Do You Need Recruitment Platforms to Improve Diversity? Here’s What Really Works

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
January 26, 2022
10
min read

Debiased Hiring Bundle

What do recruitment platforms actually do?

Recruitment platforms are software that help organizations optimize and automate their hiring process. 

This can include anything from sourcing candidates through to interviewing. Recruitment platforms are often referred to as ATS’s (applicant tracking systems), although these tend to work slightly differently… an ATS is more focussed on candidate management.

Here are a few of the features recruitment platforms tend to have:

  • Career page hosting
  • Job distribution/ job board posting
  • Sorting applications
  • Assessments
  • Interview schedulers
  • Automated reminders

Do you need these features to improve diversity?

Most recruitment platforms essentially offer a more efficient means of carrying out the same biased, broken hiring practices that have hampered diversity for the past 50+ years.

Whilst there are platforms out there that will help diversify your pipeline, this doesn’t mean that the assessments themselves are debiased or that you’re not trading quality of candidate for diversity.

The truth is: you really don’t need a recruitment platform to make a genuine impact on diversity. There are highly effective, cost-free practices you can adopt that'll result in real change.


What is Applied? Who are we?

Here at Applied, we believe that traditional hiring has had its day.

Despite our best intentions, humans are less-than-perfect at making decisions. Studies show that the tools we have traditionally used to aid our decision-making — like resumes, unstructured interviews, and network connections — only exacerbate these embedded biases. 

So, we built a platform that makes hiring empirical and ethical - helping to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked.

Debiasing humans themselves is extremely costly and difficult, if possible at all.

This is why unconscious bias training doesn’t work.

Bias isn’t something to be eradicated entirely, we need mental shortcuts to make sense of and simplify our complicated world.

What we can debias, however, is our processes.

And when you mitigate bias in your hiring process, diversity will improve as a result.

Most of the ways in which the Applied Platform reduces bias can be done manually for free (which you can see for yourself below).


Improving diversity: What works?

Anonymization

Anonymization is one of the most impactful interventions you can implement when hiring for diversity.

We know that candidates with a non-White-sounding name have to send 70% more resumes to get the same number of callbacks as their White counterparts…

So the most effective means of eliminating the initial wave of bias is to just remove this information from applications - along with things like addresses, photos, dates of birth and even hobbies.

Extra CVs needed to receive a callback by country


By making this one change, you should see am measurable improvement in the diversity of candidates being shortlisted.

When we look over a CV, our brains tend to draw conclusions and make associations based on things like our past experience, stereotypes and what we see in the media.

All of this means that candidates who don’t ‘fit the bill’ end up being unfairly overlooked.

What are the challenges of using anonymization without the help of a recruitment platform? Well, if you receive a high volume of applications, manually crossing out names (either digitally or the old fashioned way using a marker pen) could be time consuming.

At Applied, we’ve worked with organizations who were manually anonymizing CVs, such a London Sport, who estimated it cost the around 1.5 days to anonymize applications for each hire.

London Sport testimonial


Skill-based assessments

Post-anonymization, you’ll be left with just someone’s education and past experience.

Whilst this alone is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, its only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building a more ethical, diversity-centric hiring process.

Education and experience tell us more about someone’s socioeconomic background than they do their skills.

A degree from an elite university might be a signifier of intelligence… but we have no easy way of adjusting for the start someone had in life.

Instead, there are means of testing directly for skills, without making assumptions based on proxies.

At Applied, we don’t use CVs at all… we ask candidates 3-5 work sample questions.

Work samples are interview-style questions that take scenarios that would realistically occur in the role and ask candidates to perform them. Think of them as a means of seeing candidates do the job before they actually get it.

Work sample example


When choosing which type of assessments to use, you’ll want to ensure that they’re predictive.

Predictive validity is a measure of accuracy used in science and psychology, used to quantify how accurately an assessment can predict future behaviour.

If an assessment is predictive, then it means those who score highly are likely to perform better on the job.

If we look at the results of the Schmidt–Hunter meta-analysis, we can see that education and experience are some of the least predictive assessments, and work samples are one of the most predictive.

Predictive validity of assessment methods (chart)


By using predictive assessments instead of CVs, we’re able to give every candidate a fair chance to show what they can do, without ruling anyone out based solely on their background.

There are recruitment platforms like Applied that will speed up the work sample creation process, but this part can absolutely be implemented without our help.

If you’re still skeptical about parting ways with the CV, we’d recommend starting out using both work samples and CVs.

Review the work sample questions first, and then see if these are the same people you would’ve shortlisted looking at their CVs.

You can also use work samples for interviews.

Rather than having candidates write their reply, you can ask them how they’d approach a task, or even role play things like client calls, meetings and presentations.

Data-proofing/ scoring criteria 

Since our judgment can be warped by someone’s identity and our memories are far from perfect (we can only hold around 10 pieces of information in our head at any one time), giving yourself criteria to score candidates against will help you stay objective.

When making hiring decisions, we want to be able to point at someone’s performance, and not how we felt about them.

You’ll need scoring criteria (we call them review guides) for each work sample and interview question.

These should consist of a scale to score against (a 1-5 star scale will do) and a few bullet points letting reviewers know what a good, mediocre and poor answer might look like.

When you put this all together, it will look something like the below:

Example interview scoring


Scoring candidates’ answers can easily be done manually, no recruitment platforms required. However, if you’re dealing with high volumes of candidates, collating and averaging scores could be challenging.


Interview panels

Having multiple reviewers for each stage of the hiring process will ensure that any individual’s biases are averaged out.

Using panels will also result in more accurate scoring.

This is due to a phenomena known as Crowd Wisdom - the general rule that collective judgment is more accurate than that of an individual.

And the more diverse your panel is, the less biased the scores will be. 

Ideally, you'd have a fresh panel for each interview round, with reviewers scoring candidates' answers either in the interview itself or immediately afterwards, with no conferring.

Groupthink is the practice of thinking or making decisions as a group, which typically results in unchallenged, poor-quality decision-making. We generally desire group harmony or conformity, which means that we may agree with something that we otherwise wouldn’t.

This is why it's vital that reviewers score candidates independently, without being influenced by the opinions of others.

Interview panels are something that can be implemented without using recruitment platforms. Technology would assist with the admin - allocating interviewers, reminding them and calculating their scores. 

Tracking diversity metrics

Tracking/analytics are crucial components of a diversity-optimized hiring process.

How can you improve diversity if you're not measuring it?

Whilst there's no shortage of metrics you could be tracking, collecting basic background information from candidates is a good place to start.

Once you know which demographics candidates belong to, you can see how they progress through your hiring process.

This will allow you to see if there are any stages or questions that cause certain groups to drop out - it may be the phrasing of a particular question that disadvantages or favours one group.

If you claim to have an anonymous hiring process, asking for this information can be sensitive.

We use an Equal Opportunities Form to do this (made with the help of the Government Equalities Office and the Equality and Human Rights Commission).

Applied equal opps form

Although diversity data can be useful, your equal opportunities form should never be made mandatory in order to apply for a job.

Make sure you make it clear to candidates that this information is being used to ensure the process is fair at an aggregate level - and never to identify candidates or make hiring decisions.

Diversity tracking is one of the few things that does require a recruitment platform. Yes, you could track how people move through your process using Google Sheets, but this will require a lot of data entry at every step of the process and it would be hard to keep candidates anonymous.


How do recruitment platforms help with this process?

In the case of your typical recruitment platform - the short answer is they don’t.

That being said, there are recruitment platforms designed for diversity and ensure your process is fair (full disclosure: Applied isn’t the only platform that does this, but we are most science-based).

If we use our own platform as an example, Applied will automate things like anonymization, which means all you have to spend time on is the reviewing itself.

Whilst biases around someones identity are probably the most pervasive when it comes to hiring decisions, there are also ordering effects that also affect our judgment.

Here are a few examples:

  • Rank order effect: applications viewed first tend to be scored more favourably
  • Peak-end effect: we remember the peaks and the end of an experience more vividly
  • Halo/horn effect: a single good or bad attribute can overshadow how we perceive something
  • Nobel Prize winner effect: those who follow a particularly good performer will be rated more harshly

To negate some of these effects, we chunk and randomize applications

This means that candidates are reviewed question by question and their answers are never viewed in the same order twice.

Applied debiasing process

Here are a few of the key ways in which a recruitment platform could make diversity-focussed hiring more effective:

Anonymized assessing

Recruitment platforms can be used to easily anonymize applications. The benefit of using technology here - aside from time-saving - is that candidates can stay anonymous whilst still being kept in the loop, which would be difficult to pull off manually.

Applied anonymous assessment

Building work samples

The best work samples are job and company-specific, however we do have a library to get you started. The practice of using work samples doesn’t require any specific software, although Applied would enable you to remove a layer of lesser known ordering biases.

Applied work sample builder

Inclusive job descriptions

If you want to attract a diverse talent pool, a text analysis tool is fairly essential. There are a few of these available, you can try our own Job Description Tool for free here. Tools like this will help you identify and swap out things like gendered language and reading burden.

Job description tool


Managing the hiring process

Organizing and communicating with candidates is something that will be a lot easier with a recruitment platform. Although this won’t help with diversity, it will save you time and energy on things like sending invites, managing candidates, building questions and running the interviews.

Applied interview scheduler

Analytics & reporting

Tracking diversity metrics is where you’ll see real value from using recruitment platforms. 

At any time, you can access and download diversity data and analyze the quality of your questions to make informed decisions on how to optimize your hiring process.

Applied diversity analytics


Make no mistake: none of the above features are completely necessary in order to make an impact on diversity. Recruitment platforms like Applied will handle the debiasing, candidate management and analytics, but the core practices we use can be implemented without us!

By anonymizing applications and testing for skills, you will see improvements.

What recruitment platforms will do, is save you time and ensure that your process is demonstrably fair, ethical and predictive.


Should we use AI to speed up hiring?

Unlike other recruitment platforms, we don't use AI to make hiring decisions at Applied.

Why? Because it perpetuates rather than reduces inequalities. 

The process of using ‘training data’ to build future recommendations is often where problems arise.

This is because human judgment (which we know is less than perfect) is used to build the initial data set.

This means that human biases will be baked into your AI and so hiring decisions might not be any more objective than if done by humans.

Our CEO, Khyati, broke down why we don't use AI for hiring decisions here.


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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