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Four things you can do to de-bias and data-proof hiring at your charity

By the Applied team.

A narrated version of this blog is available at the bottom of the page

When diversity, retention and return on investment are all essential, how do you attract and hire mission-driven people with both the skills and passion it takes to thrive at your charity? We know the traditional ways of hiring need to change, but what should we be doing instead?

Below, we’ll show you how to de-bias and data-proof your hiring process to find talent from a diverse array of backgrounds.

Step 1: Anonymise your screening process

No matter how well-intentioned we may be, diversity won’t improve without debiasing our systems and processes.

Unconscious bias is an unavoidable part of being human, but, left unchecked, its consequences are real and measurable. Our tendency to make subconscious associations and resist the unfamiliar means that candidates from minority backgrounds are disproportionately overlooked.

On average, minority ethnic applicants here in the UK have to send 60% more applications to get a job interview than their white counterparts.

CVs may be a staple of most hiring processes, but they’re seriously ineffective at identifying top candidates. The more we know about someone, the more grounds for bias there are.

What should you anonymise?

  • Names
  • Photos
  • Age
  • Addresses
  • Gender/Religion

Step 2: Use skill-based testing

CVs are not only bias triggering but also poor predictors of job performance.

If we look at the landmark Schmidt-Hunter metastudy, it tells us that both education and experience are weak predictors of future job performance.

And the most predictive assessments are called ‘work samples’. Work samples are interview-style questions designed to the specific skills required for the job.

They work by taking a realistic task or scenario that candidates would encounter in the role and asking candidates to either perform the task or explain how they would go about doing so.

To create work samples:

  • Decide on the 6-8 core skills needed for the job
  • Think of realistic scenarios that would test these skills
  • Pose them as hypothetical tasks

Here’s an example of a work sample for a fundraising manager role:

Question: It’s your first week on the job and you’ve been given a list of fundraising prospects interested in supporting us. How do you spend your week?

Skills tested: prioritisation, organisation, strategic thinking.

Instead of CVs and cover letters, we use 3-5 work sample questions to anonymously screen candidates. It’s not that someone’s academic achievements and work experience don’t have any value at all. But we’d rather test for skills learned through experience rather than for experience itself, so that every candidate gets a fair shot to showcase what they can do, regardless of their background.

Step 3: Structure your interviews

When it comes to interviewing candidates, removing bias completely can be challenging. However, there are steps you can make interviews fairer and more objective. The more structure and uniformity you add to your interview process, the more accurate they’ll be able to identify the best candidates.

Ask all candidates the same questions in the same order – so that apples are being compared to apples.

When it comes to your interview questions themselves, we’d recommend using more work sample-style questions instead of probing into candidates’ backgrounds.

While your screening questions will be writing-based, interviews offer you the opportunity to simulate and role-play tasks.

If the job involves tasks that can role-played or performed in the interview process, this will give you an insight into how candidates would think and work in the role, without having to question them about their background.

Here’s how to turn traditional interview questions into work simulation interview tasks:

Traditional interview question: Tell me about a time when you sold a software product

Work simulation question: Give me a 10min pitch, selling me a software product

Traditional interview question: Have you worked on code as part of a team using C++ before?

Work simulation question: Let’s do some coding together and do a pair coding program!

Traditional interview question: Tell me a time when you analysed data for commercial purposes

Work simulation question: Take 30 mins to analyse this data and then talk me through it

You can also use case study tasks – presenting candidates with a real (or near-enough real) project that they’d actually be working on.

After giving them the context, you can ask candidates a series of follow-up questions to see how well they understood the task and what their approach would entail.

Below is a case study we used for a digital marketer role here at Applied:

Question: Below is some fake data to discuss. ​​To meet our commercial targets we think we need to increase our ​demo requests​ from 90/month to 150/month. Below are some fake funnel metrics and website Google Analytics data. With a view to meeting this objective, talk through the above data and what it might mean.

Follow-up 1: What additional data would you need to work out how to meet the objective?

Follow-up 2: Given the objective, where would you concentrate your marketing efforts? Is there anything that you would do immediately? Where is the worst place to spend your time, given what you have seen in the data?

Step 4: Give yourself scoring criteria

Scoring criteria is essential in order to make fair, impartial hiring decisions. For each of your screening and interview questions, you’ll need a simple 1-5 star scale to score against, along with a high-level review guide.

Reviewers need to know what a good, bad and mediocre answer might include.

Here is an example review guide – as you can see, it’s tied to the skills being tested for:

1 star

  • Communication: Proposed actions are blunt (i.e. no field trips this summer)
  • Empathy: Doesn’t give room to discuss further, with little sensitivity to the circumstances
  • Creativity: Does not provide solutions
  • Prioritisation: Does not have a clear plan

3 star

  • Communication: Attempts to provide context for stakeholders
  • Empathy: Begins to acknowledge the difficulties, little sensitivity
  • Creativity: Provides some solutions
  • Prioritisation: Has a plan, but it isn’t clear or fully logical

5 star

  • Communication: Provides context for the stakeholders (students, teachers)
  • Empathy: Shows awareness of the potential difficulties
  • Creativity: Provides creative options
  • Prioritisation: Logical and balanced

For the most accurate, objective scores, have three team members score each assessment round. Not only does this mean that any individual’s biases will be averaged out, but it’ll also yield you the most objective scores. This is due to a phenomenon known as ‘crowd wisdom’ – the general rule that collective judgment is more accurate than that of an individual.

At the end of the process, you can then average out each candidates’ scores across the process to make a data-driven hiring decision

While having three interviewers may sound intimidating, we make sure to explain to candidates that these practices are all for the sake of fairness.

Key takeaways

  • Make your screening process anonymous to avoid biases around candidates’ identities
  • Swap CVs for skill-based ‘work sample questions’
  • Add structure to your interviews
  • Simulate/role-play tasks where possible at the interview stage
  • Use review guides to score candidates against

Applied is the essential platform for debiased hiring. Purpose-built to make hiring empirical and ethical, our platform uses anonymised applications and skill-based assessments to identify talent that would otherwise have been overlooked. Push back against conventional hiring wisdom with a smarter solution: book a demo‍.

Narrated by a member of the ACEVO staff

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