Look like your interviewer? You'll probably get the job

Hard luck if you're female, ethnic minority and working class.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 22 Oct 2015

It’s now well-established that ‘unconscious bias’, those instinctive prejudices we don’t always realise we have, is rife. And it’s particularly pernicious in the recruitment process.

The CIPD, the HR industry body, reviewed a raft of studies in a new report and, even if you’d heard of many of the findings before, it makes for depressing reading. In short, interviewers tend to hire on ‘gut instinct’ and if you look like, sound like and have a similar background to them you’re far more likely to pass that litmus test.

If your interviewer plays golf and you can sneak in a mention that your handicap is pretty good, you’re in luck - employers look for people with similar interests to them. And recruiters at elite law and accountancy firms are hiring more privileged candidates, with ‘poshness’ indicators like a cut-glass accent and having been to a private school getting the thumbs up.

You’re fighting an uphill battle if you’re an ethnic minority: people perceived to have ‘white’ names get more interviews than someone with an identical CV but an apparently 'black' name. No wonder that non-white candidates are far less likely to get hired.

Oh, and bad luck if you’re a woman too. A number of studies have shown both male and female managers favour men, not just in hiring, but in promotion, pay and performance evaluations.

So what’s a diversity-conscious company to do to address these engrained biases? The CIPD suggests testing the wording of job adverts (there’s more ‘feminine’ phrasing encourages more women to apply, for example) and then grouping and anonymising CVs for review.

Then it recommends interviews be structured around set questions, with a focus on collecting information rather than making on-the-spot decisions. Afterwards, people who didn’t carry out the interviews should be involved in reviewing that data and deciding who to hire.

If that sounds rather too robotic and impersonal for your liking then it’s quite possible it is. But no one can say either way unless more analytics are included in the process of recruiting and then assessing how your hires do. In the meantime, there’s plenty of evidence more diverse teams are good for business, so MT would recommend getting over that unconscious bias sharpish.

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