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Feb 09
Improve your Hiring Success - Let Go of ‘First Impressions’

Author: Georgina Barrick


We all know that truly successful 21st century hiring processes equally look at a match of functional and behavioural competencies. True high performance occurs only where functional competence exists alongside a fit to the culture (as Dr Prof. Sumantra Ghoshal says, when we love the 'smell of the place'). There are, however, new and exciting innovations in hiring that can assist in properly uncovering functional competence.


As Steven Covey has been credited with saying 'Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.'

Highlighting the importance of true and deep diversity, this quote has always resonated with me. It's human nature, and very tempting, to 'hire in your own image' because the familiar is comforting. We do business with people we like and who are like us.

However, if we're going to achieve real workplace diversity, we need to focus on hiring skills that will keep pace with our changing environment and with the thinking required to both maintain 'business as usual' and to innovate and disrupt.


A number of recent studies have re-enforced some of the significant benefits of a commitment to diversity:

  • Improved earnings:

       A McKinsey study of 366 global public companies found that gender- and ethnically-diverse

       companies are more likely to financially outperform their peers by 15% and 35%


  • Enhanced problem solving:

Researchers Hong and Page demonstrated that diverse groups of problem-solvers can outperform groups of high-ability problem solvers.

  • Driver of innovation and growth:

    Research by Forbes found that diversity is a 'key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale'.
  • Improved quality of work:

    According to Katherine W. Phillips, Vice Dean at Columbia Business School, 'people work harder, are more creative and are more diligent when they work with, or around, a diverse group of people.'


Despite the obvious benefits, real diversity remains hard to achieve in some environments.

According to Iris Bohnet (Harvard Business Review), this is primarily because hiring managers favour more traditional, unstructured interviews despite multiple studies finding this style of interview to be among the worst predictor of actual and future job performance.

Bohnet believes that the enduring popularity of the unstructured interview is driven by two factors - hiring managers are overconfident of their expertise and dislike 'deferring to more structured approaches that might outsource human judgement to machine'.


Unstructured interviews allow unconscious or 'implicit' bias into the hiring process – which we're unaware of as it occurs outside of our control, causing us to make quick, non-intuition based judgments of people, influenced by our own background, culture and experiences (ECU 2013).

Now, this should not be confused with the use of intuition, or instinct, which truly conscious leaders employ effectively as a part of their hiring process.


Research by Madan Pillutla, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, found that the 3 biggest unconscious biases in hiring decisions are that we gravitate towards people who are similar to us, base our hiring decisions on stereotypes of competence (eg: males are better at Mathematics) and we're wary of those whom we perceive may be a threat to our status.

Unconscious bias leads hiring managers to seek to replicate themselves by selecting candidates who match their own background, education, gender, race or leisure activities.

In turn, creating an increasingly homogenous workforce.


So, what could you and your organisation do differently?


1.       Blind Auditions:

A blind audition allows all candidates to be adjudicated first – and primarily – on their functional competencies (knowledge, skill and experience).

Used effectively by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, musicians audition behind a screen – increasing the likelihood that women will be hired by between 25% and 46%.

Today, women make up 40% of musicians in the top 5 orchestras in the USA, up from 7% in the 70's.


In the corporate world, GapJumpers is a software platform that enables blind auditions, reducing bias in the hiring process.

Candidates complete anonymous skills-based challenges that demonstrate their skills and test whether they are qualified to perform a job.

The software then strips their CV of all identifying information, like name (ethnicity), graduation year (age), school and address (socio-economic background).

Potential employers then evaluate applicants based on skills only and can avoid discarding talent for the shortlist that doesn't fit preconceived notions.


It's important to remember that using software to anonymously screen candidates will get you only half way through the hiring process. Software can't screen for a match to the 'smell of the place' as it only deals with functional competence. Job performance is also influenced by context – which is why candidates with great functional competency sometimes don't thrive in a company when the context is not a fit.


2.       Collaborative Hiring:

Collaborative – or team-based – hiring involves including members of the team in the interview process.

The benefits include reduction in bias (particularly if the team is diverse), higher levels of employee engagement, more diverse assessment of applicant skills and different approaches to selling the job to potential hires.


3.       Comparative Evaluation:

Structured interviews – where different interviewers pose the same set of questions in the same order – allow for clearer comparison and evaluation of candidates.

Questions can straddle both behavioural and functional competencies.

In a process like this, it's important that the interviewer scores each answer immediately after it's provided, that candidate responses are compared horizontally (in other words, all candidate responses to Question 1 are compared) and that panel interviews that seek to reach a consensus view should not be used. These questions can straddle both behavioural and functional competencies. Comparative evaluations help to calibrate across candidates to reduce bias and decrease reliance on stereotypes.




4.       Language in Job Advertising:

Software like Textio or Gender Decoder for Job Ads helps employers to avoid bias in job advertising by avoiding gender- or ethnic-coded words.

These products highlight words as 'negative', 'positive', 'repetitive', 'masculine' (active, adventurous, challenge) or 'feminine' (honest, cooperate, depend) and offer recommendations on how to improve job descriptions so as not to exclude a gender or ethnic group.


5.       Implicit Assessment Tests (IAT)

Developed at Harvard, the IAT uncovers thoughts that are being unconsciously hidden by testers and helps to measure attitudes and beliefs.

The purpose of the test is to make employers more aware – and to check – their biases when interviewing.


Diversity – and ultimately, greater business success – can be achieved through a combination of hiring processes that are designed to truly uncover functional and behavioural competency.

Hiring for functional competency can be improved using blind auditions, collaborative hiring, comparative evaluation, sensitive job advertising and checking interviewer bias.


'Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are the product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.' James Surowiecki

Georgina Barrick, MD of Cassel&Co and Insource.ICT/ IT Edge, all divisions of ADvTECH Resourcing (Pty) Ltd. Georgina has over 20 years of recruitment and executive search experience. Connect with her on LinkedIn: Georgina Barrick.


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