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4 Highly Effective Ways to Eliminate Hiring Bias

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Bias permeates everything we do. Politics in the news is the best example of bias at its worst. While this is just one area in which bias dominates our decision-making process, the bigger problem with bias is that we ignore information that conflicts with our preconceived notion of correctness. As far as I’m concerned, hiring people is more important than politics yet it reeks of uncontrolled bias at every step in the process.

For example, just last week I was training a group of hiring managers as part of a senior executive search we were conducting. Within seconds of looking at one of the candidate’s resumes, one of the hiring team members instantly rejected the person due to too much turnover. He wasn’t aware the candidate had already met the CEO and the turnover was minimal since all of the roles were part of the same private equity group. Even knowing this, the person was unconvinced. This is the negative power of bias:  People will rarely change their minds once made up despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Eliminate top of the funnel hiring bias by changing how you write your job description 

Just think how many strong candidates get excluded before it’s even determined if they’re capable and motivated to do the work required. When hiring, this should be the dominant selection criteria, yet it’s rarely the case unless the person is someone referred or personally known to the hiring manager. More often, candidates are excluded based on subjective criteria posing as objectivity.

For example, who has validated the laundry list of skills and generic competencies described in your company’s job postings as great predictors of performance? This can be proven to be flawed when 100% of the people who get promoted at your company into the same job have a different mix of skills and competencies than those listed on the job posting.

A more objective hiring approach would be to define the job as a series of performance objectives rather than a list of skills and competencies. For example, if you’re hiring a widget designer it’s better to state the person must upgrade the performance of the widget by 20% in six months rather than say they must have a degree in widget design, be results-oriented and have 10 years of industry experience. You can prove competency by asking the person to describe his/her best widget design accomplishment.

You’ll also be able to attract stronger people at the top of the funnel and weed out the weaker ones by asking interested candidates to submit a write-up of their best widget design effort instead of submitting a resume or applying directly. (I vetted this process with the #1 U.S. labor attorney as part of the research for The Essential Guide for Hiring and Getting Hired.)

Use the Sherlock Holmes interviewing system for eliminating mid-bunnel Bias

The Sherlock Holmes’ deductive interview approach involves looking for evidence the person is a top performer based on the recognition he/she has received for their work. The process is based on the idea that most managers assign their strongest people to the most difficult tasks, to stretch assignments, to the most important project teams or to handle the most important or difficult clients.

So ask people why they got assigned to certain tasks, if they were above or below their skill level and what happened after the work was finished. Then, if positive, use this evidence to prove to the biased interviewer your candidate is a top performer.

Conduct more panel interviews

Over the years I learned that a well-organized panel eliminates bias due to its “just the facts” approach. However, a poorly organized panel in which everyone interrupts each other asking their own pet questions is worse than a waste of time.

good panel interview starts with the leader asking the candidate to describe a major accomplishment most comparable to real job needs. During the detailed questioning process that follows, the other panel members (aka, the fact-finders) can only ask clarifying questions. Once the leader determines everyone fully understands the candidate’s accomplishment, he/she can ask about another major accomplishment.

The advantage of the panel interview is that it allows everyone to hear the same evidence. It’s best if this information is collected in a formal debriefing session right after the interview. (This quality of hire talent scorecard is a great way to organize this process.)

Measure bias at the end of the process

Once the person is deemed to be performance qualified for your job, it’s okay to consider how the person’s first impression will impact job performance and if their skills and experiences are adequate. But by making the assessment at the end of the process the best people won’t be excluded at the beginning of the process. After you do this 2-3 times you’ll discover that bias is insidious and must be eradicated in every step in the process from first contact to the final close.

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