(Not) Seeing is Believing: Presenting a “Blind” Shortlist by NZAL Young member, Fern Seto

(Not) Seeing is Believing: Presenting a “Blind” Shortlist by NZAL Young member, Fern Seto 

Recently, a client asked if it was possible for us to present our candidate shortlist on a “blind” basis – that is, with no names or gender indicators on any of the covering letters, CVs, or any of our accompanying collateral. The objective of this exercise is to eliminate unconscious judgments from the recruitment process – biases or pre-judgements that we might hold about men, women, or someone with an unusual name’s capability to perform the role. Some blind shortlists go further, eliminating factors such as marital status and universities attended. A blind shortlist allows a candidate to be judged on their skills and experience alone.

I immediately said yes – progressive requests like this are one of the reasons we love our client base, and I was more than happy to make this happen. After doing some brief research online, however, I didn’t find much in the way of tips and pointers on how to prepare or present a blind shortlist, so I thought I would share some key points around what went well, what was surprising and what we’d do differently next time.

  • Know your criteria: although our client had asked for us to shortlist without names and genders, a truly “blind” candidate profile needs to be run over with a keen eye and a fine tooth comb. Removing a name but not spotting “I am a proud mother of three” will undo all your hard work (something similar happened with one of our profiles). Similarly, I found myself removing from candidate profiles interests and hobbies that might cause our client to subconsciously categorise a candidate as male or female – “military history” and “knitting”, as hypothetical examples.
  • Know your tools: I used the Redact tool in Adobe Acrobat to remove identifying information, but next time I might use the Find and Replace feature before applying redaction. As we prepare shortlists in this manner more frequently, I will keep track of non-obvious gender coded language and run each term through Find and Replace to ensure that nothing is missed.
  • Know your crowd: blind shortlisting isn’t ideal for every client or every role. Ensure (as best you can) that each person to whom you are presenting is aware of how and why the candidate profiles have been amended. If a client recognises a certain candidate’s profile, it’s important that they keep this to themselves, as disclosing it can undermine the value of the process.
  • Keep it simple: instead of names, each candidate was assigned a number, and that number was present on their CV and cover letter, as well as our other collateral. We kept for ourselves a master list – a table with each candidate’s name and their number, so we didn’t mix them up during presentation.
  • Watch your language: Dale and I did a brief run through prior to client presentation, and he had about 30 minutes to de-tune himself from years of discussing candidates in terms of “he” and “she”, replacing those terms with “this person” and a gender-neutral singular “they”. Try as we might we both slipped up once or twice during presentation.
  • Be forgiving: the entire blind shortlisting process is designed to circumvent unconscious bias, but the tricky thing about unconscious bias is that it’s unconscious! With one exercise we are attempting to switch off an operating system that has been our default for our entire lives, and that’s not easy. If you or your client slips up despite your best efforts, have a laugh about it and carry on.

We’re proud to be able to add blind shortlisting to our list of recruitment initiatives that actively promote diversity in appointing New Zealand’s future leaders. If you’d like to talk to us about this or any of our other initiatives, please get in touch – we’d love to help you out.