6 Ways to Reduce Bias in Your Hiring and Screening Process

February 18, 2021
Checkr Editor

According to a McKinsey Report, between May and October of 2020, 32% of the top 1,000 companies in the US made statements supporting racial justice and 22% made external diversity and inclusion (D&I) commitments like donations and investments. However, only 18% made internal D&I commitments to promote equity within their companies or address recruitment bias. How can we understand this disconnect? 

To venture a theory, it seems that the organizational ‘will’ is clearly present, but the ‘way’ is murky—especially when it comes to internal systems and processes like Talent Acquisition (TA). TA has the biggest opportunity to promote diversity and inclusion within an organization. The challenge is, TA as a function is especially susceptible to personal or unconscious biases because the function’s mission is to make a selection based on a judgment call. 

The question then becomes: How do we ensure those judgments are based solely on role-relevant criteria? The good news is there are many experts already grappling with this question and they have a diverse array of strategies to share with us today. We are excited to hear from our partners on this topic, but first, let’s define a few terms so we’re all on the same page.

Common Types of Bias with Examples

It’s easy to think of bias as big shocking moments, however, the reality is that it often appears in the mundane exchanges. Another common misconception that bias always happens on purpose when in fact unconscious bias also plays a big role. Bias also can also be ‘inherent’ as in an (unforeseen) side-effect of a flawed process, which is why it’s important to continually measure the output of our different TA policies.

Here are some common types of bias we may encounter in the hiring process, but this is not an exhaustive list.

  • Age Bias:Evaluating a candidate less favorably based on a candidate’s age.

Work regulations require that a candidate be a certain age sometimes depending on the role, but beyond these thresholds, age should not be considered. A common example of age discrimination is preferring younger candidates for tech-based roles.

  • Gender Bias: Evaluating a candidate less favorably based on a candidate’s gender.

Gender bias often appears in insidious ways from how we write job ads to how we perceive certain traits—The difference between confident and bossy is often based on the person’s gender. An example of gender discrimination, which is illegal but unfortunately common, is asking women during a job interview if they plan to have children in the near future.

  • Gender Identity Bias: Evaluating a candidate less favorably based on a candidate’s gender identity.

We call out gender identity bias apart from gender bias because transgendered people experience high levels of discrimination in the hiring process and at work. Certain practices can inherently bias your process against transgendered people such as ID verifications or assuming someone’s gender. (Consider asking for a person’s pronouns prior to a meeting or call as a matter of course).

  • Racial Bias: Evaluating a candidate less favorably based on a candidate’s race.

Racial bias is a common occurrence and happens consciously and unconsciously., Either way, the effect is detrimental and must be addressed. A common example of racial discrimination happens during the resume screening phase.  Countless studies have found that CVs with White-sounding names are more likely to be contacted than CVs with Black-sounding names. 

How can you reduce bias during the interview and hiring process?

Now that we have a common understanding of some of the ways bias is enacted in the hiring process, let’s dive into the concrete steps TA leaders are taking to root out discrimination.

1. Structure your process for increased transparency.

In order to provide transparency for the candidate, we must first be firm in our own understanding of our hiring process. Take the time to define the order of operations between TA and hiring managers so all the stakeholders can communicate accurate and specific information to applicants. 

This type of transparent communication allows candidates to perform their best and sets the tone for honest feedback and scoring internally as well. We talked with Jacqui Maguire, Senior Director of Talent Advisory at Greenhouse, to see how this strategy plays out on the ground:

“Creating a more fair candidate experience is a major part of what Greenhouse does – both in our internal practices and what we build and advise for our customers. A structured interview process starts with a kickoff that clearly outlines the goals of a position and what competencies and attributes are necessary to achieve those goals. Having that level of clarity before speaking to a candidate sets up a more fair and respectful experience because you can be transparent with them about what to expect during the interview process and in the role. 

“All too often companies think about candidate feedback as something that only happens with a rejection. But in addition to being thoughtful and transparent with candidates when you reject them, it’s helpful to give feedback along the way. Ensuring that candidates have access to similar guidance and feedback throughout the interview process creates a more fair and even experience. 

“In the current remote environment, it’s vital to approach each virtual interview with empathy. Providing consistent feedback encourages a two-way conversation and shows that you understand the candidate might be going through certain challenges that impact their interview performance. It’s important to take that into account when evaluating their scorecard and providing feedback.” 

2. Rotate your team to reduce screening bias.

There is a lot of information on resumes that can trigger personal or unconscious bias from names to place of residents. Fortunately, there are many tools you can implement to shield info like names, ages, and university to reduce the chances of bias. However, there are also team processes that aid in fair hiring as well. 

We talked with Sarah Wilson, VP of People at SmartRecruiters, about one simple practice her team uses to ensure that personal and unconscious biases have less of an impact:

“At SmartRecruiters, we regularly rotate resume screening across hiring teams to ensure an individual bias doesn’t cut down the hiring pool in an unfair way.” 

3. Prepare for high candidate volumes with defined knockout questions.

A challenge of application surges (whether seasonal or caused by larger economic forces) is winnowing down the candidates to the appropriate amount of contenders. When the pressure is on, it’s easy to fall into quick decisions that are often biased. To avoid this Ariana MoonSenior Manager of Talent Acquisition and Operations at Greenhouse suggests defining certain relevant filters beforehand. This is how her team does this:

“Due to the impact of COVID, many recruiters are struggling to keep up with the sheer volume of applications for open jobs and how to manage the surge in inbound applications. Automating the application review process with auto-advance and auto-reject features allows recruiters to both create efficiency and remove bias by using a uniform set of criteria to identify which candidates should be moved forward. Leveraging such recruiting software can speed up the process of identifying candidates that have the skills needed for a role and frees up time for recruiters to provide applicants with informative and timely feedback.  

“At the same time, it’s critical to ensure that automation isn’t unintentionally impacting any demographic groups in a disproportionate way. Introducing both the right recruiting tools and structured hiring practices to move the right candidates through your pipeline is a vital part of managing a high-volume applicant stream.”

4. Set clear and relevant adjudication parameters.

One area where bias can play a big role is background checks. When adjudicators sort through candidates with records, it’s often unclear what information is relevant to the role. When the adjudication policy of the company and/or role is not clearly defined, it’s hard to make consistent and fair decisions. Companies can take fair chance hiring one step further with tools like Asses from Checkr which screens irrelevant information to avoid bias and helps organizations define company or role policies.

If you are at the beginning of your fair chance hiring journey, you may be wondering why it’s important in the big picture. We talked with Lauren Bell, our Fair Chance Development Manager here at Checkr about the impact of criminal records and why a past record is not always a reason to automatically dismiss a candidate:

“2020 broadened awareness of the devastating impacts of over-sentencing in the United States and the alarming reality that one in three Americans has a criminal record.  The collateral consequence is a large labor pool that is regularly overlooked. Businesses have an opportunity to help mitigate the legal system failures through adopting 21st century, fair chance hiring practices which include identifying core safety risks and expanding adjudication parameters so that volumes of great candidates aren’t denied employment because of a past record alone. The writing of systemic injustices is clearly on the wall. Businesses can help scale a workforce solution.” 

5. Collaborate for consistency

One of the most helpful things we can do when trying to combat bias in the hiring process is to acknowledge that we are all susceptible to enacting bias. It’s important to talk about the subject of bias with your team so that you can work together on strategies and tactics to address it at every step. Jaci Senczyszyn, People Operations Manager at Fountain starts the hiring process with stakeholder sync to make the goals and criteria of the job clear to everyone. This is what the process looks like at Fountain:

“Fairness in screening starts with the kickoff process with the hiring manager. It is important to establish early on a clear understanding on the Hiring Manager and Recruiters’ part by clearly defining and aligning on the key qualifications a successful candidate would need in the role, logistics, etc., and then screening based solely on those requirements. We predetermine in that meeting which things that are “must-haves” and things that are “nice to have”, and as a company we’ve laid out guardrails to keep it fair. For example, at Fountain we don’t favor candidates while screening based on the school they come from or their GPA as this has been proven biased towards candidates from more well-off economic backgrounds. 

“Another practice while screening candidates that is very important is being aware of your own possible bias as much as possible. We partner with DEI professionals to conduct training with all our Hiring Managers where we learn about how to recognize our own biases and how to recognize them when they may be affecting your decision. Tracking data of the screening process can also help with recognizing when certain demographics of candidates are dropping out of the process.”  

6. Prioritize Your Information Intake

Building on the idea that we have to acknowledge our susceptibility to bias, it’s also helpful to understand how we form first impressions and some ways we can ‘game’ our brains to make sure they are getting the best initial information to inform a judgment. Heather Dolan, Customer Success Manager at HigherMe shared with us a hack she uses when reviewing resumes that can help us concentrate on the most important and relevant information. It goes like this:

“We all have unconscious bias, and that can shape how and who we hire. One way I used to combat this when I was a recruiter was to start from the bottom of a candidate’s resume and work my way up to the top. Recruiters and hiring managers spend an average of seven seconds looking at a resume before they make up their mind if it’s a yes or no. If you start at the bottom of the resume, you’re making those decisions based on the candidate’s experience instead of their name, address, and education. It’s also helpful to see how the candidate has grown in their career, since usually their oldest experience is at the bottom, and their most recent is at the top. The best resumes are the ones that quickly depict the story of how that candidate progressed to where they are now.”

Fair Hiring Practices in 2021

As we enter 2021, we can expect high applicant volumes. It’s important to prepare our teams and our systems to fairly process these candidates. At the end of the day, it’s a win-win—candidates have a better experience, and diverse organizations perform better. 

If you are interested in more fair chance hiring strategies be sure to download our Fair Chance Hiring Playbook. You can also look forward to more expert advice from our partners as we continue this series on improving the candidate experience throughout the next two months. 

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