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An Outside Recruiter's Perspective on Bias Hiring Managers Can't See

Updated: Jun 27, 2022

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am really enjoying working with you to find that key person for your team. The work that you and the team are doing is really interesting and I can see how your products and services are of value to your customers. However, as we work together, I see blind spots in the process and I don’t think you can see them too.

The other day I shared a slate of candidates with you and a couple of people were the front runners for interviews. Those folks went through interviews and were not the top candidates in your mind. We decided to look for additional candidates and I recommended you look again at a couple of those already presented that weren’t invited in for interview originally.

That was the path we took forward. A couple of new candidates were brought into the mix that had solid skillsets that aligned with the role, at least on paper.

So, you decided to bring the two from the original slate in and the two from the new slate.

After the interviews you were very excited about one of the original candidate’s backgrounds. I am not sure what the factors of evaluation were when we spoke about this person in the first round, but I noticed that you made a comment that the person’s resume was not written as well as it could have been. Considering the person’s name shows ethnic diversity it seemed to be assumed that the candidate did not have a strong command of English.

Though I highlighted the “must haves” of the role to show you how this person would accomplish what you need in the role and I also shared attributes that this person uniquely possessed, you still decided to move forward with the other candidates. And now, though I am excited you listened and circled back to this person and ultimately hired them, I realize you almost took another path and missed out on the best talent for the team and company.

I am super excited to see that the blind spot didn’t get in the way. That blind spot of course is called bias.

Unfortunately, we all have biases. It doesn’t mean any one of us is bad. It means we all come from different backgrounds, with different experiences, with different interpretations, and we base our decisions off of what we already know. Think about it this way, how we make decisions is based on past experiences and most of the time our decisions are from our brains quickly scanning what we know. If we have not experienced something, our brains fill in the blank with what we have experienced, unless we slow down to evaluate our decision. We are also emotional beings and make a lot of our decisions on how we feel. With this in mind we could be put in a blind spot situation and not even know it.

For all the years I have been recruiting I never thought what I was hearing was bias. There were many times I went to bat for candidates I felt strongly about, having to share more because either the partner I worked for at the search firm or the client just didn’t see what I was seeing.

So, I want to ask you a favor. Please, please, please ask yourself every time you review a candidate’s credentials if you are deciding on the candidate because of a feeling or because of specific facts that do or do not align with the role. Really ask yourself why you are accepting a candidate to be invited in for an interview or why not? If the reason has gaps and you filled them in for the person, you unfortunately are creating a biased situation because of your own interpretation.

As an outside recruiter, I have a different perspective. I am there to consult and see opportunities. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you I am witnessing bias because you may take offense and my goal is not to offend, but to help you see a bigger picture. So, I want to share some examples of times when bias has shown up for clients over the years, so you can be aware, and pause to reflect on the candidate rather than the circumstance. I have added some questions to ask yourself for each one of these:

  • The hiring manager knows the candidate speaks English as a second language, but the person communicates well and is understood. They just speak with a slight accent or forget a word here and there.

If you find yourself thinking you should look at other candidates, ask yourself how

do you know this person doesn’t have strong technical skills and won’t run circles

around others? If you don’t have dialog with them, how can you assess if their

English is a communication problem or a perception?

  • The resume is critiqued because it does not include something expected or it includes extra things like hobbies or that they are part of a religious group.

If you find yourself thinking about the extras or the missing parts before looking at

what they do have on their resume, ask yourself does this mean the person can’t

do the job?

If they forgot to add their skill, does it mean they don’t have it? On the flip side, you

don’t want to read pages of everything they can do so they may have presented a

shortened version of the resume.

Are you not religious and you feel this person will talk about religion with you?

Realize that is a story you are telling yourself, maybe because of a past

experience or observance on TV.

  • The person is client facing and the person is ethnically diverse. The team is very diverse, so they will fit in. However, all the clients are not diverse.

If you find yourself creating scenarios envisioning this candidate with your clients,

ask yourself why am I putting a future vision to this that only comes from my

interpretation? Does this actually mean the person is incapable of doing the job?

Will clients really walk away from a good product or service because the person

does not look like them? If they do, are they really the right clients?

You can go deeper and ask yourself if you are creating the narrative, because you

don’t know?

Also consider that fact that you possibly could pick up more clients, because you

have a diverse team?

  • A person goes to Texas A&M and the hiring manager went to UT OR the hiring manager goes to A&M and there is one candidate from Texas A&M. The candidate aligns with the role, but there are other candidates that are align more strongly. Okay, I know living in Texas this is a thing.

I don’t have to really say anything here, because it doesn’t matter what school a

person goes to, but this happens a lot when schools are highlighted for their

reputation and the candidate’s reputation is biased by this.

  • A person goes in for an interview and wears a bit too much cologne or an outfit that the hiring manager wouldn’t wear.

When you find yourself thinking about perceived attributes beyond skill bring

yourself back to the job, ask the candidate about their experience and ask them to

tell you how they would deal with certain things they will be dealing with on the

job? On the flip side, most candidates are nervous and they dress a little

differently in stressful situations.

  • The person looks similar to you on paper and you get excited that they will do the job just like you.

When you feel like, “Hey, I would enjoy hanging with this person after work.” Bring

it back in to remember that just because you like them, you still need to find out if

they can do the job. Ask them how they would handle situations they would need

to face in the job. After all you don’t want an individual you like to join the company,

only to find out they are not good at the job.

  • The person has about 10 years more experience than you are looking for and you think they will not fit in your salary parameters or may be overqualified.

When you think someone looks good for a role, but you put them in a pile as

above the experience range, take a step back and ask yourself why you put them

in that pile. Is it the budget (which you can communicate what the salary is and

maybe they aren’t at the salary you think they are at) or is it age (unless they are

at mandatory retirement age, age shouldn’t matter).

Regarding age, if you find yourself wondering if they will decide to retire after 2

years, one has to reflect on the fact that tenure these days is on average 3 years

for the demographic that could work for you for 20 years.

I can go on and on here, but I think you get the point. Because I do this to help clients like you to find and attract the best people, I can see the bias. Having a degree in Psychology gives me extra insights I wouldn’t otherwise have. I know unconscious bias is not something anyone wants to have. Of course, conscious bias is a whole other story, which people are aware of.

I hope that all that I have shared will help you to take an extra 10 seconds to evaluate a candidate, so that you don’t miss out on really amazing talent by filling in your own interpretation and not allowing someone to shine. Besides, when someone is different from us or brings different ideas to the table it creates “diversity of thought.” The conversations between colleagues are no longer homogenous and we start to see things differently. This is where innovation stems from.

Kind regards,

Kimberly Wilson

Managing Director of TLR Search

TLR Search helps energy, EPC, and chemical company's hiring managers gain talent market share by bringing strong diverse talent to their door, while inspiring potential new team members to picture their future possibilities; especially with hard to fill positions. We’re a woman-owned recruitment firm that partners with clients to assist them in placing decision-makers at executive levels, supervisors in functional management positions, and experienced professionals in technical roles.


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