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Remote Recruiting – ‘Blind’ Hiring vs. the Personal Touch

Peter Cleverton discusses whether remote recruitment can help eliminate unconscious bias in the hiring process.

July 13, 2020
Peter Cleverton, Managing Director of EMEA at HireRight

Would you hire someone you’ve never met in person? Of course, it’s not uncommon, given how internationally mobile the modern workforce has become when interviewing candidates relocating from other countries. But today it’s becoming a reality for most businesses as social distancing makes face-to-face interviews impossible.

This could either be a barrier or a benefit to a successful recruitment process, depending on your perspective. Many people are strong advocates of ‘chemistry’, in terms of the feeling you get about someone when you meet them (good or bad) and how well you think they may fit into the team or broader organisation. Video conferencing is a wonderful thing, but without that real-life interaction, how well will interviewers be able to trust their instincts?

On the other hand, how trustworthy are instincts anyway? Charisma and instant personal rapport are not necessarily indicators of talent, expertise, or dedication. Perhaps recruiters should go the whole hog and engage in a fully ‘blind’ recruitment process. That means not only interviewing candidates via good old-fashioned telephone (rather than over video-link) but cutting out any references within CVs or covering letters that could create an unconscious bias for or against a candidate.

Unconscious Bias

While most of us like to think that we treat everyone fairly and equally, the point about unconscious bias is that people don’t know it’s there. In 2018, a study by the British Academy revealed that, on average, a quarter (24%) of applicants who said they were of white British origin received a positive response from prospective employers. By contrast, only 15% of minority ethnic applicants received positive responses, even though they applied with identical CVs and covering letters. In all cases, the applicants had clearly stated that they were British-born or had lived in the UK since they were young and had been educated here. This highlights that, whether we realise it or not, bias is, unfortunately, alive and well, and influencing hiring decisions.

Bias disadvantages candidates, and it’s bad for business. Employers may inadvertently fail to select the best talent, and worse, they could also open themselves up to discrimination claims that could be costly, both in financial and reputational terms, especially if they end up in court and damages are awarded.

The Equality Act 2010 covers a long list of groups employers must not discriminate against, including mistreating people on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. That’s a lot of factors to bear in mind – all of which could be cleared away at a stroke by conducting a blind hiring process.

Even before the interview takes place, recruiters/employers might want to consider having someone unconnected with hiring decisions anonymise applications by cutting out any ‘identifying’ factors from applications. That includes removing names, photos, and dates of birth, which give clues as to age, gender, ethnicity, and so on. Name bias, for example, can vary by sector and by the affected group. For instance, some tech companies have been found to favour those in an ethnic minority (typically Asians) because of certain stereotypes about the skills and ability of candidates from Asian backgrounds. In other industries, the bias may not be so positive.

Even information like hobbies and interests could suggest what kind of person the applicant is in the minds of those recruiting them, causing them to make unconscious assumptions that could either help or harm an applicant’s chances. However, it’s a delicate balance to strike, since businesses are, after all, hiring real people with their own individual characteristics. Being able to spot who stands out from the crowd is arguably harder in a ‘blind’ scenario.

The Importance of Background Screening

For this reason, carrying out background screening is more important than ever in today’s remote, virtual world. By independently checking what skills and experience each candidate actually has, recruiters will be able to hire with confidence even without meeting people face-to-face. It will enable talent to be verified so that applicants can be chosen effectively and fairly.

To date, only the first part of the recruitment process (i.e.CV-sifting) has been conducted blind, and then a more personal approach has followed at the interview stage. Until Covid-19 restrictions around the movement of people are lifted, the whole process will have to take place at a distance and employers, and potential employees will just have to get used to it. Like everything, it has its pros as well as its cons, and there are steps that can be taken, like screening, to help it along.

If remote recruitment can help eliminate unconscious bias, that will be a positive result for both businesses and workers. And that’s got to be good news in these challenging times.

Release Date: July 13, 2020