In the run up to ISE’s EDI Conference, Luke Lynch, school employability manager for Nottingham Law School, considers what could be done to improve EDI at the interview stage of recruitment.
Real progress has been made in recent years towards making the early stages of graduate recruitment processes more inclusive.
Contextual approaches (such as the Contextual Recruitment System pioneered by Rare Recruitment), in particular, have the potential to be game-changers for EDI, provided they are deployed both accurately and rigorously.
Understandably, firms have been quick to shout about this good work in their outreach activities but relatively little is known about action being taken to prevent it being undermined at the crucial stage by interviewer bias.
I expect that most of us with skin in the graduate recruitment game have at one point or another questioned whether the final interview is the most effective hiring tool out there. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have come up empty in your search for a preferable alternative; one that would be practical to deliver at scale, anyway.
So, while we collectively wait for divine inspiration to strike, shouldn’t we be exhausting every possible method of making existing interview processes operate more equitably?
Some would argue that making interviews more inclusive lies in adopting more progressive forms of questioning, such as strengths-based and situational. However, in my experience, savvy candidates will engineer opportunities to drop markers of their privilege into an interview, irrespective of the questions being asked. For that reason, the suggestions that follow focus on quality assurance of interview practices, rather than design of the assessment activities themselves:
1. Have your recruitment team’s back
Rivera (2012) and Ingram and Allen (2019) point to a power imbalance between recruitment professionals and hiring managers as the reason for colleagues with a passion for (and expertise in) EDI practices being cut out of the loop at interview stage.
Firms with the resources should consider implementing Rivera’s recommendation of appointing a senior business person to an EDI role who, crucially, would hold a veto over hiring decisions.
Amongst other activities, this individual could conduct spot checks of interview scoresheets, author guidance on the assessment of potential versus polish and even sit on interview panels themself.
2. Don’t rely on UBT alone
Research conducted by Atewologun et al. for the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggests that requiring hiring managers to complete Unconscious Bias Training (UBT) provides no guarantee of behavioural change.
Indeed, in some cases it can have the opposite effect, raising managers’ awareness of their biases and entrenching them in the process.
Firms that are serious about EDI will want to engage with the report’s recommendations, which include: educating hiring managers on unconscious bias theory, designing bias mitigation strategies and planning in advance how behavioural change will be measured.
3. Break the omerta
Conventional wisdom in the educational sector dictates that learners need to know what ‘good’ looks like before having a go themselves. Formative feedback, modelled answers and detailed rubrics all form part of the standard-issue assessment toolkit for educators in 2023.
Why then are the criteria used by employers to assess interview performance commonly shrouded in secrecy? If the thought of making your level descriptors available to candidates pre-interview is an angst-inducing one, that could be a sign that they’re due for a review.
4. Dial down the ‘culture and values’ rhetoric
Evidencing alignment to firm-level culture and values might get a candidate to interview. However, once there, research (e.g. Hora (2019) suggests that hiring managers care more about the individual’s ability to do the job in the specific context of their team or department.
This raises the uncomfortable prospect that candidates, and especially those with little prior exposure to professional working environments, are being sold a dummy.
Firms might therefore consider focusing a greater proportion of their outreach activity on providing genuine insights into the cultures and working practices of individual departments. As well as seeking to broaden the reach of insight and work experience schemes, there is scope here to get creative with online content and reimagine the format of job descriptions.
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