Unbiased Recruitment: The Challenge of Reliable Resume Reading

Unbiased Recruitment: The Challenge of Reliable Resume Reading

This article was updated on August 14, 2018.

Human beings are naturally biased about — well, almost everything. From movies to food to parenting, people have deeply rooted and specific opinions on virtually any topic, often without substantive reasoning or particular rationale. In most cases this aspect of human adaptation is harmless and even potentially humorous. But when it comes to HR professionals and the need to hire new talent, unbiased recruitment becomes a top-priority issue.

How do hiring managers make sure they're not accidentally short-listing or short-changing a candidate thanks to an unconscious, preexisting bias? Can organizations achieve reliable resume reading with humans at the helm?

The Challenge with People

Resume bias is a well-documented phenomenon. Recruiters may unintentionally align with candidates preferred interests or reject them due to preconceived notions about social status, gender or ethnicity. In almost all cases this bias sits below the surface, meaning HR professionals are doing their best to be impartial but are hampered by the nature of human experience.

According to Harvard Business Review, prestigious law firms prefer to hire high status men over all other candidates, including high status women. Why the gap? Attorneys in charge of hiring — in addition to female lawyers — note that the prevailing sentiment considers higher status women to be flight risks, predicated on worries that they'll leave the profession after childbirth or because they already have enough money. And while the Chicago Tribune reports that differing HR responses based on the link between names and ethnicity are in decline, other research points to ongoing and persistent bias. What's the bottom line? Despite the best efforts by HR personnel, unbiased recruitment is a monumental task given the nature of unconscious perception.

Changing the Model

So how do organizations limit the chance of bias in hiring and avoid the potential legal issues that could result if substantive bias is repeatedly shown? Data is the key!

While in-person interviews have historically been used to measure a candidate's soft skills, such as communication, empathy or friendliness, many firms are now moving toward digital interviewing to both limit travel costs and speed up the hiring process. As noted by Venture Beat, new technologies now make it possible to capture and store data from these interviews, in turn giving recruiters substantive information to leverage when making final hiring decisions rather than relying on personal recollection or handwritten notes.

Using Tech to Eliminate Bias

But what about the pre-interview process? How can HR teams be certain that they're treating all resumes fairly, since everyone in the department has their own personal bias? It all starts with name-blindness. By adopting a system where resumes can be submitted digitally or scanned into a software solution like ADP Recruiting Management's Visual Search, which then sorts the documents by skill rather than name, gender, age or ethnicity, HR leaders should be able to circumvent some of these unintended biases. When hiring managers begin the search for new talent they simply input criteria to bring up a list of matching candidates, along with other skills these candidates listed on their resume.

With this type of recruiting tool, top candidates can be more easily identified, and by changing the targeted skill set recruiters can easily access different portions of the candidate pool. The result is that rather than sifting through stacks of resumes — spending a few minutes on each while trying to be mindful of potential bias — HR recruiting pros can effectively blind themselves to nonessential information and ensure candidates are evaluated entirely on their strength of skill alone. Once short-listed, technology can help narrow down the ideal hire, all based on observable and objective data.

Bias is a natural human condition. In recruiting, however, even unconscious bias can impact hiring decisions and lead to ideal candidates being passed over by accident. New technologies, however, come with the potential to obfuscate extraneous data while accentuating key skills to help organizations achieve the elusive goal of unbiased recruitment.