A Recruiting Utopia: How to design a recruiting process that removes all unconscious bias


Removing unconscious bias in the hiring process may seem like a buzzword but it is far from a new challenge. In 2000, two women – one a professor of economics at Harvard University, the other an associate professor in public and international affairs and the economics department of Princeton University – completed a study on the effects of blind orchestra auditions for women. For decades, conductors of large symphony orchestras asserted that female musicians had “smaller techniques” that were unsuitable.

The study looked at data from audition records from the 70’s and found that blind auditions, which started to come into more common practice in the 90’s, increased the probability that a woman would advance from preliminary rounds by 50 percent. Other findings, as published by the Harvard Gender Action Portal:

  • Using a screen to conceal candidates from the jury during preliminary auditions increased the likelihood that a female musician would advance to the next round by 11 percentage points. During the final round, “blind” auditions increased the likelihood of female musicians being selected by 30%.
  • According to analysis using roster data, the transition to blind auditions from 1970 to the 1990’s can explain 30 percent of the increase in the proportion female among new hires and possibly 25 percent of the increase in the percentage female in the orchestras.
  • In short, “blind” auditions significantly reduced gender-biased hiring and the gender gap in symphony orchestra compositions.

The business world isn’t likely to start conducting interviews behind a screen anytime soon but as more and more companies seek a diverse workforce in an inclusive workplace, addressing varying forms of unconscious bias in recruiting and hiring is requiring some innovative approaches. This spring a gathering of nearly 50 talent acquisition professionals at the CareerXroads Recruiting Automation and Innovation Colloquium, took on the challenge in creative ways.

How to create a recruiting utopia

Our challenge? Making the same blind audition presented in the orchestra study possible for any job, at any company, at any time. Yes, it might be utopia but the group spent an hour brainstorming how they might make that utopia a little closer to reality. Some of the scenarios that follow are fairly realistic and could be accomplished in at least a limited fashion in the near future. Others are a bit Orwellian but let’s suspend judgment and consider a world where there is no possibility for unconscious bias in the hiring process…

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  • Remove bias from recruiting communications.
  • Shift job descriptions to only discuss needs – not qualifications.
  • Use a chatbot to do selection and screening.
  • For early round interviews, have the candidate represented by an avatar on a video interview. For on-site interviews assemble a diverse interview panel.

Develop technology that strips bias from all parts of the process

As each candidate enters the system, they are assigned a number. Candidates complete assessments that evaluate skills. Automation tools match them with job openings and teams that will be a good fit. If assessment scores are very similar, candidates go through a second assessment to evaluate cultural fit so the hiring manager doesn’t even have the bias of selecting based on score.

The non-interview approach

After initial screening, give potential hires a wearable assessment tool for two weeks that will log all their activity and assess their real skills and abilities. Candidates who pass this assessment are invited to a virtual interview that is conducted via robots that move through the office. The hiring manager can also be an avatar to remove all face-to-face potential bias.

Crowdsourcing your potential hires

In this scenario, everyone in the world has a global candidate ID that holds all data about that person, going back even to school. That data is crowdsourced from teachers, employers, community etc. Companies also have a crowdsourced ID. One universal database has candidate skills that can be matched up to open jobs and company culture. The job is offered completely virtually – only differentiator is location and salary because you know the rest is a match from the algorithms that screen the data.

Hiring by robot

Use a bot to screen out any identifying information and match a candidate with jobs. Bot then conducts screening interview. If bot approves and candidate is interested, the bot shows profiles to hiring manager and the team. The first time people see each other is on the first day of work.

We’ll sit back and see how many of these attempts at removing unconscious bias make it to a talent acquisition department near you. In the meantime, it is interesting to note that almost every example made people in the room uncomfortable. We may be flawed and carry unconscious bias but no one in the room is ready to remove people from the recruiting equation.

Picture of Chris Hoyt

Chris Hoyt

A veteran of recruiting and HR, Hoyt is a sought-after speaker with presentations including national conferences with SHRM, LinkedIn, HR Technology, ERE and others in the USA as well as UNLEASH, iRecruit, Australasian Talent Conference and more abroad. Chris has been promoting and leading full scale and enterprise-wide integrations of social media and mobile marketing within workforce strategies for his entire career. His expertise and passion for interactive/social recruiting, candidate experience, and both national and international recruiting strategies are all areas that Hoyt now leverages as co-owner and President at CareerXroads, a Recruiting/Staffing consulting and think tank organization that works with corporate leaders from around the world to break out of traditional recruitment practices and push the envelope in an effort to win the ongoing war for top talent.

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