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Guide to Inclusive Interviewing & Candidate Screening

Updated: May 5, 2021

Attracting qualified job candidates in today’s competitive talent economy takes more than perks and PTO. Job seekers are looking to work with firms that align with their values and are committed to doing good in the world. They’re doing their homework and steering clear of firms out of touch with new workplace dynamics requiring a 360-degree approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Forward-thinking firms committed to doing so start by adding more diversity to their candidate selection process.

That’s important because the composition of your workforce is a key indicator of your firm’s beliefs. Suppose your hiring process includes job descriptions that use exclusive language or subjects candidate resumes to unconscious bias. In either case, you reduce the number of candidates for those job postings and run the risk of tarnishing your employer brand.

Identifying and removing explicit and implicit bias from job descriptions and the candidate screening process is essential to achieving your company’s diversity and inclusion goals.

Inclusive Language in Job Postings

While job candidates will research your firm online to learn more about you, a lot of what they find is marketing copy or press. But job postings offer them a glimpse into the company's culture as they are designed around cultural fit.

When writing job descriptions, remember that word choice and tonality matter. Ensuring candidates feel welcomed to apply is vital in receiving adequate responses from the qualified candidates you need to fill your open positions. To do that, hiring firms must be aware of their use of restrictive tactics like “gendered wording.” Gendered wording uses terms that are “coded” for a specific gender and play into stereotypes. That subliminal messaging sends a signal that may deter candidates. In contrast, “gender-neutral” wording – language without gender-coded words – is unbiased and inclusive and typically results in better results.

According to a recent report from Appcast, job ads with gender-neutral language drive the highest apply rate and lowest cost. Use of gender-coded terms, in this case, words like compassionate and sensitive or ambitious and confident, thought to be more female or male-centric, can increase cost per application (CPA) and decrease applications per job.

Inclusive language doesn’t just apply to gender, however. Bias based on race, age, and disability is also common. That language should also be identified and re-worded to ensure inclusivity.

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Blind Candidate Screening

Unconscious bias is prevalent in the candidate screening process prompting many job candidates to alter their resumes to draw attention away from their ethnicity to their skills and qualifications. Changes include abbreviating their names, not listing organizations to which they belong, and removing photos. The need to go to such extremes is rooted in data. A study by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2013 revealed that “unconscious bias and perceptions about African Americans” was one of seven “major obstacles hindering equal opportunities for African Americans in the federal workforce” at that time.

Recent headlines indicate that trend has not changed much over the last few years.

Unconscious bias continues to alienate underrepresented groups from job opportunities, explicit and implicit, which gives an unfair advantage to mainstream candidates, even if they are less qualified. According to Francesca Gino, professor at Harvard Business School, unconscious biases have a "problematic" effect on our judgment and cause people to make decisions in favor of one person or group to the detriment of others.

Essential to removing explicit and implicit bias during the candidate screening process is first acknowledging that it’s there and designing a system to remove it, including training and procedures. On a practical level, standardize interviews. Don’t have a set of questions for one candidate and another set for other candidates pursuing the same role. Always check in with yourself and others to ensure you are being equitable in your approach.

Lastly, use software like Textio and Blendoor to remove identifying information from resumes and to identify wording coded to a specific group.

Key Takeaways

Building an inclusive workplace is not only the right thing to do but also a business imperative. Using inclusive language in job postings and conducting blind candidate screenings are just two of the many ways your organization can create a more welcoming environment for diverse candidates to pursue employment with your firm.



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JSM Associates offers the comprehensive capabilities and deep industry knowledge necessary to help you solve the most complex issues of your organization. Since opening our doors in 1999, we’re proud to say that each year we have a bigger list of returning and new clients.

Want to experience the expertise of JSM Associates for yourself? Give us a call today and let’s discuss what we can do for you.

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