Everything you didn’t know about Blind Recruitment

“Never judge a book by its cover.”

You’ve probably heard this saying plenty of times. But how does this relate to blind recruitment? As the saying suggests, a book should not be judged by its cover – it might be well-designed and its contents poor, or the opposite – the design of it might not be so impressive, but the contents extremely valuable. When it comes to recruitment, let’s rephrase it a bit:

“Never judge a candidate by their cover.”

The world should be a place with equal opportunities for everyone, opportunities that are not merely determined by someone’s cover, such as their socioeconomic background, age, academic qualifications or gender. Candidates should be evaluated based on what actually determines their suitability for a role – their skills, cognitive abilities, personality and behaviour traits.

We live in the 21st century. So, one would expect that hiring decisions are made in an unbiased manner & based on what matters. Unfortunately, well it’s not such a world just yet and some still tend to unintentionally discriminate by falling into the many pitfalls of cognitive biases during the hiring process. Eliminating bias from the hiring process still remains complex puzzle, but can using blind recruitment be the missing piece to make this puzzle complete?

After reading this blog, you will know all about:

What is Blind Recruitment?

A brief history of Blind Recruitment

Blind hiring was first used in the 1970s as an attempt by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to diversify their almost entirely white male demographic. 

How did they do this? During the audition process, they asked musicians to stand behind a curtain/screen of sorts. This way hiding the actual musicians from the sight and thus, being able to base their hiring decisions on solely their musical performance. 

It led to an increase of 25 – 45% more women hired. And on top of it – the diversity within the orchestra also meant they were able to attract more diverse audiences.

Simple as that. 

Blind Recruitment: A definition

Okay, it’s one thing to draw the curtains (yes, I just made that joke, oops) when auditioning musicians because at the end of the day it is their voice that matters for them to succeed at their job. 

But how does this work when it comes to recruitment for tech companies, for example? I mean you cannot draw the curtains and listen to someone’s voice when hiring them for a Marketing or Engineering position because that’s not what will make them successful at their job.

Blind recruitment is the process that implies that you intentionally hide the personal information of candidates that might unconsciously impact your hiring decisions. Thus, allowing you to base your evaluation on the candidate’s skills and potential, instead of where they are coming from or what university they studied at. 

Blind recruitment serves two key purposes:

  1. Making the hiring process fairer and ensuring equal opportunities;
  2. Finding and hiring the best person for the job.

What information stays?

‍Information related only to the vacancy they’ve applied for.

What information commonly gets removed as part of Blind Recruitment?

Regarding what pieces of information get removed as part of the blind recruitment process, most commonly it’s details that can give you insights into who the person behind the application is. Insights that are in no way detrimental to whether the person will be successful at their job or not. 

Most commonly, nationality, gender, names, educational institutions/education, address, age, and personal interests are those that are blurred out when opting for a blind recruitment process. 

Ethnic background

Most candidates don’t share their ethnicity when applying for a job but a LinkedIn profile photo or even the country they previously worked or attended school in provides plenty of hints. Racial prejudices of course differ from person to person but it would be naive to say ethnicity never influences hiring.

Gender

Research overwhelmingly shows that sexism and gender inequality persists in the workplace. For example, women have traditionally been disadvantaged in the labour market, and much scholarship has documented patterns of and trends in gender inequalities (e.g. Weichselbaumer and Winter-Ebmer, 2005; Carlsson, 2011). 

Names

A candidate’s name often reveals either race and/or gender. Research shows that applicants with “white-sounding names” get 50% more callbacks than applicants with Black-sounding names, regardless of identical professional experiences.

Education

You’d think that education becomes less and less relevant in an era where every company talks about ‘’skill-based hiring’’ being the future of recruitment. But unfortunately, reality still proves us wrong.

As humans, we are prone to automatically make assumptions about the intelligence of individuals simply by looking at the names of the schools or universities they went to. However, the University a candidate graduated from has little relevance to their suitability for a certain job. Also, the University a candidate attended can indicate their ethnicity or economic background resulting in a higher risk for bias.

Even if you, as the employer, don’t perceive them to be less-skilled, you might be deciding they’re less suitable unconsciously based on your preconceived notions of different schools. In fact, studies show that 61 % of employers have rejected candidates who possessed the required experience and skills simply because they didn’t have a degree. On top of that, selecting candidates based on their educational degree is not only unfair but also a huge risk for your hiring success.

Address

The home address of a candidate can reveal information about their socio-economic background that could cause unconscious bias.

If the backgrounds of candidates don’t match those of current employees, an employer may be unconsciously inclined to rank the candidate lower due to the possibility of them not working well with current employees. Therefore, the removal of the candidate’s home address can be a valuable alteration.

Age

Removing the date from applications and CVs is an obvious step if you’re trying to reduce age discrimination. But years spent at previous jobs and periods of education will allow the age of a candidate to be roughly estimated. Removing these dates from the information presented to your team members that are part of the selection process will help to reduce the risk of age bias.

Personal interests 

Some people list their hobbies and interests on their resume but that information can also interfere with hiring.

And whether we like it or not, our frame of reference instantly starts putting labels on candidates, based on their hobbies. That’s because our frame of reference, which is fed by our biases, unconsciously links hobbies to transferrable skills, behaviors, and personality traits.  Thus, making us wrongfully hire based on unconscious biases , e.g. stereotyping or similarity bias. 

How is seeing this information related to unconscious bias?

Cognitive biases are created when our brain unconsciously processes info, and attaches meaning to it. And all of us have cognitive biases – they are not only a result of being human, but they also allow us to live our daily lives. Every second, our brain needs to process 11 million pieces of information, of which we can only process 40 consciously. In order to not suffer from an information overload, our brain creates cognitive shortcuts, or cognitive biases. 

The point I’m trying to make here is that information – like my name – does not show whether or not I am the best fit candidate for the job position. Even a tiny, what seems almost like an irrelevant assumption like this, can have the biggest consequences in terms of making the wrong hiring decisions.

Let’s take a look at the examples below:

Examples of how different pieces of information you see in a resume/CV can trigger different unconscious biases.

Blind Recruiting Statistics: Is it really necessary?

Are you not yet convinced that unconscious biases can lead to unfair hiring practices? Well, here’s what research has to say about it:

  • A study shows that ethnic minority applicants are discriminated against in favour of white applicants in 29% of cases.
  • Equivalent resumes with Black-sounding names are 50% less likely to receive a callback for an interview than those with White-sounding names.
  • In another study, a candidate with a Turkish-sounding name that wore a headscarf had to send 4.5 times as many applications as an identical applicant with a German-sounding name and no headscarf to receive the same number of callbacks for interview.
  • On top of all that, research from PwC found that 1 in 5 women experience gender discrimination in recruitment.
  • Women have a statistically significant 4.7 % point advantage in the callback rate over men when the recruiter is female .
  • Among all US companies with 100 or more employees, the proportion of black men in management barely increased from 3% in 1985 to 3.3% in 2014 and the proportion of white women has stayed mostly flat since 2000 at under 30% (Dobbin and Kalev, 2016).
  • Psychology faculty from the US were randomly assigned to evaluate one of two identical CVs for a person ostensibly applying for an assistant professor position, differentiated only by the gender of the candidate. When asked if the candidate would be competitive for a tenure track position in their department, the faculty who evaluated the man’s CV responded affirmatively 72% of the time, compared to just 44% for those evaluating the woman’s CV.

So, there you have the problem.

Why you should care about this? Well…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll know that the business case for diversity is strong. But progress on diversity is slow. This McKinsey study shows that in the United States and the United Kingdom, female representation on executive teams is rising slowly—from 15% in 2014 to 20% in 2019.

If the diversity of your talent pool isn’t represented at the interview stage, blind recruitment can have a big positive impact…

How to implement Blind Recruitment

Inclusive/neutral job descriptions

I am sure you’ve heard the saying “think before you speak”. Words can be powerful in an everyday setting, that’s why it’s especially important to choose them wisely also when writing your job descriptions. 

For example, there is a chance that within your job descriptions you accidentally perpetuate gender stereotypes. Research shows that 70% of cross-sector job ads unintentionally contain masculine-themed language, but in fact, job descriptions with gender-neutral wording can attract 42% more response.

Using words that are either masculine or feminine can foster gender inequality. Depending on the language in which you write the job descriptions, even the use of pronouns can foster gender inequality. In English for example, instead of using “he” or “she”, use the non-gender-specific “you” instead.

Even certain adjectives, like “strong”, “determined” and “self-reliant” can be perceived as masculine words. Thus, in a way implying that the person for this role is expected to be a man. If you are not entirely sure whether you’ve successfully removed gendered words from your job description, you can always use tools such as Textio bias meter. These types of tools help reveal any hidden gender bias within the text & suggest alternatives to make the text more gender-neutral.

Set the right expectations with the whole organization

Blind recruitment is just one tiny part of the overall diversity puzzle, so make sure that is clearly communicated to everyone. 

Select the information you want to hide

Deciding what information to hide is probably the most important aspect of implementing blind recruitment. As I mentioned before information such as name, education, zip code and so on can give off certain cues that might make blind recruitment impossible. So carefully decide what information is actually important for you and the company and collectively discuss it with those involved in the hiring process.

Set goals and measure the results

I cannot stress enough the importance of management buy-in when it comes to implementing blind recruiting practices. To get buy-in, make sure to set benchmarks before you start and continuously review them over time to assess whether blind recruitment is leading to benefits you expect or not when it comes to diversity.

An example of a goal could be that the diversity of the overall talent pool for a specific department clearly reflects in the first stages of the interview process.

Focus on collecting relevant data about your candidate’s skills

At this point, you are probably curious about what it is then that you should base your hiring decisions upon. Well, you need to figure out what information to collect and how to gather it best.

Pre-employment assessments allow you to gather data about your candidate’s cognitive abilities, personality and behavioural traits, and even their company culture preferences. By letting candidates complete assessments in the beginning of the hiring process it helps you make hiring decisions that are more objective.

Not sure which pre-employment test will be the right one for your needs?

Here are 7 factors to consider when choosing pre-employment tests!

Use a structured interview process

Standardized and structured interview processes allow you to focus on factors that have a direct impact on the candidate performance & make it easier to avoid bias. Structured means the interview process should have the same structure for each and every candidate. 

Structured format of interviews will make it easier to avoid bias because every interview is much easier to evaluate objectively. Try to make these questions open-ended – these are better measures of competency and also are harder to evaluate subjectively as they do not have one right answer. This will allow you to focus on factors that have a direct impact on the candidates performance. 

If the interviews are unstructured, your final decision is more likely to be impacted by personal bias. 

Avoid social media (e.g. LinkedIn) pre-screening

Now, be honest with me (and yourself): pre-screening candidate social media profiles, such as LinkedIn, has probably become a part of your routine during the hiring process. 

However, this without a doubt has it downsides and can lead to distorted perception of the candidate whether it be for the better or the worse. I’m not saying that you should completely ditch reviewing someone’s social media presence. What I’m saying is that it might be smart to move it further along down the funnel. For example, a good time to check out someone’s social media accounts would be after the first round of interviews (as then you’ve already gotten to know the candidate’s skills and have formed and unbiased first perception).

Educate yourself and your team about unconscious bias

Using blind recruitment can be extremely beneficial but it will not suffice if you and your teams are not educated about what are unconscious biases and the impact they have on hiring decisions, as well as in the workplace.

One of the most effective ways to do so is by using what is known as substitution. This basically means that employees should ask themselves whether they would still feel the same way if an individual were substituted for another. Would they still respond the same way too?

To sum up:

How to implement blind recruitment - 8 steps to take

Pros & cons of Blind Recruitment

Adopting blind recruitment comes with many advantages, however, there are also some pitfalls to avoid.

Cons of Blind Recruitment

Bias can still come into play

Even though the candidates that end up in your hiring funnel as a result of blind recruitment practices, they eventually will have to still meet with a hiring manager face-to-face (or screen-to-screen). Whether it’s conscious or unconscious, when we actually see the candidates, our very own biases can still influence the hiring decisions we make. 

Regardless of how much effort has been put into eliminating these biases previously.

Blind Recruitment may unintentionally discriminate

On top of that, if you, for example, have a goal to hire more women, it might happen that you see some gaps in the employment of certain candidates. Thus, automatically assuming that they might have been on maternity leave, for example. The result? You end up overlooking candidates that might be good fit because you lack the context of their employment history details.

Doesn’t allow to identify for culture fit

Anonymizing the details of your candidates could prevent you from hiring someone who meshes with your company culture. However, you could argue that this isn’t a bad thing since culture fit can be used as reasoning for hiring someone who looks and speaks like your current employees (which is definitely what you should not be aiming for). 

Pros of Blind Recruitment

There are multiple advantages of Blind recruitment:

You’ll remove unconscious bias

Ultimately, blind recruitment strips away all the aspects that can be influenced by your personal frame of reference, helping to remove unconscious bias.

A larger pool of candidates to choose from

Let’s be honest – especially now, in the midst of war for talent, this can never be a bad thing can it? After all, the more the merrier! With a larger pool of candidates available, you’ll boost your chances of making a better hire.

Fair chance and equal opportunities to all

Obviously, the main advantage of blind hiring is that all candidates are judged by exactly the same factors – the specific skills and abilities that they bring to the table, rather than any other personal information. 

You’ll make new hires based on merit

Blind recruitment not only eliminates the likelihood of bias, it also allows you to focus on what you should be looking at to begin with; skills and suitability.

Hiring based on who can add to the atmosphere (so based on personality and character) of the workplace can be seen as acceptable, blind recruitment allows you to make hires based on merit.

Improved workplace diversity

Of course, one of the key benefits blind recruitment can offer is a more diverse workforce. By removing all unconscious bias from your recruitment process, you’ll ensure that you continue to add multiculturalism to your workplace. 

And we both know that diversity within teams is a real game-changer for any company. In fact, it has become a must-have as it brings multitude of benefits

Potentially higher-skilled employees

If your hiring efforts are solely focused on the skill-set and attitude of a candidate, you’ll increase your chances of gaining a high potential workforce.

To sum up:

Taking it a step further

At this point, you are probably curious about what it is then that you should base your hiring decisions upon. Well, you need to figure out what information to collect and how to gather it best.

Pre-employment assessments allow you to gather data about your candidate’s cognitive abilities, personality and behavioral traits, and even their company culture preferences. By letting candidates complete assessments throughout the early stages of the hiring process it can help you make hiring decisions that are more objective.

Equalture’s Game-Based assessments & Blind Recruitment feature

We help companies get to know their candidates’ skills, behavior, and personality in an objective way, rather than having to guess this through an interview. We have built a library of scientifically-validated gamified assessments, which candidates are asked to complete right at the start of the hiring process (this takes around 15 minutes). This ensures a first impression based on science, instead of wrong assumptions based on someone’s hobbies (or whatever activities they mention in order to hopefully get the job).

After receiving those results, you already have a lot of insights into their candidates. Bias-free, science-backed, and objective.

On top of that, our Blind Recruitment feature allows you to automatically hide information such as name, gender, date of birth, and other identification details throughout this process. Here is what this feature looks like in the product:

Equalture's Blind recruitment feature that blurs out personal information of candidates.

When characteristics like these are removed from the equation, you are more likely to select the candidates that are best fit for the job vacancy, not just candidates that you intuitively think will be the best fit.  After all, why would you care about what someone’s name or age is if they are the perfect fit for the job role and your company culture? We remove personal details, and instead provide you with a candidate summary block based on the results they score in the neuroscientific assessments. 

Think about it…

Even though blind recruitment is proven to work, I want to make it clear that it isn’t a magic spell that will solve all the diversity and inclusion issues. However, it is a great first step to take towards making your hiring decisions be as unbiased as possible.

Do you feel like outsmarting your hiring bias and creating the first impression in an unbiased manner? Then why hesitate, time to begin your journey!

Cheers, Anete

References

Carlsson M. (2011). Does hiring discrimination cause gender segregation in the Swedish labor market? Feminist Economics, 17, 71–102.

Dobbin, F., & Kalev, A. (2016). Why diversity programs fail. Harvard Business Review, 94, 14.

Weichselbaumer D., Winter-Ebmer R. (2005). A meta-analysis of the international gender wage gap. Journal of Economic Surveys, 19, 479–511.

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