Blog Post

4 Tips to Avoid Common Hiring Mistakes

Ji-A Min

Data Scientist at Ideal

A version of this article was originally published on the Ideal blog.

We can all agree that good intentions aren't enough when it comes to hiring practices that increase diversity.

Part of the problem is that sometimes practices that seem good on the surface aren't effective and can even be harmful in some cases.

Here are four common hiring practices that are terrible for diversity and tips to improve them.

1) The "Rooney Rule"

The tech industry faces a lot of criticism for its relative lack of diversity. On the flip side, tech companies are also often the ones spearheading diversity initiatives in the first place.

For example, last year, Salesforce implemented their version of the Rooney Rule by interviewing at least one female candidate or underrepresented minority for executive positions.

However, research featured in Harvard Business Review found that when the final candidate pool has only one minority candidate, he or she has a statistically zero chance of being hired.

Alternative Hiring Practice: The "Two in the Pool" Effect

The same research found that if there are at least two minority candidates in the final pool, their chances of getting hired increase dramatically.

For example, if there at least two female candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a female candidate are 79 times greater. If there are least two minority candidates in the final candidate pool, the odds of hiring a minority candidate are 194 times greater.

Hence, the "two in the pool effect."

This may involve changing your sourcing or screening tools to help eliminate bias in the first place to increase your chances of finding multiple qualified minority candidates.

2) The "Stuck in an Airport" Test

Google gets a lot of attention for their hiring practices. Over the years, they've replaced policies that their data has shown to be ineffective, such as using brainteasers during interviews.

Another one of their hiring practices that sounds good on the surface is the "stuck in an airport" test.

Then-chairman of Google (now Alphabet) Eric Schmidt created the LAX test: Imagine being stuck at LAX airport for six hours with a colleague. Would you be able to pass the time with a good conversation?

This test became a benchmark for assessing "Googleyness" in candidates (one of their four interview criteria along with general cognitive ability, role-related knowledge and leadership experience).

The problem is that it's basically a "Do I like you?" test, and we tend like people who are more similar to us.

Similarity bias can result in preference for a candidate with whom we share the same educational background or hobby. This type of bias can be bad for diversity because these characteristics are sometimes correlated with demographics, such as gender or race.

Alternative Hiring Practice: The "What Would You Do if..." Test

Organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant believes we should use situational judgment questions that ask candidates, "What would you do if..." instead.

Because they require on-the-spot, innovative thinking and problem solving, research has found these types of questions are more accurate at assessing candidates' leadership and interpersonal skills.

3) Hiring From Employee Referrals

Referrals are often the most popular source of hires, but they can be a bottleneck for increasing diversity.

This is because people's social and professional networks are generally comprised of people who are similar to them demographically.

When McKinsey asked people about their professional networks, 63 percent of men reported it's comprised of "more or all men" versus 38 percent of women who said the same. This has direct implications for recruiting: LinkedIn found that women are less likely to rely on their networks when searching for a job.

Alternative Hiring Practice: Get Diverse Recommendations

Take advantage of this "similarity attracts" effect by encouraging referrals from a more diverse array of employees. You'll gain all the benefits of hiring from referrals with the added bonus of improving the diversity of your sourcing.

4) Customizing the Interview for Each Candidate

There's a common belief that customizing the interview to each candidate's strengths, interests and motivations allows you to really get to know them and create a connection.

While this may be true to some extent, this practice can hurt your diversity efforts because research shows that you can introduce bias when you don't ask a standard set of questions.

In one study, participants were asked to find the best candidate for a police chief role. They were shown identical resumes except for the names being either male or female. On average, participants preferred male candidates and when asked why, they justified their choice by stating female candidates lacked either street smarts or school smarts.

However, when participants were asked to identify whether they preferred school smarts or street smarts before looking at the resumes, this eliminated the bias for male candidates.

Alternative Hiring Practice: Standardize Your Interviews

It might sound boring but structuring your interview by asking the same set of questions to all candidates and then rating their answers using a scale is the best way to reduce bias and accurately assess who is most qualified.

Luckily, you can still create a personal connection with candidates through small talk and rapport building at the beginning of the interview. Just take steps to make sure you don't allow your first impression of a candidate to overwhelm your decision-making on their work-related abilities.

Photo: Creative Commons

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