Values-Based Recruitment: The Ultimate Guide

Joe Caccavale





min read


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How do you find value-aligned talent without compromising on quality or diversity?

Any candidate could find your organization’s values on your website and repeat them back to you - below we’ll show you how to inject your values into every step of the recruitment process to find people who will live and breathe them in their everyday work.

Values-based recruitment vs Culture fit

Whilst you absolutely should be looking for people who will embody your core values, problems arise when we start framing this as ‘culture fit’.

Company culture is largely subjective, and when viewed as something that must be ‘fit in’ to, can result in unfair outcomes as a result of bias.

If your organization is made up of a fairly harmonious team, then chances are, your culture will be reflective of this dominant demographic - and anyone outside of this will be penalized. 

By looking for values-alignment instead of ‘culture fit’, you’re able to find people who will work harmoniously with your team without their identity, hobbies and interests etc influencing decision-making.

We’re not looking for people who will be fun at the Friday social…

We’re looking for people who value the ways in which our organization works.

Make sure you’re attracting value-aligned candidates

Values-based recruitment starts with sourcing. Your job ads will be the first touchpoint for most candidates - so make sure you get your organization’s values across.

This doesn’t mean you have to list all of your values in every job ad. At Applied, we embedded our values into our job descriptions in two ways…

1 - Treat values like skills that are needed to perform in the job

Company values can be vague and ambiguous at the best of times.

This is why we phrase our values as if they're working characteristics, rather than abstract ideals.

Take a look at how we listed the requirements for our VP of Marketing role…

Our VP of Marketing should:

  • Understand our brand and positioning
  • Be creative and have an eye for visuals
  • Understand marketing analytics and what the right questions to ask are
  • Feel comfortable with abstract goals and breaking them down into manageable, executable chunks
  • Have a bias for action
  • Understand that great ideas are nothing without brilliant execution
  • Be self aware and know how to build out a team that complements their gaps
  • Be able to paint a vision and bring the team with them on its realisation

Although they’re not listed explicitly here, this skillset points to two of our core values: 

Have a bias for action = Own and drive change (core value)

Understand marketing analytics and what the right questions to ask are = Be curious and true to evidence (core value)

2 - Describe what makes our team unique

We make sure to give candidates a sense of the way we work by outlining the characteristics of the team (and wider company) they’ll be joining.

Again, you don’t necessarily need to list your values word-for-word - the idea is to attract candidates who actively want to be part of a team like yours.

Here’s how this looks in practice...

We’re a team who:

  • Are passionate about making high quality digital products that add real and meaningful value to people's lives
  • Can collaborate effectively, inspire those around them, and start from a position of empathy.
  • Understand the business objectives, the needs of the broader team and work with engineering and commercial to prioritise accordingly.
  • Are comfortable working in an early-stage environment, and the autonomy and uncertainty that change can bring.

The values we signal here are: Trust is our foundation, Create a fairer world and Champion the user.

Swap CVs for skills and values testing

Let’s get one thing straight: traditional screening practices are as broken as they are biased.

In your typical CV screening, candidates with ‘impressive looking’ credentials will be shortlisted for interview, and the rest discarded.

At a point in time, this may have been the most effective means of thinning the candidate pool…

But we now have decades of research that tells us there are fairer, more predictive means of doing this.

CV meme

The research speaks for itself - CVs lead to underrepresented groups being overlooked and don’t actually tell us much about someone's ability to perform on the job.

Take a look at the results of this study from the University of Oxford…

Study: Extra applications needed to receive a callback by ethnicity

Researchers found that candidates from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get the same results as a White-British person.

Worse still - these outcomes had barely improved from when they conducted similar experiments back in 1969.

And this is by no means a UK-specific issue. Results like these have been replicated across the western world. 

Study: Recruitment bias by country

Although there may be a handful of particularly bad actors that should be removed from hiring processes, most of our biases are unconscious - we’re mostly unaware of our prejudices.

If we then look at how predictive CVs actually are, they’re failing us here too.

The Schmidt-Hunter meta-analysis looked at 50+ years of research on assessment methods.

It concluded that years of experience and education (the basis of a CV) are fairly poor at predicting ability.

Study: Predictive validity of assessment methods

As you can see above, the most predictive form of assessments are ‘work sample tests’...

What are work samples?

Work samples take parts of a job and turn them into hypothetical tasks/questions.

The philosophy behind them is to simulate the job as closely as possible without making assumptions about someone’s ability based on their background.

Instead of asking a candidate whether or not they have a given skill or embody a given value, work samples simply pose a scenario that tests these directly.

Here’s an example for the same VP of Marketing role we looked at above:

The Applied platform is a great fit for charities and social impact organisations. We have organically sold to many such organisations, but now we are starting to focus on this segment using multi-channel marketing campaigns.

Describe the elements of a charity-focused campaign that is intended to: 

a) Get our brand out in front of this target segment, 

b) Get them interested in our free content and then 

c) Nurture them until they reach out to sales for a conversation.

How would you measure the success of this campaign?

Work samples are most effective when tied to the skills needed for the job.

For this question, the skills tested were Analytics and Campaigns.

Where relevant, you can also attach one or two values to a work sample.

When it comes to values-based recruitment, you don’t just want someone who can recite your values back to you...

You want someone who will genuinely embody these values in their day-to-day work. 

Work samples enable you to see how someone would work should they get the job. 

How to use work samples in your hiring process

We recommend using 3-5 work sample questions instead of a CV/cover letter.

To avoid unconscious bias around candidates’ names, addresses, gender etc, we have candidates submit their answers anonymously.

At the interview stage, you can use another set of 3-5 work samples for each round.

These can be longer, more detailed questions that provide candidates with a case study or real-life project to talk through.

True values-based recruitment isn’t just a few questions tagged on at the end of an interview - it’s making sure your organization’s values are being tested for at every stage in the process.

Give yourself criteria to score against

In order to data-proof your hiring process, you’ll need to create scoring criteria for each of your work samples.

At Applied, we use a 1-5 star scale and a simple bullet point guide.

If you’re looking to see your values reflected in candidates' answers, then be sure to add this to your scoring matrix.

At Applied, for example, we might ask candidates a question about dealing with one of our customers.

Since Champion the user is one of values, we’d want to remind reviewers that this is something we’re looking to see shine through in their answers.

Below is what scoring looks like from our side:

Review guide example

For the most objective scores, have three team members score each round of the process.

Why? Because collective judgment tends to be more accurate than that of an individual - a phenomenon known as crowd wisdom.

Key takeaways: building a values-based recruitment process

  • Bake your values into the skillset you’re looking for
  • Test skills and values upfront using work samples
  • Ask questions that give you an insight into how candidates would work in the role
  • Create scoring criteria to assess candidates against

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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