How to build a bias-free attraction process: top tips and advice

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With a diverse pool of applicants ready to fill your vacancy, it is time to turn your attention to the selection process and ensuring that it protects against unconscious bias.

Unconscious biases are stereotypes that we form about people. While they are natural and unintentional, they can affect recruitment decisions and lead to a less diverse workforce. For example, if one candidate has received similar training to the hiring manager, they may naturally favour them.

So it is important for everyone to be aware of biases and for your assessment process to mitigate against them as much as possible. If you would like more tips on how to help your teams become aware of unconscious bias, we have a helpful guide with practical exercises here. But there are also some processes that you can put in place to help manage it.

Software can help by shedding more light on the context of candidates’ achievements. “Mazars uses RARE contextual recruitment  for its trainees, the largest annual intake of talent each year,” says partner Lindsay Pentelow.

This software uses big data, such as socio-economic and academic information, to give hiring managers and recruiters more insight into the circumstances under which applicants accomplished their achievements. This helps to identify high-potential candidates who may not otherwise have been considered.

Blind recruitment – i.e. stripping out key details such as a candidate’s name and age – is also widely used to protect against unconscious bias. “We operate blind recruitment where candidates take part in the recruitment process independently and complete each stage based on their own merit and how they perform,” says James Gordanifar, head of student recruitment at EY UK&I.

“This involves a mix of traditional psychometric tests, video interview responses, data exercises and other assessments,” he adds.

Global investor services group IQ-EQ also uses blind recruitment, and is now looking to roll out skills-based interviews. The company-wide competency framework was established a few years ago and is used across HR – including learning and development and performance management – according to Fay Palaska, group head of recruitment.

She now wants to use this to help the business standardise assessment and selection using skills and competencies, rather than background. “We are now looking to take the next step by rolling out competency-based structured interviews and educating the business on how to use those,” she says. 

Alongside standardising assessments, ensuring that you have a diverse interview panel that shares different perspectives can also help to combat unconscious bias, adds Palaska.

Going further, you could also restructure your assessment and selection process. Research suggests that CVs are not the best indicator of performance in the job, according to Rob Blythe, co-founder of internal HR experts Instant Impact. Rather, studies show that work sample tests, structured interviews and cognitive tests are much better ways to assess candidates’ potential.

Blythe suggests using three core types of assessment in your recruitment process.

1. Cognitive ability tests

2. Skills-based questions (to replace CVs)

3. Structured interviews (assessment centres, live tests, panel interviews etc).

This process is not without its challenges. Cognitive tests, for example, must be designed precisely and may not be as accurate unless you have a high volume of hires. Meanwhile, replacing CVs with skills-based questions “is not the norm yet”, concedes Blythe. “You need to make sure it does not reduce the number of applications you receive from busy candidates or from people you are proactively reaching out to,” he says.

Whatever processes you choose, constant vigilance is important. “Unconscious bias, by its nature, is difficult to identify and control,” says Lily Montgomery, senior audit partner at HW Fisher. “ It is not something that has a single solution, rather it needs an ongoing commitment to be managed.”

EY conducts regular checks of the recruitment process to “look for any signs of unconscious bias” says Gordanifar. This includes “consulting with suppliers and scrutinising the thresholds we have in place to check for any patterns emerging or changes we may need to make”.

Training and soliciting data from employees is also helpful. “Unconscious bias training is mandatory for all staff, and the firm closely tracks and responds to the lived experience of its employees,” says Pentelow. “Our annual Gallup engagement survey includes a diversity dashboard, allowing the business to understand how to better support every group within the firm.”

For more information on how to attract diverse candidates, check out our how-to-guide here. If you would like some tips on embedding D&I into the culture of your firm, check out some strategies here.

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