8 Ways To Avoid Stereotyping While Recruiting

By Bernadette Eichner - Nov. 9, 2015
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It may be true that a thousand years ago white English speaking males ruled the world.

The fact they managed this by marching around with clubs and sophisticated archery, burning and pillaging everything in sight, can perhaps be explained by a limited ability to “use their words”. But the Elizabethan period gave us William Shakespeare, who single-handedly increased the English vocabulary by some 10,000 words, so in the years since then we can only assume it was a superiority thing going on.

Or perhaps they just couldn’t read Shakespeare!

But despite our desire to dominate, we recognised and availed ourselves of the skills and talents these “lesser beings” offered. Thank goodness for the Romans and their plumbing or England would still have toilet pits in the street. The Chinese gave us silk of the highest quality and we gobbled up the spices of India. The list of wonderful discoveries from far off lands was endless.

And women … well, we were there to cook, clean, entertain with musical interludes and deliver preferably male children.

In the centuries since then we’ve learned that educating women isn’t a bad idea (imagine how the quality of food improved once we learned how to read a recipe book), and flushing toilets are a good thing.

But yet, in today’s modern world, numerous studies and years of anecdotal evidence gathered by thousands of recruiters around the globe, confirm that organisations continue to significantly compromise their productivity and profit by applying these age-old stereotypes in the hiring process. And sadly, recruiters are often at the forefront of such behaviour.

The big three are sexism, racism and ageism.

So, how do we make sure we’re identifying the best talent and not applying stereotyping to our recruitment processes?

Here are 8 ways to avoid stereotyping while recruiting (for hiring managers and recruiters alike).

1. Get the job description right

While we all know that organisational fit makes for happy (and therefore productive) teams, building a job description around the actual skills and experience required is the first essential step. There are plenty of resources around to help you do this but here’s a good starting point.

2. Be clear in your advertising campaign about the skills and experience you need

Too often I see recruitment advertising that barely mentions the skills and experience required. The space is taken up with (often boring) descriptions of the company and a list of the qualities they are looking for in the person. Usually code for young and white!

3. Ask applicants to also submit a cover letter with their résume

I know, I know … many of you think that cover letters are a waste of time and space. But they can be gold nuggets in evaluating key skills such as written communication. In this day and age of outsourcing your résume to an expert, the cover letter requires applicants to speak for themselves. More on this in Tip #5.

4. Develop and apply the key selection criteria to create an initial shortlist of candidates

From the job description, identify the 3-5 key selection criteria based on skills and experience. These are what I call the “deal breaker” criteria – if they don’t have this, they won’t be considered for the role. These are things like tertiary qualifications, required certifications (e.g. CPA), industry experience, recent roles, size of past employers and so on.

This pile of applications becomes your starting point for the evaluation process.

5. Evaluate the written communication skills of each applicant

Résumes and cover letters tell us a lot about people. A well written cover letter/email is a good indicator of someone’s written English skills and a reliable predictor of their verbal communication skills.

I can be a bit of a tyrant here but things like spelling errors demonstrate poor attention to detail in my book and poor use of grammar … well, let’s not go there! If they are asked to submit a cover letter and don’t, I’ll tag them as someone who either can’t follow instructions, doesn’t respect the process or is just plain lazy. See, I told you I can be a tyrant.

You’ve just established your first ‘refined’ shortlist.

6. Phone screen to turn applicants into candidates

At this stage we still only have applicants for the role.

We need to get to a list of potential candidates and a phone interview is the most efficient way of doing this. A phone interview enables us to evaluate verbal communication skills while also gaining a deeper understanding of someone’s skills, experience and personality.

A couple of well-crafted behavioural questions and a general conversation around salary requirements, availability and their motivation for applying is generally enough to give us a fairly good “gut feel” for someone.

7. Interview every candidate that ‘gets through’ steps 3-6 – but make it fair

Every candidate that has ‘passed’ the last four steps is a potential candidate for your role and should be interviewed. To make sure you are being fair and equitable, develop a set of behavioural and competency based interview questions based on the job description and selection criteria.

Ask every candidate the same questions and note their responses accurately and without bias. This is the very best way of ensuring you are not guilty of stereotyping. Apart from which, you don’t want to spend a day in some Tribunal or Commission somewhere accused of discriminating against a candidate on the grounds of race, gender or age.

This happens far too often.

8. Review your interview notes thoroughly to develop the final shortlist

At the completion of your interview process, thoroughly review your notes and carefully select the 2-4 candidates who best fit the skills, experience and behavioural attributes required in the role. These are the candidates who should be presented for final interview – with the client in the case of recruiters and a second team member in the case of hiring managers.

If all this seems too technical or too hard, just put yourself in the shoes of your applicants and treat them the way you’d like to be treated. That’s a pretty successful strategy too!

At the end of the day, as a recruiter, the final hiring decision will always rest with your client but the successful recruiter of the future will be one who always presents the most skilled, the most experienced and the most suitable candidates to their client.

And in an increasingly diverse world, those candidates aren’t always young, white and male!

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.


Bernadette Eichner

Marketplace Manager, building our recruiter community. I've more years experience in the global recruitment industry than I care to mention. Known to sprout Shakespeare.

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