The Power of Blinding the Job Application Process
Introduction: Why blind applicant demographic data?
Despite our best intentions, unconscious bias frequently impacts our decision-making. When it comes to reviewing job applications, we’re at risk for two types of bias in particular. One, called “affinity bias,” means we’re more likely to view people positively if they are similar to us in background, demographics, hobbies, or in other ways. This is particularly problematic in homogenous industries, as it increases the likelihood of maintaining homogeneity. Secondly, we’re likely to be influenced by what’s called “stereotype-congruency.” This means we tend to favor those who fit with culturally stereotypical patterns of a “good” applicant or leader. In many cases, this means we unintentionally tend to favor white, upper-class men.
Blinding applicant demographic data during the first step of the application process can reduce the impact of those biases and help recruiters find applicants who will excel in the position.
What can reveal demographic data?
While names and photos can clearly show gender, race, age, and other demographics, they are not the only way this information can be revealed. Other instances include lists of hobbies on resumes (such as being a member of a women’s tennis club), images on LinkedIn profiles, and letters of recommendations, which are likely to use gendered pronouns.
How to blind demographic data
While demographic data cannot be removed from every step of the hiring process, it can be taken out of the very first step: application reviews. The most effective and efficient method for blinding applicant data, according to a recent study comparison, was the use of a standardized online application form. Forms were designed to remove data such as names and links to LinkedIn profiles for the initial review. They also allowed the opportunity to add in job-specific questions that would speak to the candidate’s ability to do the job, rather than focus on their demographic indicators. These forms were used in the place of resumes and cover letters.
As described in another post, standardized hiring scorecards are an excellent tool to reduce bias in hiring decisions. When creating a standardized job application form, it should align with the metrics designed in your scorecard. In fact, an added benefit of such forms is the increased ability to compare candidates. Whereas individual resumes and cover letters can vary greatly in content and format, a standardized form that requests the same information from each candidate makes comparisons easier.
That said, it’s important to find a balance between forms that are too subjective and too rigid. Make sure to leave space for candidates to tell you how their unique skills, education, and experience have prepared them to excel in the position. It is tempting to follow the same patterns that we’ve seen before, such as favoring Ivy League universities, sourcing candidates with specific industry experience, or looking for familiar names in recommendations. However, the goal of increasing diversity and inclusion necessitates that we welcome new and creative backgrounds.
The limited scope of this technique
While studies do show a positive increase in diversity when companies use this technique, it is important that it is undertaken as part of a comprehensive diversity and inclusion hiring approach. Other techniques such as equitable candidate sourcing and intentionally inclusive job ads will help ensure that a diverse range of candidates apply to the job to begin with.
Conclusion: Brag about it!
While creating and implementing a new application system does have an up-front cost, in the long run not only can it decrease the impact of unconscious bias, but it can also increase the efficiency of reviewing applications. Once the anonymous job application system is in place, make sure that applicants know you are taking this approach, as it is particularly appealing to those from underrepresented groups.