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Tapping Talent Without Bias

It's time for HR to take a hard look at hiring practices.

A man in a blue suit posing for a photo.
​Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

​People are the competitive edge in organizations. Winning companies are capturing the best talent, while others are falling behind because they can’t let go of their preconceived notions about hiring. By clinging to long-standing biases, leaders risk losing out on valuable employees who don’t fit the mold.

It’s time to think differently about talent—how we view it and how we value it. For example, it surprises me to see how many employers are still hyperfocused on those magical letters “B.A.” and “B.S.” We know that, for a growing number of today’s jobs, relevant experience is a much better predictor of success than a specific degree. But there is still an old-school bias toward this credential. Some might even call it snobbery.

How many qualified candidates are being overlooked because they are a semester shy of graduation or because they took a nontraditional approach to postsecondary education? You may think you’re playing it safe by requiring a degree, but instead, you may be locking yourself into hiring the same kind of people time after time. Bringing in people “just like me/you/us” comes at the expense of diversity. 

Screening for unnecessary qualifications also shrinks your talent pool. With unemployment at a 17-year low and falling, no employer can afford that.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is actively encouraging organizational leaders to change their hiring processes to focus primarily on skills and competencies. We are forming a working group of SHRM members that will explore how HR professionals can more effectively match job openings with the competencies needed for the positions and determine which credentials or licenses, if any, are essential. 

Bias can be conscious or unconscious. One simple strategy HR can initiate for minimizing the latter is to use “blind” hiring. In this month’s issue of HR Magazine, we look at what happens when certain information—such as name, address, college name or graduation date—is stripped from candidate applications, since that data could potentially reveal a candidate’s race, gender, education level and economic background. 

These and other strategies for winning the talent race will be front and center at this month’s SHRM Talent Conference & Exposition, to be held April 16-18 in Las Vegas. Talent experts are finding their professional home through SHRM networks and events like these, sharing knowledge and tactics with their peers in recruitment and talent management. 

Meanwhile, don’t get left behind by letting hiring bias get in your way. “Hiring blind” can open your eyes to hidden talent.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, is SHRMs CEO. 

Photograph by Delane Rouse for HR Magazine. 

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