Assessing Bias in the Job Search Process

Assessing company culture is an important part of the job search process. Researching websites and social media channels, conducting informational interviews with existing employees, or asking follow-up questions during an interview, are all great ways to obtain information about a company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. However, even though companies may have great intentions and make good faith efforts to be as inclusive as possible, there may still be areas where bias can creep in.  Here are some additional areas you can explore during the job search process to determine a company’s commitment to diversity.

Employee Referral Programs

Employee referrals have historically been a productive way for companies to expand their workforce. They reduce the strain and pressure on recruiters to generate new candidate pools for each job posting and simultaneously allow employees to serve as brand ambassadors that provide free word of mouth advertising about employment opportunities. While the saying “good talent attracts good talent” can be true, that also comes with the possibility that “good talent attracts good talent that walks, talks, thinks, and looks like said talent”.  If a company’s current workforce is diverse, then the likelihood of having an equally diverse slate of referrals is strong. However, if a company’s workforce lacks diversity then the referral process may enable exclusionary hiring practices (be it consciously or unconsciously) to take place. This is not to say that employee referral programs are bad- there are a lot of positives associated with them, including increased employee income if the company provides referral bonuses! However, if you feel you are encountering bias during your job search process here are some questions you can ask yourself about the companies you are applying to: Does the company only hire based on referrals?; Does the company place a monetary value on referrals?; If the company has a referral program in place, what does the larger demographic of employees look like at this company?

Job Descriptions

In general, most companies will make an effort to highlight their commitment to diversity on their website. This could be through pictures of their workforce, mission/vision/value statements, and/or promotion of any Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) they may have.  However, it is not just the words and sentiments they share on the website that can be indicators of their inclusion efforts, but also the words they use in the job postings themselves. Job descriptions can provide you with insight into how deeply rooted a company’s inclusive practices are. For instance, do they use gender-neutral language and outline roles and responsibilities in a manner that is void of specific pronouns? Are there indicators that the company may not be accommodating to certain cultural or religious beliefs/practices (example: “employees must adhere to a strict dress code”). Does their equal employment opportunity statement seem generic or does it provide robust detail of the various individual identities they welcome to apply? If certain words in a job description come across as unsettling or alarming it might be worth taking a moment to press pause and conduct additional research that will help determine if the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion practices align with your career goals.

Sourcing Strategies

Where jobs are posted and whom they are marketed to can sometimes be signs of bias in the job search process as well. While job boards like Handshake, Indeed, and LinkedIn are great places for companies to post jobs to the general public, they may stray away from posting opportunities that are geared toward a specific type of candidate on these platforms. Occasionally, employers may lean towards the use of job boards that are created with a specific industry or job seeker in mind. These job boards can oftentimes be hidden behind paywalls that require a paid membership to access and therefore limit the individuals who can access and apply to the positions. Similarly, on college campuses, employers may select to promote their opportunities only to “desired majors” or specific schools or colleges within the university. While these practices do not necessarily create bias based on financial means, they can demonstrate bias based on preconceived notions of what is and is not considered “a good career fit” based on academic interests. This is very much apparent for liberal arts and humanities students who often find themselves having to justify their skillsets to employers rather than simply be accepted by employers like their peers in more STEM or business-based majors.

Recruiting strategies can vary from company to company and industry to industry. With that in mind, It’s important to remember that part of your job search should include conducting thorough research on each company you choose to apply to. While not all bias that may appear in the recruiting process is intentional, having a better understanding of a company’s values and commitment to diversity may help you determine if you want to proceed with the application process should something stick out to you.

Photo by Tim Gouw from Pexels

By Kristen Soprano
Kristen Soprano Career Consultant Kristen Soprano