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  • Writer's pictureEleanor Walker

The Truth About Blind Recruitment: Does it Really Improve Diversity?

A woman wearing a yellow t shirt, covering her eyes with her hands.
Understanding Blind Recruitment

Recruiting diverse talent is a key priority for many organisations right now. In fact, according to the CIPD’s Resourcing and Talent Planning Survey, two in five organisations have recruited a more diverse workforce over the last 12 months compared with the previous year, and over half have a formal diversity strategy. Their findings also suggested that most could improve their recruitment processes to eliminate bias.

For any organisation to continue to innovate and grow, they need to have diverse voices around the table. An obvious first step is to look at recruitment practices and consider what we can do to make them more inclusive.

Blind recruitment is often one of the first solutions that organisations turn to, so in this post, we explore the advantages and disadvantages of blind recruitment, and help you to consider your own unique challenges and goals, so that you can answer the question: "does blind recruitment work?"

Is Your Recruitment Process Biased?

While we all like to believe that our values don’t allow it, our subconscious is constantly making thousands of small decisions based on the information we process. The shortlisting process is therefore prone to us making decisions – whether conscious or not – based on gender, age, race, socioeconomic background, where someone went to school and even the types of organisations a candidate has worked for.

One of the most common biases we have is affinity bias – being drawn to people that are like us. So, when we see information on a CV that suggests somebody has a background that isn't the same as ours, our choices are subconsciously influenced.

I have no doubt that if you are reading this, you’re already aware that these biases exist. In fact, you are probably already taking steps in your own organisation to try and reduce them. Perhaps you’ve even tried one of HR’s favourite ‘off-the-shelf’ solutions to this problem – blind recruitment.

What is Blind Recruitment?

Blind recruitment is where any details that could influence bias are removed from an application or CV. These could include:

· Personal information like name, age, and address;

· Colleges and universities attended and dates;

· Previous employers and dates.

The idea is that with this information removed, we are much more likely to focus on ‘what the candidate can do’ instead of ‘who they are’.

It’s become almost a stock response to increasing diversity in recruitment, but is it really the answer?

The Real Benefits of Blind Recruitment

There are some clear and obvious benefits to blind recruitment that we can’t ignore, and it genuinely can be a great tool when used well in the right situations. Some pros include:

1. It can help to eliminate bias in the shortlisting process – it’s much harder to be drawn to people most ‘like us’ if we don’t know anything about them.

2. It can be considered as fairer, with all candidates being given a level playing field. This allows us to focus on capability over access to opportunities, so we are less likely to have formed opinions before interview stage.

3. Asking focused questions relating to the person specification can help us to assess future capability rather than relying solely on previous experience, which may be harder for candidates from marginalised backgrounds to demonstrate.

3 Reasons Why Blind Recruitment Might be Hurting Your Diverse Recruitment Goals

1. It can get in the way of hiring diverse candidates. Many organisations are actively looking to increase diversity. If we don’t know who has applied, we can’t take positive action, or provide additional support to candidates from groups that are typically marginalised.

2. Approaching diverse networks and communities for recruitment is not only an effective way to promote your employer brand, but it can also help you reach and encourage applications from people from marginalised backgrounds with a range of lived experience. Blind recruitment can make this more difficult.

3. Many organisations don’t actually do it properly. Simply removing someone’s name and age from a CV or application form is unlikely to be effective and will still enable biased decisions to be made based on the experiences and opportunities a candidate has had access to in the past.

How to Effectively Address Bias in Your Recruitment Process by Tackling the Right Problem

Whether or not blind recruitment is an effective tool largely depends on the challenge you’re trying to address.

Start by using data from previous recruitment processes to work out which parts of your process might be getting in the way of it being truly inclusive. Look at the diversity within your candidate pool, compare this with your shortlist, then compare this with successful candidates, and monitor this over time. This data will often tell you a lot about which stage of your recruitment process is the most prone to bias.

Some common challenges that this data might present are:

Challenge 1 – Attracting lots of diverse candidates, while your shortlists lack diversity

This could indicate some bias in your shortlisting process that blind recruitment might help to overcome. Rather than simply removing personal details from CVs and application forms though, try asking 3-4 focused questions, linked to your person specification, that help you assess capability, values alignment and potential, rather than experience and background. For example:

“Tell us about your excellent people-management skills, including your ability to motivate others to perform at their best.”

This will tell you so much more than a CV, whilst really limiting opportunities for biases towards certain backgrounds or types of experience to take over.

You might also find it beneficial to think about how you can enable candidates to have the best chance of meeting your shortlisting criteria. This includes creating clear job descriptions and person specifications, providing opportunities for informal discussions with hiring managers, making application processes straightforward and accessible, and including a clear idea of what the application should include and how it will be assessed.

Challenge 2 – Attracting and shortlisting diverse candidates yet seeing a lack of diverse hires

Consider the environment you’re creating during the selection process, and the systems that are in place to eliminate bias.

Are your interview panels balanced and representative of your organisation's workforce? Do panel members have an aligned view of ‘what good looks like’ and an objective scoring system? Are they welcoming and do they make people feel comfortable? Are processes in place to enable panel members to recognise and call out potential bias? Does the panel understand how imposter syndrome might be more likely to affect candidates from marginalised backgrounds? What positive action could you take to help every candidate thrive?

Challenge 3 - A lack of diverse candidates from the start.

Blind recruitment is unlikely to help here – in fact, knowing the demographics of your applicants may actually help you to prioritise those from marginalised backgrounds that meet your essential criteria.

Consider what you could do to expand your talent pool. Are your promotion and marketing materials inclusive and do they demonstrate diversity in your organisation? Have you used inclusive and accessible language? Are your job description and person specification realistic? What does your employer brand say about your organisation, its culture and values? Does it present itself as a place to grow and develop? Are you clear on flexible working options and family policies? What are your employees saying about you on social media?

Does Blind Recruitment Work?

The answer is - it depends.

There’s certainly no harm in experimenting with it and it is definitely a worthwhile discussion to be had.

However, it shouldn’t be the only discussion.

Inclusive recruitment is so much more than the shortlisting process and it’s important to take a step back and look at the full candidate journey - considering how you can ensure every single step is designed to challenge bias and enable every candidate to be at their best.


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