Ac­ci­den­tally ageist? A new wave of re­cruit­ment tools can help you hire the best tal­ent by strip­ping away hid­den bi­ases

Hunt­ing for the best tal­ent? Use a re­cruit­ment tool that can strip out your hid­den bi­ases


“RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU’VE judged a can­di­date based on the col­lege on their ré­sumé,” says Kelly Grossart, re­cruit­ing man­ager for Ever­note. She’s stand­ing be­fore a crowd of at­ten­tive em­ploy­ees at the startup’s Red­wood City, Cal­i­for­nia, head­quar­ters, lead­ing an in­ter­ac­tive train­ing ses­sion on im­plicit bias. And when only half the group sheep­ishly raise their hands in re­sponse to Grossart’s re­quest, she ex­hales loudly and asks, “Are you guys se­ri­ous?”

No one wants to ad­mit they’re any­thing less than ob­jec­tive, of course— which is what makes im­plicit or hid­den bias so hard to stamp out. “Re­search shows that we find peo­ple more per­sua­sive when we like them, and the most com­mon rea­son we like them is they’re sim­i­lar to us,” says Cade Massey, a pro­fes­sor who stud­ies be­hav­ior and judg­ment at the Whar­ton School of the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia.

But your sub­con­scious as­sump­tions could be ham­per­ing your com­pany’s bot­tom line, lead­ing you to over­look great can­di­dates, take longer to fill open­ings, and build a less-than-stel­lar team. Stud­ies show that the most racially di­verse com­pa­nies out­per­form in­dus­try norms by 35 per­cent, while com­pa­nies with the great­est gen­der diversity boost a com­pany’s per­for­mance by 15 per­cent. Teams with di­verse back­grounds also tend to gen­er­ate more in­no­va­tive ideas.

Now there are a num­ber of new re­cruit­ment web­sites, tech plat­forms, and ser­vices that can help you push past im­plicit bias. De­pend­ing on the tool, ré­sumés can be scrubbed clean of cer­tain de­tails, like names, which of­ten sig­nal race and gen­der, and col­leges, which can in­di­cate so­cioe­co­nomic back­ground. Voice mod­u­la­tion soft­ware can also be used to make it im­pos­si­ble to dis­cern the gen­der of the per­son on the other end of a phone in­ter­view. And com­puter-based skills tests mean the first thing you see about an ap­pli­cant isn’t a laun­dry list of com­pa­nies she’s worked for, but an ob­jec­tive as­sess­ment of how well she’d prob­a­bly per­form on the job.

Com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Google, Dolby, and Wieden+Kennedy are de­lib­er­ately putting on opaque glasses to find tal­ent they oth­er­wise might never have con­sid­ered. All three use GapJumpers, a re­cruit­ment plat­form where can­di­dates per­form skills-based chal­lenges specif­i­cally tai­lored to an open po­si­tion. “We want to shift the fo­cus from the per­son to the out­put,” says Pe­tar Vu­jo­se­vic, co-founder of GapJumpers. When the com­pany crunched the data on 1,200 blind au­di­tions per­formed for its clients, it found that its method in­creased the pro­por­tion of qual­i­fied can­di­dates who are not white, male, and from “elite” schools from about 20 to 60 per­cent.

Harry Robert­son, co-founder of

mo­bile app mar­keter Liftoff, started us­ing blind re­cruit­ment in 2015 to, among other things, com­bat ho­mo­gene­ity creep in his en­gi­neer­ing team. “Early on, we grew mostly through em­ployee net­works and re­fer­rals, but that means a lot of the hires look like the cur­rent team,” he says. Al­most all of his 20 em­ploy­ees had been at a ma­jor Sil­i­con Val­ley tech firm. “I wanted us to cast a wider net and avoid group­think,” he says.

Since em­brac­ing these tools, Liftoff has made two en­gi­neer­ing hires, nei­ther of whom had clocked time in Sil­i­con Val­ley be­fore. “There’s huge com­pe­ti­tion here, which in­creases our hir­ing costs,” says Robert­son. “Blind re­cruit­ment lets us see di­a­monds in the rough that other com­pa­nies might over­look.”

BLIND AM­BI­TION Most en­trepreneurs aren’t in­ten­tion­ally bi­ased, but re­search shows we tend to hire peo­ple sim­i­lar to our­selves.

Illustration by MIGUEL PORLAN

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