Hiring without Bias, Part 2: Better Processes for Better Results

Hiring without Bias, Part 2: Better Processes for Better Results

In part 1 of this series, I wrote about why removing our biases will help our hiring and result in a more diverse staff and more equitable systems. Here are a ways to help reduce the impact of bias in your hiring. This isn’t everything, and I am not an HR or legal professional, but If you are ready to make it happen, Let’s GO! 

Step 1: Job Descriptions

The first place to address bias is in our job descriptions. Equitable language, accurate descriptions, and actual requirements are the antidotes to bias in descriptions. 

First, how is your job description structured? Does it include a description of what a person in this job will actually do every day? A good description of the duties of the position should describe the activities that will take up the majority of the employees’ shift. 

Once you have a good list of duties, what previous skills, knowledge or experience is required to be able to conduct those duties? Where can people get that skill beyond previous camp experience? Most general counselor positions probably don’t need previous camp experience, but they may need experience working with children, working in a team, and creative problem solving. List the specific skills you are looking for, especially if those skills can be gained elsewhere.

Another helpful question to ask yourself is, "What does a person need to already know in order to do this job, and what can I teach them in training?" If I am already planning to train staff in something, and I can train them well enough to be able to do it at camp, then it isn’t a required skill.

For example, if I am hiring a lifeguard, I can teach them CPR, they don’t need to already know that to be hired. But they do need to be able to come in on day one and pass the lifeguard swim test. I can’t teach them how to swim well enough in one week. Being able to swim 300 m and tread water for 2 minutes is a required qualification. Knowing CPR is not.

Including lots of requirements that aren’t actually required to do the job will reduce the number of good applicants that you get and may systematically exclude certain groups of people.  

Step 2: Resume Reviewing & Rubrics

Once you have identified the skills that are required for your position, establish a system for identifying if a candidate’s resume displays those skills. 

Sometimes, it is super clear. If they have been a lifeguard before, it is a pretty safe bet that they have the skills necessary to be a lifeguard. But maybe they haven’t been a lifeguard before, but have been on the swim team in high school. They probably have the skills required, but may not have the resume-writing experience to spell out exactly what you are looking for. This is a candidate who you should move to the interview phase to find out. 

Make a rubric to score applicants on whether they show proof they have a skill. Decide as a team what each score (usually 0-3) means and what gets each score. For my rubrics, 

  • 3 is Yes, this person can swim 300m. 
  • 2 is they probably can, but we need to find out (like the swim team example above). 
  • 1 is probably not.
  • 0 is definitely cannot. 

Someone with mostly 3s should definitely move on to the interview round. Mostly 2s should move on also, since we just need to learn more to decide if they meet the qualifications. 1s and 0s may be considered for another position, or declined for this year. 

Another way to reduce bias in reading resumes - if possible, make it blind. Remove names, and references to age, gender, and race. If you have a form application, it can be fairly easy. If you are looking at resumes that are all formatted differently, it might be a bit harder, but worth the time to counteract bias against identities. 

Step 3: Interviewing

Interviewing is the hardest part of the hiring process to remove bias from. 

The main check on your personal biases is whether you have evidence of a claim, or are making an inference. Evidence is when the candidate writes or says something that specifically answers whether they have the skills or experience to do the job. An inference is when you make an assumption about the candidate based on a single fact that does not specifically relate to the question at hand. Inferences may be based on stereotypes, similarity bias, or the halo effect. Similarity and Halo Biases are both types of Affinity Bias, where you make a connection with someone that makes you view their qualifications more favorably. 

Similarity bias is when you connect with someone over a shared interest or background, and so assume that they are qualified, or have certain skills, even if that interest or background is unrelated.

The Halo Effect is when you form a positive impression of a candidate based on a singular characteristic, and extend that impression to their qualifications. The Halo Effect is often, but not always, based on physical attributes. 

To counteract this bias: 

  1. Ask standardized questions. You can word them slightly differently to make sure your candidate understands, or to clarify what is on their resume, but ask for the same information. 
  2. Ask questions about past experiences, not hypothetical situations. As an interviewer, think about other places that someone may have experience, rather than just work experience. “Tell us about a time that you had to work in a group for a school project, and it didn't go the way you wanted” will give you a lot more information about their actual experience then “What would you do if you didn’t get along with your co-counselor?”. If they’ve never been a counselor before, they will be making up what they think you want to hear, rather than sharing their actual experience. 
  3. Skip the “What kind of writing utensil would you be?” or “How many basketballs fit on a school bus?” Unless the job you’re hiring for is specifically packing school buses full of basketballs, there is nothing this answer will give that isn’t seeped in bias. This deserves more explanation than will fit in this article, so stay tuned to Part 3 of this series for more about these types of questions!
  4. Score answers to questions on a rubric in the same way as the resume review. 

Any question about membership in a protected class should absolutely be avoided:

  • Age or genetic information
  • Citizenship or country of origin
  • Gender, sex, marital status or pregnancy
  • Race, color or ethnicity
  • Disability status
  • Religious affiliation

If you ask any of these and don’t hire a candidate, you open yourself to discrimination lawsuits, even if the answers had nothing to do with your decision. 

Following this process for hiring will do a lot for combatting our Implicit Bias. We all have biases, but we can learn to recognize and confront those that might impact our hiring. If we want to work towards a more diverse and inclusive camp community, checking our biases in the hiring process is one important step!

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Leilani Nussman


Summer Camp and Extended Learning Director, NORTHWEST SCHOOL

Leilani can be reached at lnussman@gmail.com.

“I am a mixed-race Kanaka maoli (Hawai’i) and white summer camp director. I use she/her pronouns. I live on the ancestral lands of the Duwamish people, past and present. I speak for myself and from my own lived experience. I still have work to do.”

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