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How an Individual's Name Leads to Bias in Hiring

Recently, Wolgast, Björkland, and Bäckström (2018) published an article(1) in the Journal of Personnel Psychology about the role of applicant ethnicity in the choice of interview questions asked by recruiters.

In their research, they found:

  • when the applicants were perceived to be a member of the “outgroup” (i.e., had a foreign-sounding name), recruiters tended to ask interview questions focusing on fit with the group/organization,

  • whereas “ingroup” applicants (i.e., had a local-sounding name) tended to be asked interview questions that focused on fit with that specific job (job fit).

Is it important that people with foreign-sounding names (“outgroup”) get asked questions that are different than those of the local candidates?

Well, two follow-up experiments in the same article address this question.

The authors found that:

  • when job fit was emphasized, recruiters found the information significantly more useful, providing a more complete picture for making hiring decisions,

  • questions about job fit were less likely to be asked of candidates with foreign-sounding names, these outgroup candidates are less likely to have useful information gathered about them in the interview process.

Because different questions are asked, based on an individual’s name, a clear case of Bias has been introduced into the hiring process – this can lead to adverse impact (i.e., different protected classes being hired at different rates) and legal risk.

At, we address problems like this in three ways:

  • Anonymous platform. Job candidates on the platform are completely anonymous until they have been fully qualified. The organizations doing the hiring do not have access to personal information about the candidate until after the candidate has been evaluated and meets all required qualifications. This includes name, demographics, resume, and other information that might clue the organization as to whether the candidate is a member of the ingroup or outgroup. In other words, a large part of where Bias comes into play at the beginning of the hiring process (i.e. their name) is removed.

  • Job-first approach. Organizations set up the job and all qualifications at in advance of any candidates applying. By putting the emphasis on the job up front, organizations must carefully think through what the job requirements are and how those translate into minimum qualifications needed to do the job effectively. This also has the advantage of providing…

  • Structure and consistency. With the job requirements set in advance, every candidate for the job is going to be asked the same questions, be treated the same, and be subject to the same application process. This ensures there will be no disparate treatment of candidates, whether they are members of the ingroup or outgroup. This structured approach provides a consistent application process for all candidates and eliminates the source of Bias described in Wolgast et al.

Recognizing that biases in hiring are occurring is an important first step for all organizations to recognize. Providing a platform that eliminates these biases is what we do at

1 Wolgast, S., Björkland, F, & Bäckström, M. (2018). Applicant ethnicity affects which questions are asked in a job interview. Journal of Personnel Psychology, 17(2), 66-74. doi: 10.1027/1866-5888/a000197




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