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Recruitment processes are broken – it’s time to change the system

25 September 2020

Championing diversity and inclusion in all that we do – and that includes hiring – is essential if we want organisations that reflect the communities around us. And in the not for profit sector, where reports tell us lack of diversity is still an issue, it’s absolutely vital that everything possible is being done to make this happen.

As the founder of social enterprise Collaborative Future, this is a challenge I know only too well as it was my passion to push for diversity and inclusion that led to the creation of an organisation whose mission is to create a world of work in which everyone is empowered to thrive.

At a previous company I worked for we had an all-white, mostly male senior team and very few opportunities to shift the make-up of the company’s leadership. So when an opportunity arose I put my all into transforming our recruitment process. I’d introduced anonymised CVs, worked closely with a specialist recruitment agency to publish an inclusive job ad to reach a wider pool of candidates, and I painstakingly got our board and CEO to identify key competencies to score people against and I ensured we had a diverse interview panel.

But despite shortlisting a hugely diverse pool of potential hires, the process of reviewing the candidates with the other two panel members made my heart sink as I realised the seemingly hard-won and progressive changes to our process were not going to affect the outcomes in any way shape or form. Ultimately my CEO appeared to feel an affinity with a white-middle aged man who spoke the same language as him and seemingly this bond became firmly solidified throughout a lengthy interview process – whereas other candidates were pulled apart and never given the space and support to prove their value.

This experience made me realise how insidious our traditional processes and status quo are. How they’ve been built to suit a small minority of people and more deeply embed our beliefs around what talent looks like. It made me realise that companies needed to radically change their hiring practices – not just make tweaks here and there. That’s what we aim to do at Collaborative Future and in the spirit of driving change here’s a few of the things we’ve tried and tested that have helped us disrupt the status quo that might be useful to you too:

Scrap CVs and Cover letters

Hiring managers are suckers for a nicely styled CV. They also say ridiculous things like “I don’t shortlist anyone that has a spelling mistake in their CV or cover letter”. Unless you are hiring for a copy editor the fact that someone has made a spelling mistake should not hold such weight in your decision-making. As a society we pour MILLIONS of hours into training young people how to write a good CV or cover letter and even more hours as hiring managers into deciphering what we need to see in a CV.

For the majority of roles, you can glean what you need from someone by asking very direct and clear application questions. And most of the time you really don’t need to know which companies someone has worked for and what their educational attainment is in order to identify the skills that relate to the role you’re hiring for.

Brief people on the role

Job descriptions are getting better. Especially as the statistics around how women only apply for roles when they can prove they meet 100% of the requirements have become much more mainstream knowledge. Hiring managers are getting much better at simply outlining the core requirements rather than an endless list of desirable attributes that no-one fulfills.

However there are so many roles that people will only have knowledge of if they’ve worked in the industry or that type of role in the past – and of course, this deepens the lack of diversity in so many sectors. When we worked with William Joseph Design to hire their new product manager before any interviews happened they held a Q&A call about the role so that people could understand more about what being a product manager entailed. They actually ended up hiring someone who had never heard of a product manager before and would likely not have applied if she’d just seen the role on a job board.

Share interview questions beforehand

Interviews should not be a test of someone’s ability to think on their feet or remember interesting or relevant things about themselves. They should be a conversation that allows both the candidate and the interviewers to understand more about one another and discover where they align. That’s why we recommend sharing interview questions beforehand. This gives people time to think about their answers, write down notes and bring the best version of themselves to the interview.

Compare like for like

In our work placement interviews, we ask people two sets of questions – one about how they’d approach a given task we set, and another around their strengths. The first is so that we can compare approaches in a like for like situation. In the past we’ve realised that asking broad questions like “Tell us a time when you’ve had to handle a difficult customer” can lead to subtle biases in the way interviewers digest the stories they hear back. For example, if someone tells a story about a situation that mirrors the interviewer’s own experience they may feel a greater affinity than if it’s something they can’t relate to. If someone tells a really entertaining and exciting story then they might also score higher because they’ve sparked interest – but not everyone has these same anecdotes or charismatic approach to story-telling. So unless you’re hiring for a public speaker or a spin doctor we recommend you focus on giving candidates a shared experience they can each talk about. The second section around strengths is centred around the results our candidates get from taking this High5 quiz. We don’t score or judge candidates based on the results from the test (after all tests like this can be a little bit like horoscopes!) but instead use it as a way to create a shared language and explore their level of self and other awareness through our conversations about the results.

Make the process mutually beneficial

For too long there has been a sense of indebtedness towards employers. This causes a huge power imbalance in the recruitment process. Often employers can drag out a process for weeks, expecting candidates to drop everything to suit their availability and giving minimal feedback to unsuccessful candidates at the end of the process. There is more to recruitment than simply finding the next person you are going to employ. Hiring processes should be beneficial in numerous different ways to potential hires. As an example in some situations you might pay people for their time for completing a task for you. This makes it possible for different people to engage more fully with the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. But it doesn’t always have to be a financial exchange of value- collecting and sharing detailed and specific feedback can help unsuccessful candidates to find their next job too. We also recommend hiring managers share detailed feedback with the successful candidate letting them know exactly why you chose to hire them – this will not only get them excited for starting but it will also show them what you value about them and want to see them bring to that role.

As you can see we’ve experimented with a number of new ways of hiring, with a particular focus on how to identify talent and potential among young people who have not yet succumbed to society’s expectations of what a ‘good interviewee or employee’ looks like. As part of this though one of the most important things has been to encourage employers to recognise the ways in which they stifle people’s potential and ignore the unique value different individuals can bring. We’ve found the above suggestions useful in our work and we hope you will too.

Here are some useful resources and guidelines around recruiting for diversity to get you started:

This is part of our career series, helping you to level up and make the most of your potential.

Image: Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels

Tess Cooper

founder, Collaborative Future

Tess has spent more than a decade building and leading inclusive and empowered teams. After working in many different roles across a whole range of businesses from large charities to fast-growing Tech start-ups, Tess decided to found Collaborative Future: a social enterprise that creates work in which everyone is empowered to thrive.