Confronting bias in hiring

Hiring Bias

Are we rational?

Classical economic theory has it that markets are driven by fundamentally rational agents, producers and consumers, who make more-or-less optimal decisions. According to this view, if markets are open enough and information is freely available, this underlying rationality will in most cases lead to the most efficient (however one defines it) outcomes. The same logic is generally applied to labour markets, where the equilibrium level of employment rates and wages are arrived at through negotiations between workers and firms.

We have known for a while that this story can often break down in practice, especially at the micro level. The relatively new field of behavioural economics has shown how individuals can act in ‘irrational’ ways when confronted with uncertainty, despite the freedom to act and availability of information.

A dose of humility

One of the early pioneers of this field is Daniel Kahneman, a psychologist who won the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics for integrating his research into economic theories of judgement and choice. His work, and that of others such as Richard Thaler, shows that we are afflicted by numerous mental biases without being consciously aware of them. For instance, the availability bias makes us estimate frequency by the ease with which we can remember similar instances, leading to over or under estimation. More commonly known biases include the confirmation bias, whereby we unconsciously seek out information that conforms to our pre-existing beliefs.


The Bettersource method

We are acutely aware of our biases, and have implemented a rigorous set of processes and rules to make our recruitment process as fact-based and dispassionate as possible. We are broadly aligned with Kahneman’s recommendation of a two-step process for making judgements.

In the first step, assessments of various pre-defined traits of an applicant are made separately and independently of each other. The idea being that the ranking of an applicant’s alma mater, for instance, should have no bearing on say, their demonstrable skill or experience level. The second step is to review these discrete assessments together and come to a holistic judgement, where the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses are likely to be highlighted in a more clear-eyed way for a final decision.

Here, we want to briefly lay out the five stages of the Bettersource recruitment process, and how it adheres to this approach.

  • The Bettersource criteria. Our assessment cycle springs from a detailed recruitment criteria, carefully and deliberately designed to identify top talent. It includes specific, discrete attributes such as educational attainment or demonstrable experience. Our recruitment specialists are trained to assess each of these separately.
  • Technology, the great leveller. We recognise that despite conscious efforts to be objective, human judgement is fallible. Bettersource uses best-in-class online assessment tools to evaluate various aspects of a candidate’s personality and cognitive ability, independently of each other.
  • Skills beat resumes. We use customised technology-driven tests to assess how good a candidate’s skills are, relevant to the job. Quantifiable results derived from these provide an accurate assessment of expertise for a particular skill, regardless of where they studied or worked at.
  • Multiple, blind reviews. More than one team, working independently, rates each applicant’s assessments of experience, personality, and skills. Crucially, one team does not know the other’s rating, to ensure the review process is conducted as independently and fairly as possible.
  • Our secret sauce. The final step is where it all comes together, as we combine multiple discrete assessments about a candidate into one unified judgement on their application. We use a proprietary algorithm that incorporates each individual assessment, separately weighted, giving us a final overall score.

We don’t claim that our system is a fool proof mechanism against our inherent biases. However, by keeping the knowledge of our own fallibility front and centre, and continuously improving our systems to account for it, we maintain our promise of helping clients hire world class remote talent.