Why a structured recruitment process truly ensures fairness for all

No resumes, but standard application forms. And no small-talk-filled, “click” interviews, but structured ones instead. These are two methods proven to make recruitment and selection genuinely fairer and more objective, according to extensive research.

Peter Boerman on May 21, 2024 Average reading time: 3 min
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Why a structured recruitment process truly ensures fairness for all

The timing of the research can indeed be called remarkably apt. On Tuesday morning, February 27, the Dutch Senate is set to debate the Equal Opportunities in Recruitment and Selection Act, a bill intended to combat discrimination in the labor market. Just before this moment, a comprehensive research report was released, which not only highlights the persistent prevalence of discrimination but also offers organizations practical ways to prevent it in the future. This aligns perfectly with the objectives of the proposed legislation. Clearly, a very current topic.

The more structured the selection methods, the greater the equality of opportunity for each candidate

Let’s start with the main conclusion of the large-scale research, which, in short, is: the more structured the selection methods, the greater the equality of opportunity for each candidate. This doesn’t just mean structure in interviews, where each candidate is asked the same questions in the same order. It also includes structure in the initial selection process. For example, creating an application form with the same (relevant) questions for all applicants, instead of randomly asking them to submit a resume.

Reducing personal bias

“When you structure the process, personal preferences of the hiring manager or recruiter play a lesser role,” summarizes lead researcher Janice Odijk. In oth

er words, this reduces bias in the process. But also “noise,” adds Odijk. “Noise arises from coincidences that cause an evaluator to score higher or lower than expected, such as when someone has slept poorly. A more objective and structured process also reduces systematic differences between evaluators in their assessments. Less noise and bias lead to better selection decisions.”

Structured interviews improve job performance predictions

It has long been known that more structured interviews improve job performance predictions. In the study conducted by Odijk along with Rotterdam-based labor and organizational psychologists Annemarie Hiemstra and Marise Born, the focus was primarily on equal opportunities. Here too, structured interviews proved beneficial. Structured interviews result in more consistent scores from different evaluators compared to unstructured ones.

Reducing similarity bias

A notable aspect of the new research is its examination of the initial selection phase. In the study, 127 job seekers were invited to apply for a fictional retail management traineeship. They applied both with a traditional resume and via a structured form with a few standard, job-relevant questions. “Authentic data, not fictitious resumes,” emphasizes Odijk. Over 100 HR professionals then evaluated these applications, estimating job suitability based on both methods.

Candidates also found the structured method generally fairer and more pleasant.

The results show that the structured method leads to “more equal and consistent assessments of applicants” compared to resumes, explains Odijk. In other words, both bias (systematic rating differences) and noise (random differences) significantly decreased. The similarity bias, where selectors favor people who are like them in some way, was also reduced. Interestingly, candidates found the structured method generally fairer and more pleasant, regardless of their migration background.

Follow-up on nudges research

Odijk conducted this research with her EUR colleagues Born and Hiemstra, commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment. It follows earlier “nudges” research by TNO, part of the SZW program for Further Integration into the Labor Market. More than 200 HR professionals from various sectors and regions participated in the new study.

With structuring, noise and bias almost disappear.

These HR professionals not only reviewed resumes and structured application forms but also watched videos of fictional interviews with equally qualified candidates differing in their ethnic-cultural profiles. Again, structured interviews predominantly showed good results: the influence of random rating differences (noise) and differences in individual HR professionals’ biases almost disappeared.

Bridging research and practice

The report sends a clear message, believes Odijk. “There is a significant gap between research and practice,” she says. “The ministry aims to bridge this gap. That’s why we tried to stay as close to practice as possible. I think we succeeded.” She also believes that her research can help address labor market shortages. “We conducted this research with diversity and inclusivity in mind. But ultimately, it’s about the right matching. And fair opportunities greatly assist in that.”

“It ultimately comes down to: the right matching. And fair opportunities naturally help a lot with that.”

Hopefully, this message will reach the employer organizations recently complaining about the proposed Equal Opportunities Act, which would require them to document their recruitment and selection practices. One argument against it was the lack of scientific standards for a good process. Well, employers, here’s your science. You can implement it directly into your daily practice. With this, you shouldn’t have much to worry about regarding the possible new law. The only challenge now is to actually put it into practice.

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Peter Boerman

Peter Boerman

Blogger at ToTalent

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