Understanding and using blind hiring to reduce bias in recruiting

Business leaders regularly expound upon their company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, but many still struggle to properly implement the practices needed to build a diverse workforce. One technique that has been slowly gaining popularity is blind hiring, an approach meant to provide an unbiased resume screening process and address issues like name discrimination.

Blind hiring can be a great tool, but there are several considerations to consider as you decide whether it is right for your business. If your company is interested in expanding its DEI initiatives and improving its hiring process, explore the concept of blind hiring and learn how to implement it.

What is blind hiring?

Blind hiring, also sometimes called blind recruiting or blind resume screening, is the process of removing identifying information from candidates’ resumes or applications to reduce hiring bias. Key information like the candidate’s name, graduation data, address, and any demographic data that may lead to bias on the part of the hiring team is obscured or removed when applications are reviewed under blind hiring. Then, the hiring team can review the resume/CV or application with a focus on the applicant’s skills and work experience. The goal of this is to reduce the impact of preconceived notions or unconscious biases in the hiring process.

Can companies perform blind interviews?

Blind resume screening is a great tool for increasing diversity hiring, but what happens when it’s time to move on to the interview process? Can you really have a fully blind hiring process? The answer is not really.

Blind hiring typically does not entail a fully blind hiring process, as you will inevitably need to know the candidate’s name to contact them and will see what they look like and/or hear their voice during interviews. However, it is a good way to make sure that the initial decision-making in terms of who is invited to interview is not influenced by cognitive biases related to the applicant’s age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other protected characteristics.

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That being said, some companies do try to make the initial interview more of a blind process. Blind interviews typically involve asynchronous written interviews where candidates can write out their answers to your interview questions. Sometimes blind interviews are conducted over instant messaging or chat services for a synchronous blind interview experience. For most roles, these interviews won’t be enough to make a hiring decision. You’ll likely want to interact with the candidate in a more personal manner to evaluate their communication and people skills before making an offer. But blind interviews can be an option if you want to continue the blind hiring process for an additional step.

Why Do Organizations Opt for Blind Hiring Processes?

The goal of blind hiring is to reduce bias and even the playing field for candidates. Organizations like Deloitte, HSBC, and Google use blind hiring practices as a way to foster better workplace diversity and maintain more equitable hiring practices.

Even though human resources professionals and hiring teams may feel as though they are not prejudiced people and aim to give all job seekers an equal chance, it’s still possible for hiring choices to be impacted by unconscious bias. Unconscious bias, also called implicit bias, refers to the stereotypes or preconceived notions that each person has about different groups, individuals, and personal attributes. These biases exist outside our consciousness but can still impact things like how we view a candidate’s application. Unconscious biases are natural and occur due to the brain’s need to make quick judgements and categorize social information. Having them is normal and doesn’t make you a bad person, but not taking steps to minimize their influence can compromise the hiring process.

Unconscious bias can have a large and unfair impact on job seekers, many of whom aren’t invited for interviews based simply on their names. Findings from a recent study by researchers from the University of Chicago and UC Berkeley support the longstanding belief that applicants with names perceived as distinctively black tend to get fewer callbacks. By removing personal data that may reveal a candidate’s race, ethnicity, gender, age, socioeconomic status, or other demographic information from a candidate’s resume, human resources teams and hiring managers can minimize the impact of these unconscious biases to give each application a fairer review.

How to implement blind hiring

To implement blind hiring, you’ll need to find a way to remove identifying information from resumes when you review them. Depending on your resume screening process and your budget there are a few ways to do this.

Anonymize candidate data

There are digital tools like Pinpoint, BeApplied, and Toggl designed specifically to help facilitate blind hiring by anonymizing candidate information for fairer application review. However, you don’t have to invest in one of these services to implement blind hiring. If you’re running a small business on a budget, there are free ways to anonymize resume information too. Some employers export applicant data into a spreadsheet and hide the columns with the names, addresses, degrees, etc,

Wait to look up candidates on social media

Many employers check candidates’ social media pages, particularly their LinkedIn pages, during the screening process. With blind resume screening, hiring teams should refrain from doing this during the initial screening process so that seeing the candidate’s photo, college, and other details do not sway the decision on whether or not they are invited to interview.

When blind hiring works and when it doesn’t

One thing to keep in mind is that blind hiring won’t always work for every company or role. Blind resume screening can be a great way to eliminate bias in the resume screening process, but it can be limiting and may not work for every role or company.

For example, blind resume screening may not be a fit for creative roles where supplemental materials like a portfolio, links to previous work, or the individual’s website are typically requested. When reviewing those types of materials, you’ll likely come across their name and maybe even a headshot and bio. However, some creative companies like many symphony orchestras have implemented their own version of blind hiring through blind auditions. If you can think outside the box there is room to try to implement blind screening practices across a range of industries.

It’s also worth noting that not all recruiting processes will align with a fully blind recruiting process. LinkedIn has become a large part of many businesses’ recruiting strategies, and blind hiring often does not mesh well with using social networking sites as a recruiting tool. Though recruiters can still use LinkedIn to connect with candidates and collect job applications, but obscure their data when reviewing applications or sharing applicant information with the hiring manager.

A similar, partially blind process may be applied for intern or entry-level roles at companies that do campus recruiting. The recruiter will still see the candidates and hiring managers may infer some things like their education level and approximate age range, but you can obscure candidate’s names and other identifying information when reviewing or passing along resumes.

Other techniques for creating a more equitable recruitment process

Blind hiring is one technique for minimizing unconscious bias in the hiring process and creating a more equitable recruitment process, but there are several other strategies that businesses can use to make more inclusive hiring decisions. Try these approaches in tandem with blind hiring or as alternative approaches, if blind hiring will not work for your organization’s hiring needs.

Creating inclusive job descriptions

Sometimes the job description or posting that you share can deter candidates of different backgrounds. According to the LinkedIn Gender Insights Report, women are 16% less likely to apply to a job opening after viewing the posting compared to men. Women tend to only apply if they meet the requested qualifications more exactly, while men are often willing to submit their resume even if they don’t have everything that an employer is looking for. This can lead to gender disparities in your candidate pool. You may also lose candidates from lower income backgrounds or less traditional career paths if you set strict education requirements in your job posting. Consider separating out the required qualifications and the “nice-to-haves.” Some employers also now add a statement that encourages candidates to apply if they feel that they’re a great fit but don’t meet 100% of the qualifications.

Regularly analyze your recruiting metrics

It’s helpful to conduct regular reviews of your recruiting and hiring metrics to analyze how your company is doing when it comes to diversity recruiting and equitable hiring practices. These metrics can help you identify where in your hiring process you are failing to reach or promote diverse candidates.

If your company is struggling to reach diverse candidates during the initial application phase, it may be time to reevaluate where you are recruiting or adjust how you are writing your job postings. Similarly, if there is a drop in gender or ethnic diversity among candidates moved into the interview phase, that could be a sign that implicit bias is impacting your recruiting process.

Be cautious about hiring for cultural fit

Businesses today are very intentional about how they build and maintain their company culture. As such, many prioritize cultural fit when hiring. It’s understandable that you would want your new employee to fit in well with the established culture of the company and their specific team, but it’s also important to diversify your workforce and welcome those with different ideas, attitudes and backgrounds.

Remember that you’re looking for someone who will work well with the existing team members, but they don’t need to all be best friends. If your company culture emphasizes autonomy and flexibility, a good cultural fit will be someone who can get things done with minimal oversight. If part of your company’s mission is giving back to the community, you may want someone who connects with that mission and is excited to contribute. These are reasonable considerations when evaluating cultural fit.

The problem arises when hiring teams focus on more personal attributes. Co-workers don’t need to have shared hobbies or interests, a connection to the same college or hometown, or similar personalities to have a healthy working relationship. Hiring teams should ensure that they are thinking about cultural fit in terms of work styles and corporate values rather than the social element. They also need to be aware of affinity bias, the tendency to favor people with similar interests, backgrounds, and experiences to their own.

Using assessments or work samples as part of the selection process

Blind hiring advocates often recommend the use of assessments or work samples to identify top talent. This is a good way for qualified candidates to prove their skills. It can also make things more equitable by allowing those who are self-taught or learned through on–the–job training to showcase their skills rather than being turned away due to lack of formal education in a specific area.

However, you also need to consider how long the assessment or sample task will take. You don’t want to put candidates off with a long, cumbersome application process. Nor do you want to ask for free labor by giving a full-length unpaid project. If you go this route, be considerate of job applicants and aim for a 10-15 minute assessment or task at most. If you need a larger sample project, consider saving this for a later stage in the hiring process and paying the candidate for the trial activity.