‘No silver bullet’: why blind hiring won’t guarantee fair and effective recruitment

While redacting certain information from CVs may enable more objective assessments,⁠ some diversity experts argue that it risks erasing key aspects of candidates’ identities and removing important contextual detail

Blind hiring image

First impressions count – sometimes a little too much. Research by the London School of Economics suggests that the average recruiting manager will spend about six seconds initially reviewing a CV.

In that time, it’s likely that they’ll be drawn to particular information, if it’s stated. This includes an applicant’s name, age, sex, ethnicity and education. Such details, several studies suggest, are potential triggers for bias. An employer could miss out on the best person for a job just because of a selector’s unfounded preconceptions. 

Blind hiring – the removal of personal information from applications – is designed to reduce the risk of bias. In theory, it helps the employer to focus on each candidate’s suitability for a given role, undistracted by factors that are, on the face of it, irrelevant. 

But does this increasingly popular practice truly ensure a more effective and equitable selection process? While some experts in this field are keen proponents of blind hiring, others argue that it has fundamental shortcomings.

Forms of bias that blind hiring reduces

Khyati Sundaram, CEO of recruitment software firm Applied, is a strong advocate of blind hiring. She believes that truly “ethical recruitment” requires CVs to be “stripped of any information that can trigger a conscious or unconscious response.” 

Affinity bias, Sundaram explains, can lead hiring managers to “favour candidates with whom they have common ground, whether that’s a shared hobby or where they went to university.” Confirmation bias, meanwhile, manifests itself when they deliberately seek information that supports their prejudices. 

In reality, she says, “role-relevant skills are the sole accurate indicator of performance. These are the only things that employers should be looking to glean from any application forms.”

How blind hiring can extend a recruiter’s reach

Victoria McLean, CEO of career development consultancy Hanover Talent Solutions, agrees, noting that blind hiring can help to make its exponents more diverse and inclusive employers. 

“You could attract a broader range of applicants, because candidates may be more likely to apply if they know that bias is eliminated and they won’t be discriminated against,” she says. 

Candidates may be more likely to apply if they know that bias is eliminated

John Thompson is director and head of strategic workforce planning and senior hiring at Deloitte. He reports that his firm has adopted blind hiring for its early-careers programme, which has attracted applicants from a wider range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds than before. 

“We don’t ask candidates to submit a CV. This reduces unconscious bias, which may come into play when certain information is shared,” he says. “Interviewers don‘t gain access to details about an applicant’s education until after a job offer has been made. They’ll only find out someone’s name once that candidate gets through to the assessment stage.” 

While this approach has proved effective for entry-level positions, Thompson admits that recruiting for more senior roles remains a more traditional affair. 

“For more experienced hires, we do ask candidates to submit a CV, as this is a crucial means of highlighting relevant skills. The assessors will use it in preparing what to explore in the interview. But we don’t ask candidates to state any particular characteristics, such as their age, gender and marital status – although some inevitably still do.” 

A totally blind recruitment process

While most blind hiring measures tend to be applied at the early stages of the recruitment process, Ukrainian business consultancy CFC Big Ideas has taken the concept to extreme lengths.

Mykhailo Kats, a senior manager at the firm, explains: “Candidates submit their CVs and cover letters online, with all personal data redacted. The only details left for the recruiting managers to see are education, experience and skills.”

Shortlisted candidates are invited to an asynchronous online interview, where they record their responses to a set of fixed questions. Partnering with Brazilian software firm Jobecam, CFC Big Ideas has developed an interview platform on which candidates are represented by a “static, faceless avatar” on screen. “Interviewees’ voices are masked by a special technology so that they all sound the same: a robotic voice with a neutral tone,” Kats says. 

Candidates who pass this stage are invited to a live interview. Again, their faces are hidden and their voices are modified. The hiring manager gets to see the successful applicant and discover their true identity only once the job has been offered. 

The potential shortcomings of blind hiring

Daniela Herrera is a talent consultant specialising in diversity, equity and inclusivity at New York recruitment consultancy Kay & Black Talent Management. While she accepts the need to erase “incidental” details from CVs and so reduce the likelihood of bias, she warns recruiters against removing too much information. 

If they do so, they risk reducing the level of insight afforded into someone’s personality and whether they might be a good cultural fit for the organisation, Herrera argues.

Blind hiring is no silver bullet. It should be used only at the top of the funnel

She explains that candidates might be keen to share “specific details about themselves. These might include their identity, volunteer work or the organisations they’re affiliated with.” 

This could provide crucial context to the skills they profess to have, Herrera says. “For instance, when I share the fact that I’m a Latina immigrant and I volunteered at a Latine association, I‘m aiming to ensure that potential employers know about that experience and the transferable skills it gave me.”

Herrera adds that, while someone’s ethnicity obviously won’t define their ability to do a job, it is important for members of particular minorities to know what attitude a recruiter has towards diversity issues. 

“I want to ascertain whether a potential employer is understanding and welcoming of my community and that my identity will be respected and elevated,” she says. “This sentiment applies to people from many other historically excluded communities, especially those that have been attacked or are seeking work in locations where it might not be safe for them to do so.” 

On CFC Big Ideas’ totally blind methods specifically, Herrera questions the technology’s ability to understand people with strong accents. She adds: “What would happen if the organisation needed to interview someone who used sign language?” 

While he supports the removal of certain details from applications, Mark Chaffey, co-founder and CEO of online recruitment platform hackajob, notes that blind hiring alone will not solve every problem. Achieving a truly diverse and inclusive workplace, he stresses, requires constant cultural introspection and readjustment. 

“Blind hiring is no silver bullet. It should be used only at the top of the funnel,” says Chaffey. This will ensure that a wider range of people have the chance to be interviewed, but whether people from different backgrounds ultimately feel comfortable in an office hinges on other employees’ willingness to be open-minded and supportive to them, he argues.

Focusing on equal opportunities, not equal outcomes

Does it matter if blind hiring doesn’t necessarily result in a more diverse organisation? What if the best candidates continue to come from similar backgrounds? 

Kostiantyn Gridin, COO of CFC Big Ideas, believes that there’s a fine line between true diversity and tokenism. It would be “insulting”, he says, if someone were to be hired specifically because they “were black, a woman or whatever. Quotas do not make people feel good.” 

But, because talent exists in all walks of life, Gridin is confident that it would be “statistically very improbable” that a diverse workforce wouldn‘t eventually result from the application of blind hiring methods.

Chaffey also believes that organisations should eventually become more diverse and inclusive if their application processes are more objective by design. 

“We shouldn’t focus on achieving equal outcomes,” he notes. “Instead, we should be optimising for equal opportunities. That should enable everyone to start the race at the same place, but whoever is best for the job should ultimately be hired.”