Eliminate Hiring Bias

Smiling businessman sitting in office lobby working on laptop. Male business professional working in office lobby.

Here’s the thing about hiring bias: it’s usually imbedded so deeply in your subconscious that you don’t know it’s there. Hiring bias is difficult to perceive (and change), so training programs may not be helpful in eliminating it. You can help your hiring managers become more objective by changing the way you advertise your job openings.

Job descriptions are intended to describe minimum requirements to perform the essential duties of the position. But they become problematic when current staff members hold the position, get hired, or get promoted without meeting the job description requirements.

Even innocuous-sounding qualifications like a college degree, a certain number of years of experience, or required experience in a specific industry may skew the objectivity of the screening process. The challenge with these requirements is that they can’t be directly linked to actual success – they’re just easy to measure. When we screen out candidates who lack these credentials, we don’t get a chance to hear about their experience, motivation, and transferable skills that might very well allow them to thrive in the role. We also may be screening out diversity: young candidates, minorities, or older candidates with deep experience but fewer credentials.

So how do we remedy this flawed process? Lou Adler, Author of Hire with your Head, suggests designing job descriptions that define the job as “a series of performance objectives rather than a list of skills and competencies.” For example, if you’re hiring a sales professional, it’s better to state the outcomes you expect, things like “Increase sales within [the sector] by 20% over the next 12 months.” Or “Hire, train, and oversee a team of sales professionals that consistently meet revenue goals withing their territories.”

Adler says that when performance-based job descriptions—which he calls performance profiles—replace the commonly used skills- and experience-based job descriptions, you get better results. “Instead of emotions, feelings and biases, evidence is used to assess competency and fit within the organization. Rather than weed out people who don’t possess some arbitrary list of prerequisites, compelling messages are used to excite and attract the best [talent].”

Adler also recommends that companies use more panel interviews, rather than doing a series of one-on-ones with a candidate. Everyone involved in the decision gets the benefit of hearing the same information from the candidate at once. A good panel will consist of diverse people with a variety of backgrounds and expertise. They’ll each look for different things from a candidate and filter answers through their own unique experiences. This will provide a more balanced perspective on the candidate’s qualifications and potential.  You’ll also build consensus and buy in from the group members as they discuss and possibly compromise on who the best choice will be.

Your quest for the “best qualified” may be the most insidious bias of all. Try to deliberately include at least one candidate (preferably more) who would normally never be considered for the role. The NFL famously implemented the “Rooney Rule”, named after Pittsburgh Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, which sought to increase the opportunities for minorities to hold NFL head coaching positions. The rule stated that at least one underrepresented minority had to be considered for head coaching positions. The results were impressive – minority head coaching hires in the NFL increased from 6% to 22% in 2006, changing the face of the NFL forever.

Interview someone you would have overlooked a year ago, based on credentials, seniority, or experience. The results may change the way you look at talent forever.


Work hard. Play Hard. 

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