformed impressions only get worse when we’re overloaded, tired, or short on time.

An average CV review only takes 7.4 seconds. So, you tell me: which part of our brain is being used here?

The problem is: for the most part, we’re not in control of which system we’re using to make decisions.

But what you can do is design a hiring process that forces you to use System 2.

Unconscious bias can only be removed by design.

How you can start implementing a blind hiring process

Step 1: Blind resume screening

Our recommended blind screening process looks something like this:


Blinding

Remove all non-relevant and personal information from applications. 

You can start with names (which you can replace with a candidate number for tracking later), addresses, and hobbies, but we’d seriously recommend replacing CVs (or any similar application process) with work samples - the single most predictive assessment method you can use.

In fact, they’ve been proven to be 3x more predictive than CVs.

Work samples are job-specific questions that test candidates on the skills needed to succeed in the role. The best work samples are the most reflective of what the job would actually entail.

Ideally, you’d come up with 3-5 work samples.

4 steps to creating work sample questions

  1. Decide on the 6-8 skills you want to test. Ideally, these would be a mix of technical and soft skills/ characteristics.
  1. Think of real situations that the candidate would come across in the job that would test these skills.
  1. Turn these into questions, posing them hypothetically (ask ‘what would you do…’)
  1. Give yourself scoring criteria so you can stay objective. What would a 1-star and a 5-star answer look like?

You can grab our work sample cheatsheet here - a quick guide to tailor-making your own work samples, complete with real-life examples.

Chunking 

Next, you’ll want to make sure applications are sliced up so that you’re comparing candidates’ answers question by question, as opposed to reviewing answers candidate by candidate.

This is to minimise halo effect - if a candidate answers one question particularly well, we’ll likely have a tainted view of all their answers.

Randomising 

The final step involves randomising the order in which answers are reviewed. 

Even once applications are blinded, there are still ordering biases at play.

For instance, did you know that the order in which applications are assessed affected their ranking?

Candidates scored first performed better.

So, by randomising like this, you’ll be able to make better, more data-driven hiring decisions.

Once you put this all together, your blind screening process will look something like this:

Psst. We built the Applied platform to automate all of this, which you now can test-drive for free.


Step 2: Blind interview process

When it comes to interviewing, blind hiring may seem less viable.

You’ve got to interview people face-to-face… so how can you keep bias at bay?

Needless to say, truly ‘blind’ interviews aren’t possible (not unless you have candidates sit in darkness and speak through a voice-changer like a whistleblower on an episode of Panorama).

However, there are some concrete steps you can take to conduct more objective interviews.

Hold structured interviews: ask all candidates the same questions in the same order

Don’t ask about experience: instead, try working through a case study or using work sample-esque questions.

Make sure you’ve got scoring criteria: mark candidates as they go along (discreetly of course)

Harness the power of ‘crowd wisdom’: by having more than one interviewer (3 is ideal), science says you’ll end up with more accurate scores. You can read more about this here.

We’d urge you really think about the interview questions you’re asking. 

If you ask brain-teaser or personality-based questions (a member of the Applied Team was once asked, “what kind of sandwich would you be?”), then cut them out right now.

Forget experience, forget how much fun you’d have over a cold one, we’re looking for the best person for the job.

“Tell me a time when” questions are a hirers best friend, but here’s a more predictive alternative:

Instead of asking how someone previously handled a situation, ask how they would deal with it instead.

The more insight questions give into how someone thinks through problems, the more you’ll learn about how they’d actually work day-to-day if they got the job.

Just because a candidate hasn’t come across x situation, doesn’t mean they’re not equally (or more) capable of tackling it.

A quick tip: you can get candidates to work through a case study that reflects the work they’d be doing. For salespeople, for example, this could be a presentation to a hypothetical customer.

*I myself was given a (real) blog post to edit and suggest edits to. I also had to interview a member of the Applied Team as if they were a customer and create a case study.

You can read our interview question playbook here - we went deep on best practices and shared a ton of our favourite interview questions.

The end result: true data-driven hiring

By arming yourself with scoring criteria as suggested in the steps above, you should be able to build a data-based candidate leaderboard.

Below is how this looks in our platform, but you can still build your own using Google Sheets.

So long as your scoring is simple enough (we’d recommend starting out by using a 1-5 scale for work samples and interview questions), this shouldn’t be too tricky.

Assuming all questions are weighted equally (they should be if done right), you can simply take an average of all marks across the process to see who the best person for the job is.


Changing the way you've always done things is scary.

So if you’re still on the fence about letting go of CVs, then here’s our challenge to you:

For your first go at blind hiring, use work sample questions AND CVs - but don’t look at the CVs until the end of the process. See how candidates performed vs your perception based on their CVs… trust us, you’re in for a shock.

Download our (free) resource on transforming your hiring process

If you want to hear more about how our process works and how you can implement blind hiring methods, please feel free to get your copy of our end-to-end guide.

The Applied platform was designed using behavioural science to make blind hiring as easy as possible. We baked bias removal into every step of the process so that you hire the best person for the job, no guesswork, no 'gut instinct'. You can now see how our platform works with a free trial, or browse or resource library.