Diversity Recruitment Resources: Candidate Review

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Initial Candidate Review

Implicit bias can undermine a search committee’s desire to create a fair and equitable hiring process. When search committee members rush decisions or do not monitor themselves for implicit biases, it can result in the uneven application of job criteria, judgments based on non-relevant criteria, and cognitive shortcuts that are often created by implicit biases.

To reduce the impact of implicit bias in the initial candidate review, the following countermeasures are recommended:

  1. Prior to application review, redact candidate names, which often signal gender and sometimes even race, ethnicity, or national origin. Research suggests that sex-based stereotypes can negatively affect female candidates in the hiring process, and underrepresented candidates, such as those with Arab/Muslim or African American-sounding names, are less likely to be chosen to progress in the hiring process than white candidates. While HR does not have the capacity to scrub application materials of candidate names, the search committee chair may consider asking a third party to replace names with “Candidate A”, “Candidate B”, etc. before the committee begins to evaluate them.
  2. Consider engaging in a multistep "equity review": (a) separate candidates that didn't meet job qualifications from those that did, (b) do a second review of those that didn't meet qualifications to make sure that no one was missed and giving assurance that all applicants were subjected to an equitable process, and (c) recognize that the review of those candidates the search committee elects to move forward with may be subjected to forms of implicit bias (e.g., academic credentials, graduate school or academic experience, geographic bias, etc.).  An equity review is an alternative to the usual practice in which search committees start by identifying the most desirable candidates.
  3. Allocate enough time for a well-balanced and thoughtful decision-making process, including adequate time to review application materials and building in breaks to counter cognitive fatigue. Make sure you are also spending equal time on all candidates.
  4. Review collectively agreed upon and well-developed job-specific criteria before looking at application materials. Research indicates that implicit biases can play a role in shifting criteria that favor candidates from dominant groups, but commitment to predetermined criteria can counterbalance the effects of bias. Develop and utilize a common rubric to summarize each candidate’s relative strengths and weaknesses based on the criteria.
  5. Recognizing that no one is immune to implicit biases, actively work to counteract your own biases. Several research-based strategies include the following: a) engage in “counter-stereotypic” mental imagery – taking time to consciously think about successful women, people of color and other underrepresented people on our campus – prior to engaging in the evaluation process; and b) during the candidate review, monitor yourself for implicit biases. In particular, be wary of confirmation bias, a phenomenon in which we unconsciously seek out information that supports an initial thought and selectively screen out information that would prove otherwise. Being mindful of your thoughts can help you make your unconscious biases conscious. (See this approximately five minute video on mindfulness and stereotype replacement.)
  6. Review the “short list” for underrepresentation of various groups in your field - again, HR can provide you with racial/ethnic and other demographic information about your pool (not individual candidates). Do you need to be more proactive to recruit a more diverse pool of candidates before moving forward with interviews? Take time for reflection as a group and continue searching, if warranted, to enrich the pool. Remember to reference the job board sites that target underrepresented affinity groups [See APPENDIX B].

Conducting Interviews

  1. Offer a standardized information packet and equal accommodations, transportation, meals, etc. to all candidates, except in situations where accommodations should be made to enable candidates with disabilities to engage in the interview process. As part of the packet, consider including information about our Employee Resources Groups (ERGs). These groups can serve as a point of contact for candidates who would like deeper insight into Marquette’s work culture and resources for underrepresented employees.
  2. Remind all committee members of the agreed upon criteria and continue to use common rubrics.
  3. Create a standardized interview process and ensure that all candidates have the opportunity to respond to the same set of core questions.
  4. Make sure every member of the search committee – including anyone who is scheduled to meet with the candidate – understands the legal implications in the hiring process, including what kinds of questions are legally permissible. As you take notes throughout the interview and evaluation process and engage in post-interview dialogue, keep in mind that those notes and comments should follow the same legal considerations and are discoverable.
  5. Make sure that everyone who will likely meet the candidates during their visits has been provided with the itinerary. Part of this is a courtesy to colleagues, but also a signal that all candidates are welcomed and are being seriously considered for the position.
  6. Remain consistent with how you treat each candidate, from the moment you welcome them to the way you end their interview, including the way you escort them from the interview.
  7. Remember that candidates are interviewing us as much as we are interviewing them. How are we making the candidate feel welcomed and included? Even small gestures can have powerful signaling effects on both them and people in their network as they consider Marquette as a potential professional home. Be cognizant of your body language, facial expressions, and verbal cues.
  8. For non-local candidates, show off Milwaukee! Our city has so much to offer for a wide variety of interests and needs.

Post-Interview Deliberations

  1. Again, allocate enough time for a thoughtful decision-making process, spend equal time on all candidates, and build in breaks to counteract cognitive fatigue, which can lead to mental short-cuts that are often created by our implicit biases.
  2. Remember that healthy and often rigorous debate is part of the process. You may consider assigning each candidate a “champion” and a “devil’s advocate” to ensure that every interviewee is afforded due consideration and not dismissed out of hand based on kneejerk (i.e. implicit) judgments.
  3. Understand the “status quo” effect: some research suggests that if there is only one woman or one person of color in a final candidate pool, statistically speaking they have no chance of being hired. Importantly, if there are at least two women or two people of color in the final candidate pool, the odds of a woman or person of color being hired for the position are significantly greater. Search committees should strive to create final pools of candidates in which a critical mass of female/non-white candidates is the norm rather than the exception.
  4. Hold yourself and each other accountable for your evaluations of candidate merit. In particular, define ambiguous terms such as fit, potential, and leadership. Some research suggests that affinity or “cultural matching” can weigh heavily in hiring decisions, and that it is more difficult for people of all genders to recognize women as leaders. So reflect on and examine emotional reactions to candidates and value statements about their qualifications. Ask yourself and others:
    • Why do you think that way?
    • Can you define/explain what you mean by ‘X’?
    • Is ‘X’ an important aspect of the criteria for the job?
    • Based on [specific information from the candidate’s materials/interview], do they exhibit ‘X’?
  5. Take subjective forms of evaluation from third parties (letters of recommendation, reference checks) with a grain of salt. It has been shown that letters of recommendation for women signal greater doubts about competence or back-handed compliments and focus less on accomplishments than those for their male counterparts. It is important to examine these subjective forms of evaluation with the understanding that implicit biases can sometimes play a role in how the candidate is portrayed.


Introduction to Recruiting for Diversity

Phase 1: Cast a Wide Net

Phase 2: Understanding Implicit Bias

Phase 3: Candidate Review

Phase 4: Extending the Offer and Making the Hire