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Staffing Advisors Blog

My Journey to Eliminate Systemic Bias in Recruiting

Posted by Kim Kistner on June 23, 2020

As a strategic recruiting leader, I’m committed to helping bring about a more just and equitable society. That's why I am sharing my journey.

Those of us who work in recruiting and hiring have a real opportunity to make an impact, and an obligation to ensure our hiring practices eliminate bias to every extent possible. My hope is that this post can help other recruiters who are on the same path. My focus is on examining our existing structures and implementing processes that ensure we are thoroughly and fairly considering qualified, diverse candidates from every perspective, including race, but also gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, and national origin.

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How to Assess Cultural Fit Without Perpetuating Bias

Posted by Bob Corlett on June 23, 2020

Some people have persuasively argued that hiring managers should steer clear of trying to assess cultural fit in hiring because it leads to biased hiring decisions. Others have convincingly argued that employers do have a responsibility to assess cultural fit in hiring and that it will not lead to discrimination if handled properly. A couple of years ago, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) took the middle ground and had two HR experts debate the pros and cons of the topic in, Does Hiring for ‘Culture Fit’ Perpetuate Bias? 

From my review of the literature, it appears that the reason people are either for or against evaluating cultural fit depends on their level of confidence that employers will invest the time and effort to be methodical in their assessments. That’s a valid point.

For more than a decade, we’ve been looking closely at how we can help our clients assess cultural fit without perpetuating bias. Across hundreds of completed searches, we’ve found that it’s entirely possible for employers to methodically assess cultural fit during the interview process without perpetuating bias, but it usually requires a change in how you define, evaluate and discuss cultural fit.

To reduce the impact of bias in your hiring practices, look very closely at how you assess cultural fit in the interview. Untrained managers who are using an unstructured interview sequence will almost always perpetuate bias, regardless of their personal intentions. As legendary management guru W. Edwards Deming observed, “A bad system will beat a good person every time.” 

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How to Select Resumes Without Perpetuating Bias

Posted by Bob Corlett on June 23, 2020

When we present a slate of candidates to a hiring manager, we don’t “pitch” who we like best. Nor do we suggest they start their selection process by reading the candidates’ resumes. Both practices introduce far too much bias to the hiring process.

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Principles of Evidence-Based Interviewing

Posted by Bob Corlett on June 23, 2020

Familiar old ways of hiring are failing to meet the moment. It’s increasingly obvious that employers need a new approach that fairly assesses candidates during video interviews and more accurately determines who will be successful in a virtual work environment.

Organizations want to build more diverse teams and want to reduce bias throughout the hiring process. By now we've all seen the research indicating that more diverse teams are smarter, more creative, and perform better financially. Employers are frustrated, recognizing that differential treatment by race (and other factors) is still commonplace in hiring. But even with bias prevention training and the best of intentions, outdated hiring practices often result in hiring people who are demographically similar to their hiring manager.

It’s time we broke that cycle of failure by interrupting the patterns of behavior that created it.

Better approaches to hiring already exist. The research that supports them is clear and compelling. Let's not blame the individual hiring manager when hiring problems are systemic. What’s needed is an evidence-based approach to hiring that directly addresses the mental errors and systemic bias inherent in common hiring practices.

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The Case for Evidence-Based Reference Checking

Posted by Bob Corlett on June 11, 2020

In an extensive study of 19 different employee selection methods, reference checking came in a dismal 13th in predicting the success of a new hire. There is also evidence that candidates from privileged backgrounds perpetuate that privilege in the reference checking process. Apparently, most reference checking practices aren’t much better than gathering advice from strangers on the internet (according to the internet this is a bad idea).

To get more value from our reference checks, we started asking different questions. Our goal was to improve the ratio we were gathering of fact vs. opinion. We call this “evidence-based reference checking” and it naturally follows our Evidence-Based Interviewing process. The difference was striking. All we changed was the reference questions themselves (because we already had a cleverly drafted reference release form, a protocol for asking for who we wanted to speak with, and were already independently verifying the identity of the person giving the reference).
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A Modern Approach to Diversity Recruiting

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 20, 2020

Most of our clients effectively made the transition to remote work, but that transition revealed a few skill gaps on their teams that were not obvious before. Our clients always shared our deep commitment to diversity recruiting, but that commitment is deeper now. Everyone is learning that turbulent times require wiser and more creative solutions, and that kind of creativity emerges from teams of smart people with a diversity of lived experiences. Research shows that teams get smarter when they include members from outside of your traditional networks. The new challenges you face may be unfamiliar to you, but less daunting to someone from a different background and divergent way of thinking.

Unsurprisingly, when you want your organization to think differently, you need to recruit differently. Old approaches fail in new environments, so a more modern approach to diversity recruiting is necessary, one that adapts to the current environment.

We never relied on the most common (and most superficial) approaches to diversity recruiting, such as posting ads on diversity job boards. We know from experience that those ads are rarely seen by candidates and do little to expand the candidate pool. Similarly, we don’t rely on asking candidates “Who do you know who would like this job?” Both of those approaches can be far too insular and invariably exclude some very well-qualified candidates.

We recommend a data-driven recruiting process designed to adapt to current job market conditions and recruit a diverse slate of candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. Times like these demand an agile methodology, or a “Moneyball” approach to recruiting. We believe that modern recruiting should follow the same principles of an integrated marketing campaign. There is the message, a careful consideration of the audience for your message, a variety of message delivery mechanisms, and a feedback loop to determine if the right people saw the message and acted on it. (We outline our own agile methodology here.)

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How to Consistently Recruit Top Performers

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 20, 2020


Staffing_Advisors_Consistent_HiringClients often ask us about the state of the job market. But what they really want to know is whether they can attract someone to deliver the business impact they need. Salary budgets are precious things. In uncertain times, nobody wants to risk hiring someone who might fail in the current environment. At the conclusion of any search:
  • Would you rather have the confidence that you hired a top performer?
  • Or the lingering feeling that you could have found someone better?

Here's the good news. Consistent hiring of top performers is absolutely possible, even with the inherent unpredictability of both people and job markets. Because the problems of hiring are found in the hiring process itself, not with candidates or the job market.

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Avoiding the Pitfalls in Virtual Interviewing

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 12, 2020

Chris Rock said, “When you meet somebody for the first time, you’re not meeting them. You’re meeting their representative.” Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that, "Hell is other people." Both men point to the same truth. Most of us are so afraid of being judged negatively by others that we adjust ourselves when someone else is present.

Getting past the other party's facade has always been a challenge for interviewers, but video interviews scramble the hiring decision in new ways, introducing even more factors unrelated to predicting job performance.

Both parties have long sought a competitive advantage in interviews. People obsess over what they wear, and choose their words carefully in answering questions and crafting resumes and job descriptions. Video interviews are just the latest front in the perpetual arms race between employers and candidates. And executive search consultants like me are the arms dealers to both sides. Recruiters have an obligation to advise both parties, creating the right environment and expectations for a productive conversation. Every candidate wants to interview well, and every employer wants to cut through that carefully curated facade to see the "real person" behind the interview answers.

So what determines who will gain the advantage in this video arms race? Will it be better interview preparation on the part of the candidates, or will it be employers adapting their hiring practices to this new medium?

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The Era of the Modern Executive Search Firm Has Begun

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 11, 2020

Many of our clients are associations and nonprofits—organizations that exist to help other people thrive. And while they're all busy reinventing how they deliver their vital services, we’ve been equally busy adapting our services to support their new needs. Because the minute all those office doors slammed shut, the era of the modern executive search firm was ushered in. The old ways just won't rise to this occasion.

This is not how the future normally arrives. I've long appreciated William Gibson's 2003 observation, “The future is already here – it's just not evenly distributed." But in this case, the future was evenly distributed immediately upon arrival. And now every executive search firm is called upon to reconsider who we serve, what services we offer, and how we deliver those services.

So what services should a modern executive search firm offer? I'll know for sure in a couple of years, but for now, I'll share what we've done in the past two months. Clearly this is a work in progress for internal recruiting teams as well as third party search consultants: 

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Resumes are a Terrible Way to Select Candidates

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 3, 2020

Our search firm presents resumes to hiring managers almost every day. And on that short list of people is usually at least one resume the hiring manger would prefer to reject. In a few seconds of skimming the resume, all the hiring managers can envision is some unqualified person wasting an hour of their precious time. So rejecting the unusual resume seems like a time saver … except it’s not.

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