How to Overcome Hiring Bias to Tap Hidden Talent


Job seekers with non-traditional backgrounds confront unique job search challenges that make it difficult to showcase their abilities. Inclusive hiring practices are integral now more than ever, writes Abbey Carlton​, senior director of social impact at Indeed.

Job seekers with non-traditional backgrounds must often overcome job search barriers that make it difficult to highlight their skills. As the number of motivated job seekers rises due to COVID-19, this often-overlooked talent pool risks falling even farther behind. Employers can help by creating a level playing field for all job seekers.

At Indeed, we partner with a range of entities – including nonprofits, governments, and employers – in an effort to ensure that job seekers from all backgrounds have equal access to opportunity.

Our work has shown that traditional evaluation methods aren’t always the best predictors of on-the-job success for candidates. By taking a few practical steps toward more inclusive hiring, however, employers can find that untapped talent.

How Unemployment Is Impacting Job Seekers

Bias against joblessness is real, and according to a recent ​studyOpens a new window ​, candidates whose resumes include periods of unemployment are 45% less likely to land a job interview.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused mass unemployment across the country. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in August that the number of people who lost jobs involuntarily had risen by 2.1 million since February. As more people who have never before been unemployed begin to show resume gaps, those who previously struggled to find work may find themselves at the back of an even longer line.

To better understand how unemployment was impacting job seekers, we collaborated with Indeed’s Hiring Lab and surveyed over 1,200 candidates that had been out of work for six months or longer.

  • Despite many possessing deep industry expertise and experience, 6 out of 10 had worked five or more years in their field before losing their job, ​91% of respondents reported at least one challenge, and some 74% reported facing two or more in finding work.
  • Barriers ranged from not having reliable transportation being a single parent with lack of childcare to belonging to a minority group in terms of race, religion, color, or national origin. Few, if any, had anything to do with a job seeker’s ability to perform on the job.
  • Job seekers with the tenacity and grit to overcome employment barriers could make particularly strong employees. In fact, ​out-of-work job seekers reported possessing nearly two-thirds of soft skills that companies seek, including reliability, problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking.

Learn More: Is Diversity and Inclusion Technology Truly Designed to Overcome Biases? Q&A with TEKsystems                           

Uncover Skills for Success and Enable Inclusive Hiring Practices

Fortunately for candidates, as employers shift their focus from timelines to skills, job-seeker barriers start to fade into the background. Employers that are more focused on the factors influencing workforce success – soft skills like attention to detail or hard skills derived from training or life experience – are more likely to come across untapped talent and hire stronger candidates than those purely focused on work experience alone.

At a time when vulnerable communities have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19 health issues and job losses, employers and recruiters must consider strategies to reach broader audiences and provide the tools necessary for equal access.

How can you evolve recruitment efforts to include non-traditional job seekers? These practices can help shift your focus and level the hiring playing field:

1. Offer video interviewing options​

Video interviews have become the norm due to the pandemic. This provides employers an opportunity to meet a wider array of job candidates than previously and gives job seekers who might have barriers to making an in-person interview another option. Some job seekers might not have the technology they need for video calls, so it’s helpful to offer phone options as well.

2. Use situational interview questions​

When it comes to hiring, quality over quantity is key.​​ Ask situational interview questions that allow candidates to show you what they can do, for example, “How would you handle this situation?” rather than questions about ​years ​of experience. This will help recruiters and hiring managers move beyond employment timelines that tend to favor traditional backgrounds.

3. Conduct a working interview

Talk less and do more is the foundation of this interview technique. ​​A ​working interview​ allows you to create a mock work task to see the candidate in action. This “trial run” of sorts can help remove some of the subjective aspects of interviewing and let candidates demonstrate their abilities.

4. Focus on emotional intelligence​ (aka “emotional equivalency,” or “EQ”)

People with high EQ are strong in social and personal competencies ​that tend to increase productivity and tenure. A Texas-based Fortune 500 company saw a 67% increase in retentionOpens a new window in one year after implementing EQ assessments, training, and development into sales force hiring practices. What’s more is they realized $32 million in reduced turnover costs and overall increased sales revenue. When evaluating potential talent, look at behaviors that will contribute to and add to overall company cultures, such as volunteering and one’s ability to collaborate.

5. Consider a work-from-home option

You can have the talent come to you, open offices where the talent lives, o​r​ you can let people live where they want and let them work remotely. What if there’s an amazing project manager in Kansas City, but you don’t have an office there? Allowing work-from-home options, where possible, opens up a whole new talent pool and creates greater flexibility for job seekers.

Learn More: 10 Actions HR Can Take to Support the Black Workforce, Now

By shifting to a digital hiring format across the board, employers and hiring managers can now connect with more candidates and widen their talent pool. ​Selecting the right candidate for your company is crucial, and inclusive hiring practices are a must if you plan to reach your goal. ​Looking beyond a resume to see the whole person and understanding the unique qualities that a candidate can bring will always be a win for your organization.

Which inclusive hiring practices have you implemented to build a diverse workplace? Share your thoughts with us on LinkedInOpens a new window , TwitterOpens a new window , or FacebookOpens a new window .