8 warning signs that your recruitment is biased

Nov 4, 2020 | Diversity | 1 comment

A move to online recruitment and remote working has opened up new and plentiful talent pools for student recruiters, but Sova Assessment’s Dr. Alan Bourne warns that we must ensure we don’t apply outdated or ‘analogue’ thinking.

Businesses with a diverse workforce have competitive advantage and now more than ever, recruiters have an opportunity to hire from a broad and deep talent pool. A move to more flexible working has opened up new talent pools, but also exposed new challenges to be managed.

In designing a hiring process for the early career candidates of 2020, we need to be mindful of creating a level playing field at every stage of the process, which is likely to be almost entirely remote.

Below are some of the warning signs to look out for when planning a student recruitment journey. If you use some or all of these tactics, you’ll need to manage the journey carefully if your organisation is to successfully hire high potential candidates from a diverse candidate base.


1. Beginning the process with killer questions

These can be unfair towards some candidates if they rely on exclusive knowledge or experience, for instance ‘Which university did you go to?’ Is this level of education a proven predictor of success in a role? If not, this type of simplistic sifting question can be heavily biased in favour of the status quo meaning they can dangerously embed bias – and heavily restrict your talent pool.


2. The cv screen

CVs were a mainstay of traditional recruitment, but their downfall is that they define people through past achievements rather than their future potential. This is especially damaging for young people and those in early careers. Bias also creeps in because of unconscious bias relating to candidates’ names, and employment history such as university or school attended and previous employers. Again, this tactic can drastically reduce your talent pool and discount high potential candidates.


3. Reliance on academic achievement

Students come in all forms – apprentices, trainees, school leavers, college students and university students. Starting the screening process with academic achievement puts up socio-economic barriers that allow bias into the process. Academic achievement is linked to education opportunity and therefore those from more disadvantaged backgrounds will be less likely to be considered even when they have great potential to succeed.


4. The interview

The traditional reliance on unstructured interviews has been shown by extensive research to typically be much less predictive than either structured interviews or other more objective assessment measures. However, it is also one of the greatest causes of biased recruitment decisions. Structuring the interview well and training interviewers well, makes this high-risk part of the process fairer.


5. The hurdled approach to assessment

Traditional assessment such as a series of verbal and numerical reasoning tests act like a hurdle race. Candidates complete one narrowly focused test at a time and at each stage some fall out of the race. There are many reasons why this is likely to produce too few qualified candidates from some groups. For example, if you assess for numeracy early on and discount all those who are poor at maths, you’ll never know whether they’re a customer-focused team-player and may exclude those with poorer educational backgrounds without giving them a chance to prove they could be successful in the role.


6. Quality of assessment measures

Poorly designed assessments that lack scientific rigour can bring with them a degree of embedded bias. Some rely on exclusive knowledge of lifestyle habits or culture. Others are so simplified that it’s difficult for candidates to connect the assessment with the role for which they’re applying. The wrong assessment choice will mean a poorer choice of good fit candidates.


7. Lack of assessor training at assessment centre

Assessment centres, either in-person or virtual are popular in student and early career recruitment programmes. However, as with other elements with a heavy reliance on human decision-making, there is potential for the wrong candidates to be discounted. If assessors are not well trained in managing unconscious bias or if the content of the centre itself favours particular groups, it won’t be possible to select the best candidates.


8. Data collection and use

Collecting data, including bio data on candidates, from the start of the journey helps to monitor objectivity and to ensure a level playing field. All too often the right data isn’t collected or is stored in separate systems with no way to interrogate the data. If data isn’t connected in one platform, recruiters cannot continually diagnose and optimise the hiring process for fairness.

This is an excerpt from Levelling the Playing Field where you will find some practical tactics for creating a fair, unbiased and successful recruitment process.

Read Dr Alan’s 4 steps to unbiased assessment


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1 Comment

  1. Larry Enfield

    Additionally, the misuse of psychometrics in recruitment can discriminate against neurodivergent applicants. Fortunately, competent recruiters are willing to replace these barriers with written tasks approximating something the candidate would actually be expected to do on the job.

    Ignoring a request for such an exemption signals to the neurodivergent applicant that the employer doesn’t take their access needs seriously. They may begin to wonder why they should bother disclosing at all, or if it’s safe to be honest about their employment gaps to organizations who routinely exaggerate their interest in hiring disabled people.

    I urge any employers reading this who are genuinely committed to fair recruitment to proactively offer alternatives to psychometric barriers to all their neurodivergent candidates. Decide in advance what those adjustments can be, whether they’re substitute tasks or being directly skipped to the next stage. Mention your standard psychometric adjustment in your first email to neurodivergent candidates, and invite them to suggest their own. Before the candidate begins their first assessment, you must come to an agreement with them about what adjustments you’ll allow throughout the entire process. And if at any point during the assessment centre you feel like going on a fifteen-minute rant about the imagined deficiencies of your candidates, remember that you are an adult and decide against it.

    For more information on how the misuse of psychometrics in recruitment discriminates against neurodivergent jobseekers, I recommend reading the Achievability report ‘Opening Doors to Employment.’

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