8

Background: I am a senior team member in a small-sized company that is trying to aggressively grow it's team size. I seem to be the member of the team tasked with reviewing resumes, performing phone screenings and interviews alongside our department's C-level head and HR. I am not someone who ticks any boxes on diversity targets.

When reviewing candidates, I find myself making associations with former colleagues from those parts of the world.

For most places, it averages out eventually. I've got a fair amount of experience, and I've worked with quite a diverse and varied group of people in the past.

For a couple of places, however, my experience has been universally poor. I understand that this is just my bad luck, but I find myself:

  • Having a gut feeling about these candidates that they may not be the one to break this streak;
  • Realising that this is a stupid thing to think, and so spend far more time considering the candidate at an early stage than I would others and constantly second-guessing my opinion.

In other roles, at other companies, I've been on short "workshops" designed to cover this sort of thing, but these have always been focussed on making the process appear fair rather than any sort of practical advice on how to actually consider a candidate solely on their merit for the job.

What (if anything) can I practically do to a) stop making inappropriate associations, and b) stop second-guessing myself to such a degree in an attempt to correct this?

  • 2
    I'm not sure there is a general piece of advice here other than what you are already doing: be aware that the human mind is lazy and tends to lump things into groups even when it shouldn't, and consciously compensate for that. – keshlam Aug 9 '16 at 18:38
  • 3
    For starters, hide names when looking through resumes. People are unconsciously influenced to favor resumes belonging to people of certain genders, or if their name seems to be from the same culture/ethnicity, even if the resumes are identical in all other ways. Another thing to remember is to try to focus on facts rather than general impressions. People tend to pick people that seem most similar to them personality wise, which often puts minorities at a disadvantage, due to differences informed by different cultures. – Kai Aug 9 '16 at 18:54
  • This is not an answer to your question, but is instead a support of the mindset you're trying to encourage in yourself already: from blog.stackoverflow.com/2015/08/… Invalid “Cultural Fit” things: ... but also softer things like age, personality or hobbies (does not have to like Magic the Gathering to be a good dev). Assume that your bias is to hire people you “like” and be very careful of that. Hopefully ideas about those softer things also help you as you work to avoid bias. – puzzlepiece87 Aug 9 '16 at 19:33
10

For late-stage candidates, there's a technique that's intended to eliminate biases arising from naturally getting along with one candidate more than another, but it works here as well.

Make a short checklist of the qualifications for each person--basically a three to five word resume, focusing on their distinguishing traits. So you might compare two developers where A was more experienced and worked on mobile apps, where B was better in start-ups and scaling. You pick who you think you're leaning toward, say A. You then reverse the lists. Would you still want A with B's skills, and by as much? You may have been leaning heavily toward A and now only slighly toward B. If so, then you like A, not A's skills. For sales, that may mean A is a better fit--A sold you on the job regardless of skills. For most other positions, your bias is preventing you from deciding. You can hand off the decision having narrowed down the field, or try to imagine the person with the opposite characteristics of your former colleagues. Replace quiet with loud... still want them? Replace passive with forceful, etc.

Hiring correctly is worth enormous efforts. You don't want to pass up someone good or hire someone inappropriate for whatever reason. Look things over carefully and really let things sink in, and play mental games trying to talk yourself in and out of everyone. You'll pretty quickly see your weak spots and learn to naturally compensate.

3

I've recently been thinking about bias in recruitment procedures, as part of a consultation at work to help with our Athena Swan application.

For early stage candidates, you may be able to significantly reduce your own bias in selecting candidates for interview by asking for resumes to be stripped of the following information before they reach your desk:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Race
  • All locations
  • All School/college names

Suggested edits for additional biases gratefully accepted

Ideally, candidates would not even include some of these items on their resume, but different cultures have different ideas of what should be on a CV, and this can work against individuals best interests.

The best way to remove your own biases however would be to learn about the sources of bias and critically assess your own decisions.

As a cis white male, I have to be particularly sensitive to any biasses I have with regards gender, race and sexuality. As someone from a working class background, I have to be careful of biasses with respect to wealthy or posh people. As a 'plate glass' university graduate, I have to be careful of bias against both polytechnic graduates and Oxbridge graduates.

Understand your biases, learn about the issues surrounding them and attempt to eliminate them. There is little more you can do, but the fact that you are asking yourself these questions bodes well.

  • Hi Mark, I used to work at ISIS not far from you. A bias against Oxbridge there must be something you get challenged with regularly. :) Thanks for your response, but I'm afraid our company isn't structured in such a way that I can request this (probably useful for other people though, so +1), and I don't know if this would be of benefit personally as I tend to forgive some things (eg. communication ability) more from applicants who are not natural speakers of the language. – TZHX Aug 11 '16 at 11:27
  • 2
    @TZHX ... I guess ISIS means something different than I'm thinking? :-) – jimm101 Aug 11 '16 at 11:33
  • I'm talking about personal biases here, rather than institutional ones, hence mentioning some examples of things I personally have to be careful of. I have plenty of Oxbridge friends, and some of them are even working class, but I still have to be careful about my immediate gut reactions to people. We've recently been thinking about bias in our recruitment procedures, and this was one of the ideas we discussed as part of our Athena Swan application. – Mark Booth Aug 11 '16 at 11:35
  • 1
    +1 Biases can work "up" as well as "down". Similar to yourself, my background has made me much more critical than I ought to be of those with (without getting too personal) "easier" times than I've had. – fib112358 Aug 11 '16 at 11:37
  • 1
    In this context ISIS is the ISIS pulsed neutron and muon source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire @jimm101 – Mark Booth Aug 11 '16 at 11:37

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.