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Towards a more inclusive recruitment process, part 2: applications

This is the second post in a four-part series of, erm, I can’t say at this stage – I’ll update this when the other part(s) go up – in which I’m summarising and reacting to the responses to a post I put up on LinkedIn “looking for ideas on how to set up a recruitment process as inclusive and equitable as possible, from job ad to joining”.

Part 1: Ads
Part 3: Assessment
Part 4: Interviews

This post focuses on tips for dealing with applications.

Don’t ask for information that’s at best irrelevant and at worst a cause of bias

There are certain things you definitely shouldn’t be asking but I’m not going to go into detail about legislation, especially as it can differ depending on where you are.

Martina Dove PhD shared her dislikes from her encounters with online forms, some of which I include below. I was particularly interested in Martina’s comment about “asking for disclosure on disability”. From the recruiter point of view, this sort of information is useful to help me work out if we’re getting a good diversity of candidates, but I can see Martina’s point: “Just always strikes me as a screening question rather than an inclusive one.” That, for me, speaks to the need to establish a level of trust with candidates that you’ll use the information in the right way. That’s a way bigger topic for another time.

There are three things I’ll highlight here:

Current salary

Some people think current salary is a good indication of someone’s current ability. I disagree. I think your current salary is a reflection of many different factors, which can include compounding underpayment and undervaluing because of gender, race, sexual orientation, social class, and so on. I don’t want to build injustice on top of injustice. What remuneration I offer will be based on the relevant experience, skills and value someone brings to the job I’m hiring for.


This cuts both ways, with both youth and advanced years affecting less-enlightened recruiters’ opinions of someone’s ability.

Education (including professional qualifications)

Unless you’re hiring for a role that requires specific evidence of professional competence – doctor, lawyer, that sort of thing, this isn’t relevant. Stuart Worsley PMP, ACMA made an excellent point: “You can work out someone’s age based on when they went to university and how much experience they have.” Stuart suggests redacting education dates and asking for only the most relevant years of experience. On which point…

Remove irrelevant information from applications during the sifting process

Even if you don’t ask for the information mentioned above, sometimes people will submit information as part of their application – in the cover note, on their CV, maybe also on a portfolio or personal site – that isn’t relevant and can lead to bias in the assessment.

In my ideal process, as a hiring manager, I prefer not to see these in applications when they get to me for review:

  • current salary
  • age
  • education
  • photos
  • any other identifying information

Now, I’m not naive to the fact that we live in a time where ‘personal brand’ is a big deal, especially in certain industries. But if I’m to make the assessment process fair, I want to base my decisions on what people have done, not who they are or if I’ve heard of them. Or if someone else knows them, on which note…

Treat referrals with care


Dahlia Basrawi Deenoo Chartered MCIPDView said said: “Look out for too many ‘i know someone in my network’ or ‘i need someone to hit the ground running’ in your hiring managers search for candidates,” and I agree. 1 It’s really tempting to shortcut the process – recruitment is hard work when you do it fairly and properly (so treat your recruitment team with respect!).

I’m not saying to ignore referrals completely; they can be really useful. The risk with them is you end up perpetuating structural and systemic bias, and I think you need to manage that risk.

That means:

  • applying the same standards you would apply to any applicant
  • not sharing inside information with the referred that can’t be accessed by all candidates
  • managing the influence of the referrer and possible bias in the process.

Setting up the assessment process, scoring criteria and system in advance is crucial, as well as involving a diverse panel. That’s the subject of part 3 to come in this unintended series on inclusive recruitment.

What’s wrong with networking and referrals from a network? Nothing, unless you happen to have a characteristic that means you or people like you are excluded from these networks or have to work multiple times as hard to break through or have to present a fundamentally different version of yourself to be accepted. One person’s network is another person’s clique.

Networks by their nature tend to mono-culture and if you only look within a certain type of network, or give an unfair advantage to that network, you’ll perpetuate it. And as someone striving to inclusive recruiting, that’s not what I want to do.

Part 3 will be on the assessment part of the recruitment process. I make no promises about when I’ll publish it but I’ll link to it when I do.

Part 1: Ads
Part 3: Assessment
Part 4: Interviews

  1. I say this in the full knowledge I’ve previously been beneficiary and perpetrator of this.↩︎

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