“Conducting a job interview is nothing more than engaging in personal bias for or against someone and then using that interview to justify it.”
So spoke my psychology professor as I sat in class at my small college many years ago, stunned at what I was hearing because it confirmed suspicions I’d had for years. Having been taught by my older, marketing pro sister much about employer biases, I’d often insisted that there must be a better way to find a job.
Don’t Judge Me, Professor
The professor had been telling a story of how he and his colleagues in the Humanities department had found themselves badly in need of a new administrative assistant. There were many applicants and based on their resumes, they narrowed down the candidate fields and conducted interviews.
Finally, they managed to further narrow the field to their top three candidates. The number one candidate was their dynamic dream employee. She had it all – education, experience, knowledge, a professional demeanor, great references, and as a bonus, a wonderful personality.
Candidate number two wasn’t as stellar, but not too far off, either. And candidate number three was… well, okay. Nothing really special – enough education, knowledge, and experience to do the job, they supposed. Definitely not as good as candidate number two, and light-years away from the polish and sophistication of their all-star number one candidate.
They rather hoped they wouldn’t get stuck with number three. After all, perhaps the others were no longer available.
A Tale of Two Candidates
Fingers crossed and giddy with anticipation, they contacted candidate number one end extended the job offer. She was still available and gladly accepted. What followed was the Humanities professors’ version of high fives, fist bumps, and happy dances. They could hardly wait for their dream to arrive and set everything in order.
But a strange thing happened. Their “perfect” candidate turned out to be a bit ho-hum. She was capable enough and managed to do the job. But she was far from the stellar employee they’d anticipated. Disappointed, they all grudgingly agreed that although she wasn’t an exceptional employee, she was good enough, and they’d just have to live with their decision.
A few months later their dejection turned to hope when their new admin assistant announced she would be leaving the state. Jubilant, one of them immediately phoned candidate number two and offered her the job. But it was too late; she was already working for someone else.
Grumbling and wary, the profs reluctantly agreed to offer candidate number three the job. She accepted.
As you’ve no doubt guessed, the rather dull, just “okay” candidate turned out to be phenomenal. The one who was last on the list, the one the professors hoped they wouldn’t be stuck with, was their dream come true – better even than they originally thought candidate number one was going to be.
Thus, my psych prof ended his story with the above quote, along with stating that he and his colleagues had learned an important lesson and from then on, any further hiring would be done sans interviews.
When it comes to being on the receiving end of bias, most of us job seekers have either been there or know someone who has. There may have been times when the bias was obvious. But most of the time we didn’t even know it occurred, because it happened at the beginning of the process, with the resume.
The bias could have been almost anything, but a few of the most popular ones are gender, age, ethnic or religious background, and physical appearance. Studies in the past have shown that some AI platforms tended to weed out candidates with names that were perceived as “different”, such as foreign-sounding, or what it perceived as black-sounding names. The same problem often cropped up with female or gender-neutral names.
Other biases can appear in relation to an applicant’s year of college graduation, or if something on the resume appears to allude to religious or ethnic-related activities or employment history. Bias for or against a person’s weight and/or other physical characteristics has also been shown to happen. For instance, a resume listing hobbies like bodybuilding, or as an outdoor enthusiast, or someone who participates in sports could be viewed as belonging to a candidate who is very physically fit.
… or Not
How can AI know all these things about someone? AI “knows” what it’s taught – even if its developers never intended to teach it bad manners.
For example, in 2014, Amazon developed software intended to simplify the process for vetting developers and other tech candidates. It was supposed to check all the submitted resumes and choose the number of top applicants the company needed to hire.
But a year later, the cat was out of the bag when five Amazon employees told Reuters that the software was not rating job candidates in a gender-neutral way. As it turned out, the AI preferred men because it had been trained to observe patterns in resumes that had been submitted in a ten-year period. And since the tech industry was dominated by men, the program “thought” only men should be hired.
To their credit, Amazon tossed the failed program onto the cyber scrap pile and moved on.
In a Perfect World
But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if you didn’t have to worry about being rejected out-of-hand because you’re deemed too old, too large, too religious, or the “wrong” religion, the “wrong” gender, color, etc.?
This is where AI that has been properly brought up and taught good manners comes in. This Way Global’s Ai4JOBS is just such a platform, built to eliminate biases and instead focus on what matters: work history and transferrable skills. The pool of candidates is scored, ranked, and matched without bias.
This is good news not only for the job seeker but also for the fair-minded companies that desire to do the right thing.
In a perfect world, no one would ever be unfairly judged due to negative bias. While we’re a long way from that, at lease many companies are now expressing a desire to be as fair and logical as they can when it comes to recruiting top talent.
Hunting down the right job can be an arduous and stressful process in the best of times, and in these trying times, the stress has the potential to be exponentially magnified. Those who are currently unemployed have enough to worry about without being unfairly judged and rejected due to silly things like gender, age, ethnicity, and the like. Not having to deal with HR bias is to be set free from one more source of stress and aggravation.
My psych professor would wholeheartedly agree.