You may not be a fan of the show The Voice, but I’m sure you can picture the scene… A judge such as Tom Jones sits brooding in his chair with his back to the stage, his face showing no emotion (partly due to the Botox and plastic surgery – sorry Tom!) while directly behind him a wanabee sings their heart out.   Tom has nothing to judge this contestant on apart from their vocal skills and audio performance…welcome to the world of “Blind Recruitment”.


Let’s step back from the world of show biz and entertainment and consider a standard job seeker and their application for any role.  Most candidates would expect to be hired on the basis of their experience, skills and suitability for a role.  I also imagine most hiring managers would reinforce that expectation.  Unfortunately, it may not be the case.


Recruitment bias has been an elephant in the preverbial HR or Recruitment Manager’s room for a sustained period of time.  There has been education and awareness initiatives, but nothing that has grabbed the issue by the throat and actually solved the problem.  In fact, all that has been achieved is we now have a moderately louder conversation and a begrudging acknowledgement that recruitment bias could exist in some cases.


To clarify, when we talk about recruitment bias we see it in various forms.  For example, “first impressions” and “gut feelings” as you read a CV or interview a candidate is an unconscious bias.  A candidate name, an address from the wrong part of town, a university that is held in high or low esteem, these are all tiny snippets of information that a hiring manager is digesting and judging.  In short, the recruiter has a subconscious or stereotypical view of what a successful candidate ‘should’ look like rather than what they ‘could’ look like.  The recruiter shows favourability to candidates that have these predetermined traits be it ethnicity, gender, sexuality and educational background.


This is not done on purpose, but it does blinkered the recruitment process and it could stop an organisation from selecting the best talent for a role, even more damning though is an organisation risks breaching one of the nine protected characteristics of discrimination such as age, gender, ethnicity or religion….factors that do not translate into what makes an exceptional employee.


One of the latest approaches to removing recruitment bias and increasing recruitment diversity is “blind recruitment”.  It is the simple approach of removing any identification details from a candidate’s CV or application.  So; names, addresses, school or university names and years of experience can all be removed from the application as these could all give an indication of age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic background.  As such, a recruiting manager is evaluating a candidate on their skills and experience, nothing else.


Apart from the hope blind recruitment leads to sourcing the most suitable candidate for a role it is also hoped it leads to recruiting a more diverse and inclusive workforce.  A diverse workforce can create better team performance, improved customer insight, lower staff turnover and provide other benefits.  In addition, an organisation that publicly makes a commitment to diversity is boosting their employer branding and that in itself is attractive to candidates and creates a bigger talent pool to fish in.


Does blind recruitment work?  A number of organisations from different industries and geographic regions report up to a 40% increase in the recruitment of women and ethnic minorities and now large employers such as HSBC, Google, and the BBC are all using blind recruitment practices.


So, I hear you ask “what’s the problem”?  It works, the big boys are using it, it helps remove bias and attract the most suitable candidate to a role, you’re successfully tiptoeing around possible discrimination and your improving your employer branding….win, win, win….I think I can hear you with a pair scissors already cutting and folding candidate CVs into some bizarre Human Resource origami montage to be displayed on the desks of hiring managers.  Well – hold-on, because while I think the intention of blind recruitment is good, I also think it is flamboyantly flawed.


Firstly, blind recruitment only makes a difference at the first stage of the recruitment process.  When you meet an applicant, you very quickly learn about all of the personal information that was cut from their initial application.  So, if the hiring manager is ‘inadequate’ then recruitment bias just enters the process later and the end result is the same.  Secondly, blind recruitment can actually disrupt diversity goals.  If an organisation is striving to increase gender balance, blind recruitment might not lead to the results desired.  Finally, blind recruitment can give an incomplete picture of a candidate’s circumstances.  Take a single mother returning to work after several years looking after a young family with no context given she could just have an unexplained gap on her work history.


Blind recruitment is not perfect.  In my opinion it doesn’t make sense to remove everything from a CV – why use a CV in the first place if you are going to do that?  If an organisation is going to trial blind recruitment start small and try by just removing names and then analysis the results.


More importantly though, if you are committed to diversity in the work place and trying to hire the best possible candidates – blind recruitment is just one possible cog in that machine.  We have already mentioned above that simply declaring and communicating your commitment to encouraging diversity is an important message to give to candidates (and to internal hiring managers).  That message though must come with internal education or you potential risk replacing one recruitment bias for another.  Give some thoughts as to where you advertise as well as you can easily alienate certain candidate demographics.


Recruitment is about hiring the best possible talent.  If you can do it by adding to an organisation’s culture and workforce diversity– perfect!  To do that we need an open mind and flexibility of thought.  We need a hiring manager brave enough to say a candidate is not just great for the role and a cultural fit for an organisation – but that a candidate is great for the role and could culturally enhance an organisation.   Blind recruitment may have a part to play, but it is not the total package and I welcome more debate, a louder conversation and more options to address workforce diversity.


About the Author

Simon Royston is the founder and Managing Director of The Recruitment Lab (A recruitment agency based in Aldershot that offers employment services across Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and beyond).  Simon lives in Guildford and has worked in Recruitment for over a decade.  He has a degree and a masters in psychology as well as a diploma in Human Resource Management.  If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would simply like to express your own thoughts and opinions do not hesitate to contact Simon through The Recruitment Lab website.