Are You Making One Of These Recruiting Mistakes That Show Bias?

These simple missteps could speak volumes about your company culture and commitment to diversity.

Are You Making One Of These Recruiting Mistakes That Show Bias?
[Photo: Anastasia_Aleksieieva/iStock]

The good news: More companies are finally focusing on diversity and inclusion (D&I) to ensure they’re attracting the widest possible pool of candidates. A November 2017 Glassdoor report found that D&I will be a major HR force in 2018, with 35% of hiring decision makers increasing their investment in building teams that are “diverse in all aspects of the word, be it age, gender, ethnicity, or thought,” according to Carmel Galvin, Glassdoor’s chief human resources officer, in a statement.


But could all of that focus be undermined inadvertently? It’s not unusual for companies to make D&I missteps in everything, from the words they use in their job ads to the way they interact with their recruiters, says Raël James, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at The Bridgespan Group, a Boston-based nonprofit organization that provides management consulting to other nonprofits. To be sure you’re getting the most out of your D&I efforts, ensure you’re not making these common mistakes.

Requiring Unnecessary Credentials Or Job Experience

Some roles really do require years of experience or specialized training, certification, or licensing. However, too often, companies list having a number of years of experience or a specific type of degree as a requirement for the job when it’s not really necessary, says Deborah Munster, executive director at Diversity Best Practices, a New York City organization for diversity thought leaders and a division of Working Mother Media. But arbitrary experience levels can limit your pool—and have a disproportionate effect on gender diversity, she says.

Related: The Bias You Didn’t Know Existed In Job Ads And Recruiting Software

“You’ve probably heard that women will raise their hands when they feel that they’re 90% qualified for a job, whereas men will raise their hands and submit for candidacy when they feel that they are a 50% to 60% job fit. So when you are asking for certain qualifications like that, if a woman is not seeing themselves fitting that mold by 90%, they may not even opt in,” she says. So think carefully about the experience and skills you need, and be sure you’re not creating unnecessary barriers.

Not Having “The Talk” With Your Recruiters

If you work with recruiters to find candidates, or if you have recruitment staff in-house, don’t assume that they’re on the lookout for diverse candidates, Munster says. They may be making assumptions about who you want in your candidate pool, or simply ignoring diversity as a priority.


“Companies are paying recruiters a lot of money, so they ought to put some requirements around making sure they have the right candidate slate,” she says. You may require, for example, that at least 30% of candidates presented for a particular opening meet diversity requirements, or the recruiter has to provide a suitable explanation for why such diversity is not present.

Related: How To Recognize (And Overcome) Your Unconscious Biases In Hiring

Choosing Biased Advertising Parameters

In December 2017, a joint investigation by ProPublica and the New York Times found that a number of high-profile companies were using Facebook ad-targeting tools to block older workers from seeing job ads. Fast Company‘s recap reported that ProPublica was also able to buy age-restricted employment adds on Google and LinkedIn.

This is a trend that may become a target for attorneys, says Port St. Lucie, Florida-based labor and employment attorney David Miklas. Those employers “may be sued for age discrimination because they arguably are intentionally excluding older applicants,” he says.

Using Off-Putting Language In Job Postings And Interviews

A job advertisement may be the first exposure a prospective employee has to your company. “Using phrases like ‘rock star,’ ‘ninja, ‘work hard/play hard,’ and ‘hardcore’ are all signs that your culture is a bit ‘bro-y’ or not welcoming to people with families or other responsibilities,” says Lucia Smith, an HR consultant at Gray Scalable, a New York City-based HR solutions firm. Social media management firm Buffer found that eliminating the word “hacker” from software developer job descriptions made them more appealing to women who applied to the company.


Underrepresented groups are less likely to self-identify as an “expert” no matter their seniority, and are much more likely to opt out of applying if they don’t feel they fit everything identified as a requirement, Smith says. Interviewers who talk about a commitment to diversity “without lowering the bar,” as if diverse candidates may lack qualifications, show bias in such assumptions.

“It’s also a turn-off to hear these phrases during an in-person interview, or to be questioned along the same lines as a test if they’ll fit in. Underrepresented candidates already often feel like outsiders, and showing signs that they’ll be additionally unwelcome if they don’t fit the exact model of how the team works will likely make them hesitate to accept an offer,” she says.

Homogeneous Teams And “Internal Segregation”

Miklas says that companies whose employee populations don’t mirror their communities or customer bases lose credibility when it comes to valuing diversity. If a complaint is filed against a company with more than 15 employees, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may begin to ask hard questions about why that’s the case, he says. In addition, if certain populations of employees are all in a specific type of job—such as hiring people of color, people with disabilities, or older workers for roles that don’t have advancement potential, for example–that could also be an indicator that the company is only paying lip service to diversity, he says.

“It doesn’t mean that the employer has been trying to avoid hiring black workers, or Hispanic workers, or older workers, or something like that. It just may be a coincidence. However, those coincidences get scrutinized when either an employment lawyer is looking at it, or, the EEOC is looking at it,” he says.

Related:  How “Blind Recruitment” Works And Why You Should Consider It


Bad Reviews

Employers today operate in an environment that is more transparent than ever before. Employees share information about employers on social media, review sites, and reporting sites like Glassdoor. If you’re not truly committed to diversity, the word is going to get out, James says.

Smith agrees. “It’s common for a recruiter to reach out to a candidate and talk about the company’s investment in supporting people from underrepresented backgrounds, but a quick look at the company’s job page, Glassdoor reviews, and benefits on offer will quickly show if that effort is artificial,” she says. Being inauthentic about your intentions can backfire and make it harder to attract the best talent, unlike companies that get D&I right.

About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites