How to anonymise CVs

Andy Babbage






min read


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There's been a lot of discussion recently around anonymising (or blinding) job applications (CVs, resumes, cover letters) such that the reviewer cannot see the name or backgrounds of the job applicants they are assessing. We see this as important step in making recruitment processes not only fairer but also presenting the right information to enable hirers to make the best possible hiring decision.

However, anonymising or blinding applications is sometimes easier said than done, for a variety of practical, logistical and resource availability reasons.

In this article we touch on the benefits of anonymised CV, how to actually do it in a practical sense and then what else you can do to make your process even more effective.

We’ve been hiring this way for 3 years now and none of us would ever go back. It’d be like going back to scheduled television after getting used to Netflix.The quantitative and qualitative feedback is clear; you will recruit  people from different backgrounds who are more likely to perform well in the role than if you relied on full CVs.

Why you should anonymise CVs

Unconscious bias is pervasive in recruitment processes. Unfortunately, none of us are impervious to this - check out our article Is my recruitment process biased? if you're not yet convinced.

But that is not anyone’s fault, it is just how the human brain processes large amounts of incomplete information to make decisions.

Bias brings unhelpful noise into complex decisions such as hiring someone to join your team. The good news is that talent acquisition professionals are at the forefront of this battle, are often very well versed on the negative impact of this bias and are well poised to combat it.

Types of unconscious bias

The first port of call when addressing this issue is often unconscious bias training, which according to the research, has mixed results...

A meta-analysis of 426 studies (involving more than 80,000 participants) found that although there was a reduction in bias immediately after training (a very slight one), this wore off after about 8 weeks.

For more, read our article: Does unconscious bias training work?

The next well known method is then blind hiring and the easiest-adopted approach to that is often anonymising CVs. There's 30 years of research which points to the dangers of including names and other identifying information on an application and blind hiring is one of the ways to mitigate these risk (check out this blog: What is blind hiring?).

So, we believe that anonymised CVs are an important first step to start removing bias from a process and as a result starting to make even better hiring decisions while bringing diversity of thought into your organisation.

The types of information you should remove

A typical CV is riddled with unnecessary information that, at best, has nothing at all to do with their ability to do the job and at worst, sends misleading and erroneous signals that the person is not suited for the role.

We’ve broken down the types of information that you typically find on a CV and listed the biases that might come into play, along with an urgency that this type of information should be removed.

Unconscious bias affect on CV review

Sacre Bleu! Get these off of CVs right now

  • Photos - what you look like very rarely has anything to do with how well you can do a job (except maybe modelling - but even then beauty is subjective). A photo can subject you to affinity bias causing you to prefer people who look like you.
  • Name - someone’s name sends a lot of signals about their background. If someone’s name is like yours you are more likely to assess them positively. If someone’s name is unusual to you, then you’ll make other assumptions about them which are most likely misleading.
  • Age - age is just a weak indicator of how much someone has practiced their skills. Instead of looking at that, how about assessing skills more directly and getting a better signal?
  • Gender/religion (and other PPC) - personal protected characteristics are called this because they are protected by law. You cannot discriminate based on these characteristics and they’re not really anyone’s business in the first place.

You might want to ditch these too

  • Hobbies - you may argue that this gives an insight into the character of the applicant or whether you would like to work with them. These considerations may be important, but care has to be taken that they are not catch-all terms for ‘they weren’t like me’ or ‘I couldn’t go to the pub with him’. Also if you share a common hobby (polo or yachting for example), this might make you view their application more positively than those that are different to you and therefore could bring something different to the team
  • Professional affiliations - professional certifications I get, but otherwise I’m not entirely sure of the value of this type of information. Is it confirmation that this person comes from the same club as everyone else? If it’s not valuable to know this then bung it.

And if you want to take it up to 11

  • Educational institute names - Number of years of education is one of the least predictive forms of assessing if someone will perform well in a role (check out the seminal Schmidt study). Additionally, the name of an institute may be a proxy for intelligence, but it also signals a whole host of other socioeconomic stuff mushed in together. At the end of the day it is a proxy for a skill or ability you are trying to assess. Don’t rely on proxies, assess based on the skill itself.
  • Previous company names - you see so many job ads that say ‘must have worked in top 4 <insert industry> firm’. Again this is a proxy and if you rely on it you will always recruit the same type of person.
Predictive validity of assessment methods

Practical methods to anonymise CVs

Here are 3 ways of anonymising and blinding CVs, resumes and cover letters in ascending order of ease and effectiveness:

1. Manually

This is the way that many pioneering Talent Acquisition professionals have been blinding their recruitment processes for years. The approach is simple; print out the CVs and take a sharpie to the sensitive bits - you've got yourself an anonymised CV! We’ve done this before and with high numbers of applicants it isn’t fun and can get very confusing very quickly.

This is much better than an unblinded CV sift, but still a lot of work (but definitely worth it!).

Printing and manually blinding is one method
Blergh. Printing. This is soooo 1440.

2. Using an Applicant Tracking System

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are a great way to track which candidate is which by helping to streamline your recruitment process. The problem is, as the name suggests, they are very one-way, kind of like attaching an ankle tracking device to someone and then forgetting they are human as they filter through your process.

Blinding is often done on these systems as an afterthought. The way it works is to first require your poor candidate to re-enter their entire professional history into a series of clunky pull-down menus and radio buttons. Once the candidate is thoroughly annoyed, the ATS then simply does not show the name of the person to the review. The problem is that the rest of the sensitive information is usually shown - why? because it’s an afterthought.

3. Using a People Decision Platform

A People Decision Platform has quality of hiring decision and diversity & inclusion at its very core, as it is centred around the person or human that is applying for the job (whilst still being a highly efficient system for everyone to use). Firstly, these systems are positioned to care about the skills and ability of a candidate, not the misleading proxies that you typically find in a CV. Secondly, they will carry out the blinding and much more to remove even more bias from a recruitment process as second nature. What’s more, they will prove that the anonymisation has made a difference by using real hiring data as a feedback loop to show the improvement. This is the whole hog, but really it’s just an enablement tool for great talent acquisition teams who have already been pushing in this direction for years. Surprise, surprise, Applied happens to be a People Decision Platform :).

Beyond anonymised CV and blinding

Anonymising CVs is just the first step in structuring your applicant data in order to quickly get to the substance and skills of an applicant. There are dozens of other behavioural science methodologies that can be woven throughout a process to improve its effectiveness. Have a read of our article on How do I remove bias from my recruitment process? for more information.

Beyond CVs and Resumes

The days are numbered for CVs and Resumes, after all they have been in use for hundreds of years (far too long). They’re riddled with bias, full of misleading proxies and are actually one of the least effective predictors of job performance. There are lots of alternative methods to CVs out there, the one we recommend is simply using the most predictive forms of assessment upfront. For most roles this is ‘work sample questions’ which challenge the applicant to think through a realistic challenge that they could meet on the job.

Once you’ve anonymised your process, the next step is to chuck the CV.
CVs are outdated. Stop using them
CVs should be filed appropriately

What next?

Hopefully this article gave you pause for thought about how to go about anonymising your process and much more. Check out our resource centre for a whole bunch of guides and best practices on this. Happy hiring!