In 2020 I was building my sales team at Livestorm, and at the time we were going through a big hiring boom.
For the first time in my life, I was in charge of vetting and hiring new team members at scale. This was a big challenge for me because I am very passionate about hiring without bias. Finally, I could put my beliefs to work and make a big impact on my growing team.
Over the course of time, I’ve interviewed and talked to hundreds of sales candidates. While hiring, I’ve identified some important hiring practices that have helped me build a diverse and mixed team.
Why hiring without bias is essential to your business’ success
Hiring with bias occurs when a hiring manager makes an impression, assumption, or decision about how somebody is and who they are before getting to actually know them. Hiring with bias runs rampant in many organizations, cultures, and countries.
Beyond obvious things like race, weight, age, and religion, there are a multitude of hiring biases that can affect decision-makers in positions of power when interviewing candidates for open roles. Let’s explore a few of these biases, why they’re harmful, and what you can do instead to remove yourself from a biased hiring perspective.
First impressions still count
First impressions always count. It’s easier for some people to give a strong first impression when the first point of contact is in person or virtually, rather than on paper. This was the case for me years ago when I started applying for sales positions in France, Ireland, and Luxembourg.
I quickly learned that my name was the first impression I gave, and I had an automatic disadvantage because it’s not a typical French nor Anglo-Saxon name. It was pretty hard to get my foot in the door, but once I did and I had the opportunity to meet the hiring managers, it became much easier.
For the record, I did get a job. Once I was established at the company, my new colleagues confirmed my suspicions. Back then, it was more natural for the management team to lean more toward French or Anglo candidates. They also gravitated toward candidates that they felt they had an instant connection with on a personal level.
As natural as this may seem, an action like this also has big implications.
The likeability factor
Research has shown that likeability is a strong predictor of a successful candidate. It’s not weird to want to hire someone that you picture yourself having a beer with, but at the end of the day, likeability can be a bias in itself.
Just because a candidate is likable doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be good at their job, even in sales where personability and charm are often winning traits. Overcoming this bias, or being aware of it, can be complicated when finding candidates that also fit within the company culture.
Company culture is the glue that holds a company together. A strong company culture, or alignment, has many benefits, including reduced employee churn, cost savings, and happier and more productive employees.
The term “culture fit” has become trendy with companies looking to hire candidates that match their most successful employees’ profiles. While replicating something that is already working well might seem like the logical thing to do, it can harm innovation and growth, contributing to the development of teams that look and think alike. Not to mention, turning down candidates for “not being a culture fit” can also be used as a justified excuse for exclusionary hiring practices.
Company culture redefined
When wanting to reduce bias and build a diverse team, it takes a lot more effort than you would expect. Here are a few things to keep in mind when hiring without bias.
Finding a way around these biases, as a hiring manager, you need to adopt a “culture-add” mindset. This means being more proactive and thinking about the qualities and traits that would be beneficial according to your team’s existing dynamics.
Look for candidates who can add something new to your team through their unique perspectives and experiences. During the hiring process, ask specific questions related to the candidate’s particular role in a team project and look for clues that tell you how they contribute based on their unique skills, attitude, and way of thinking.
Adopting a culture-add mindset requires some form of measurement. As a hiring manager, you should already know your company values like the back of your hand. The trickier part is measuring your team’s alignment in relation to these values, and any other specific values that you’ve identified as important to your team.
By creating a culture-add questionnaire centered around three parameters: values, behaviors and activities, you can identify the current dynamics of your team, have more direction in your interviews with candidates, and do a comparison between what you have versus what you need in a new team member.
You should weave your culture-add questionnaire questions into your interviews with candidates. For example, asking about the impact of past decisions in the workplace, their thought process at the time, and any lessons learned. This helps to add more standardization to the hiring process.
This questionnaire can help teams build cognitive diversity, or the differences in perspective or information processing styles, allowing teammates to really learn from each other, build on each other’s strengths, and take a more multi-faceted approach to problem-solving.
In addition to adopting a culture-add mindset, value-based recruiting is a great way to protect and enhance any team’s diversity and reduce bias.
This can be done by value-mapping, which is the process of identifying and prioritizing the top qualities that you look for in candidates. It involves making a list of these qualities and breaking them down into more tangible and practical characteristics. The main objective here is to be able to test for these qualities and it starts with understanding what they really mean.
An example of this is to be resourceful. This translates to someone that can go the extra mile, yet be efficient when doing so. Further breaking this down in the value map, the key qualities someone might look for in a resourceful candidate is a person who is proactive, creative, open-minded, and optimistic. You can then test for these qualities through a series of situational interview questions. Another method of accomplishing this is with role-playing questions.
It boils down to being more organized and proactive in the hiring process and knowing what you look for in a candidate. Sticking to these criteria rather than relying on gut feelings builds structure and can help you stay focused and on track.
Coachability should be your North Star
One of the top metrics you should include in your “value map” is coachability. Regardless of potential recruits’ qualifications or achievements, ask yourself this question post-interview: are they coachable?
Coachability is the most significant influencer of my hiring decision because it translates to whether a person will be successful in sales at Livestorm. It also says a lot about their personality. For example, they are hungry to learn, they’re open to feedback, and they care about continuously improving their performance.
Some examples of things to look for when testing for coachability:
- Are they receptive? (Has someone else’s advice helped them achieve something?)
- Are they honest and open to sharing about past challenges or failures?
- Do they bother to ask for feedback following their interview?
Opening up to remote hiring
When hiring remotely, the coachability metric becomes even more crucial, especially as it can take a little more effort to get to know the people you’re hiring, as well as colleagues, in a remote-first company. While it might seem harder to find the right candidates with this working style, it’s actually been the contrary.
At Livestrom, being remote-first means that we benefit from having a much wider talent pool. There’s also much less room for bias because if we truly want to benefit from this talent pool, prioritizing diversity is key. It’s the only way to find top talent, especially in the harder-to-fill roles and our ambitious plans of doubling our headcount in the next year.
A great way to attract diverse talent is to start by ensuring that the language used in the job descriptions of your open roles reflect the importance that your organization gives to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Emphasizing that your employees are spread out globally and highlighting inclusive benefits that your company offers are great, small ways to share this.
Tying it all together
Unbiased hiring has to be intentional to work.
It starts by taking a step back and taking the time to really understand the team’s current dynamics. It requires identifying what’s missing and taking a more proactive approach to finding the right candidates that add value through their unique skills and experiences.
Shifting to a culture-add mindset and focusing on more value-based recruiting are ways to achieve this. It challenges the status quo, prioritizes diversity, and enables a company’s culture to grow and become better.