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The Future of Work

How "Blind Recruitment" Works And Why You Should Consider It

The hiring practice could result in a more diverse workforce and a better bottom line.

How "Blind Recruitment" Works And Why You Should Consider It
[Photo: Oscar Keys via Unsplash; App Photo: Flickr user Garry Knight]

Blind recruitment, the practice of removing personally identifiable information from the resumes of applicants including their name, gender, age, education, and even sometimes the number of years of experience, is gaining popularity.

Organizations including Deloitte, HSBC, the BBC, powerhouse law firm Clifford Chance, and cloud-storage firm Compose Inc have committed to the practice.

Blind recruitment is used to overcome unconscious bias and promote diversity in the workforce, and it has gained an increasing foothold in companies after a series of studies showed that people with ethnic names needed to send out 50% more resumes before they got a callback than job hunters with "white"-sounding names.

While the advantages of blind recruitment are obvious for applicants, it doesn’t only benefit minorities, says Azmat Mohammed, director general of the Institute of Recruiters. Mohammed says that companies who initiate blind recruitment practices virtually always see a more diverse workforce, which helps businesses overall.

"From research, it is clear that a more diverse workforce resembles your customer base more accurately; it allows for different ideas from different backgrounds. Bottom line, it is good for a business," Mohammed says. "A more diverse workforce makes more money, they're more profitable, they're more harmonious in terms of being a team, so the benefits are all there."

Case in point: Mohammed tells me about one of the first instances of blind recruitment that occurred over 30 years ago in Toronto. In the 1970s, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra (TSO) was made up of almost all white male musicians. The TSO recognized that they had a diversity problem, so in 1980, they changed their hiring tactics when auditioning prospective members.

"They put a screen in front of the actual people who were looking to hire people in this orchestra, so all they heard was the music that was being played–-and the decisions they made from that hiring method meant that an all-white male orchestra moved to half-female, half-male, and with a lot more diversity," he says."They got a brilliant result in terms of the sound they wanted for their orchestra and, at the same time, the diversity, which clearly was an issue and which is how they ended up with an all-white male orchestra in the first place, was diverted."

Mohammed says that when many people hear about the benefits of blind recruitment and the TSO’s story, they are eager to adopt the process. Yet he cautions that the practice needs to be implemented carefully in order to be of maximum benefit. Here’s the three steps he says every organization should take if they want to begin blind recruitment.

Figure Out How Far You Want To Take Blind Recruitment

The first step to blind recruitment is realizing it’s a process that needs to be tailored to each organization. There’s no one-size-fits-all rulebook to follow, so it’s up to you and your organization to choose how "blind" you want to go. Some companies might want to omit names, gender, ages, and education from an application, while others might want to only omit information they believe their organization has a certain bias for.

"What you are trying to do by utilizing blind recruitment is get down to the real basics about the job itself," Mohammed says. "You’re after finding a person who possesses the capabilities of doing the job, not necessarily who that person is at this stage. That is the key behind it."

In the TSO example, the only thing important to the orchestra was how a person played, which the TSO recruiters could accurately judge just by hearing them. For them, blind recruitment meant they could cut out absolutely all other identifiable information, because only the music mattered.

On the other hand, U.K. law firm Clifford Chance was interested in recruiting young lawyers fresh out of school, but wanted to get away from potential biases they held over whether people attended certain universities in England. "They did name blind hiring, but what they also decided to do is remove the university details of the applicants from their resumes," says Mohammed. "They weren't interested in picking so-called ‘elites’ from Oxford or Cambridge or whatever, they were only interested in picking people who had the right kind of qualifications, and not determining who to interview based on the university that the qualification came from."

Once you’ve determined the absolute necessities an applicant must possess to fill the role, it’s easy to tell how far you want to go with blind recruitment. As a loose rule, the things that have no bearing on a person’s ability to competently carry out the job virtually always include an applicant’s name, gender, age, sexual orientation, address, and marital status, so these can all be blinded from the application process.

Create Processes That Match Your Blind Recruitment Criteria

Once you’ve decided what you can "blind" from the interview process, you’ll need to go about creating processes that support those criteria. At first look, this seems simple. While it’s easy to strip fields from applications so prospective employees can’t enter their name or gender, most blind recruitment processes will need to go further than that. After all, blind hiring usually means you’ll not personally see or speak to the applicant before you make the decision to hire them. How, then, can you know if what they’ve written about their skills on an application truly reflect their work potential?

"This is where process creation comes in," says Mohammed. Those processes usually involve designing a test an applicant can take that is relevant to the job they are seeking. For the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, that test was as simple as playing their instrument behind a screen. Google uses blind recruitment tactics by making the applicant take various psychometric and ability tests.

"Creating more of these processes and practical tests really gets into the nuts and bolts of what it takes to do the job," says Mohammed, and are always better indicators of a person’s ability than what can be gleaned in a face-to-face interview. "The information you get back reveals whether this person is the right kind of mental fit, the right kind of ability fit, for your organization—and this is all without taking any irrelevant information into account, like their name or skin color, which might otherwise bias our opinions of the person."

Know Biases Are Something Everyone Has, And Train Your Staff Appropriately

Sometimes existing managers and employees at companies that initiate blind recruitment can take the new process a bit personally. After all, no one wants to believe they or their company had been biased in the past. Mohammed says that’s why it’s important to educate and train your staff, not only on the techniques of your blind recruitment processes, but on the reasons for partaking in it in the first place.

"Everybody has bias," Mohammed says. "I have bias, you have bias, we all have bias. This is not a criticism, it's human nature—it’s how people are wired. That's the issue that management and staff need to understand. It’s what blind recruitment is designed to help overcome."

To get the optimal advantages from your blind recruitment processes, it’s important to educate your staff—especially managers—how they can recognize and overcome their own unconscious biases. After all, the new hire won’t be "blind" to everyone for long—especially when they show up for work that first day.

"For managers, there is training that they should be undergoing to at least identify what their unconscious biases are through a series of tests, which they can then learn how to manage effectively and recognize when it might be kicking in."

As for companies that might be put off blind recruitment because the hiring process seems like a lot of work, Mohammed says that once you have your blind recruitment goals and processes clearly defined, the most time-consuming part is over, and most companies will be able to hire a new employee via blind recruiting in no more time than traditional recruiting takes.

"It's quite an exciting thing for a company to do, to completely rethink how it's going to hire based on the things it needs, because ultimately the business wants to do better," Mohammed says. "That's the whole point of all this: to hire better people, the right people to make the business move forward."

Related: Are You Hiring Smart?

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