How blind recruitment can benefit executive search

The new face of recruitment?

A couple of months ago, having taken a brief from a new client, we received a slightly unexpected request. They asked us if we would be able to incorporate blind recruitment into our process.

We’ve written about blind recruitment in the past. We’ve also had several clients who have made a diverse shortlist a core part of the brief, and have delivered impressive shortlists that were both gender-balanced and ethnically diverse. The team themselves have all received unconscious bias training. But the question of running a blind search process had us scratching our heads. After all, the process of executive search necessitates knowing who you are approaching before you talk to them.

In the end, we decided to make it a normal search for us, and blind for the client. We would of course be aware of who we were approaching, and we conducted thorough face-to-face first-round interviews as normal. But the client would have no idea who individual candidates were until after they had agreed to interview them.

This posed a few challenges in our weekly update calls: we learned to get used to gender-neutral pronouns very quickly, and each candidate was referred to as ‘they’ from the first meeting. While we would share CVs with them, these would focus exclusively on their work experience, with other identifying information removed.

We agreed from the start that this would involve the removal of real names, as well as anything that revealed information about the candidates’ gender, sexuality, ethnicity or religious background. The decisions would be made on the basis of the quality of their interview and the relevance of their work experience. Publication and company names were deemed to be relevant to the client, and they were retained, but the client was discouraged from googling who candidates might be.

We also took the decision to remove any information about the candidates’ education. This may be somewhat controversial to some – even now it’s one of the first things that some hiring managers look at. But it reveals a lot of additional information: as well as gender (sometimes) it can also reveal a lot about both age and socioeconomic background. People don’t always think about age and class when they talk about diversity, but these things matter. After all, if you see ‘Eton College’ on a CV, you have a reasonable idea what you’re going to be getting.

Once we got used to differentiating ‘Candidate A’ from ‘Candidate E’ in conversations, the process was a success. While we had interviewed everyone first to ensure they could do the job, the client’s decision-making was genuinely on the basis of their experience, rather than any additional factors.

While for us it proved a good learning experience, for the client the exercise was highly useful. They were able to feel confident that they were making the decisions on the basis of core capabilities rather than being influenced by any unconscious bias or other external factors. As a company with a strong commitment to diversity, this was very important.

This was an editorial leadership search in a very specific B2B vertical market, which limited the candidate pool somewhat, but we would recommend trying it on any search. It’s proven hugely valuable, both for the client and for us.

If you would like to explore how to incorporate blind recruitment into your search process, we would be very happy to speak. Just drop me a line on matt@trippassociates.co.uk or on 020 7692 0530.

Matt D’Cruz

Martin Tripp Associates is a London-based executive search consultancy. While we are best-known for our work across the mediainformationtechnologycommunications and entertainment sectors, we have also worked with some of the world’s biggest brands on challenging senior positions. Feel free to contact us to discuss any of the issues raised in this blog.