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April 22, 2022

What ever happened to just picking the best candidate for the job?

When speaking or facilitating training in Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI), I often get the following response— some may call it a rebuttal.  

“What ever happened to just picking the best candidate for the job?”

My response is typically tri-fold and usually in the form of 3 simple questions– 

  • How do you define and/or measure “best candidate”? 
  • Who gets to determine who the “best candidate” is?
  • From which pools are you sourcing and selecting the “best candidate”?  

The truth is, most of our hiring culture is fraught with biases and isms (racism, sexism, ableism, gayism, classism, etc.). Even when we think we’re hiring the “best candidate,” unless we’ve done individual and organizational work to educate and manage biased decisions and eradicate isms through behavioral change and accountability, we are likely not hiring the best candidate. Simply the best easily accessible candidate. And this is something underrepresented groups understand all too well—often having to accept being passed over for the said “best candidate.” 


The 3 Questions

Let’s unpack these three questions one by one, further exploring what they mean and why answering them truthfully is essential to developing equitable and inclusive hiring practices.

How do you define and/or measure “best candidate”?

Many times, the term “best candidate” is used without a) a true, updated, and objective understanding of what is best for the job and/or the future of the job or b) an equitable audit of the job description itself to ensure it is inclusive and free from bias, exclusionary language, inequity, and subjectivity. 

I challenge you to consider first—who wrote the job description? Is that person aware of their own personal biases and those of the organizations? Was it written by one person or several? Have all of these people gone through ample DEI training? If they have, have they been empowered to adjust the job description? Is the job description audited by your DEI office or outside DEI support? Did you use any software to audit the job description for biases? Tools like DatapeopleUInclude, or Ongig are just a few analysis tools available that audit job descriptions for bias and help to correct them. It is worth noting that by itself, technology can be biased, as biased humans create it. These tools should, therefore, not be your be-all and end-all. 

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘no,’ then how can we say with any degree of certainty that we are indeed hiring THE “best candidate”?


Who gets to determine who the “best candidate” is?

Gosh..this one matters so much. Who or what (in the case of using technology) is making the final or even preliminary decision on the “best candidate”? If humans are making this decision, there is ample opportunity for biases and isms to creep their way in and create unfair, unmerited disadvantages for some candidates over others. If technology is making this decision, the same holds true (perhaps not as pronounced), as again, flawed humans create technology.  

So, are the humans making the hiring decisions educated and trained on how to identify, disrupt and challenge their own personal biases and isms so that they do not become barriers and reinforcers of exclusion and inequity? Is one person making the decision, or is a panel making the decision? Is that panel diverse? Have power dynamics been addressed and eliminated for the sake of this decision-making process?

If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘no,’ then how can we say with any degree of certainty that we are indeed hiring THE “best candidate”?


From which pools are you sourcing and selecting the “best candidate”?

Time and time again, I come across organizations with no diversity recruitment strategies whatsoever. Occasionally they will post jobs at the local HBCU (historically black colleges and universities) in town, but that’s about it. For a myriad of reasons, that is not enough. If you are serious about providing equitable and fair access to job opportunities, you actually have to meet underrepresented candidates in your organization, where they are—instead of doing what you’ve always done. Sourcing candidates how you’ve always sourced them isn’t going to create transformation, perhaps not even incremental change. 

This is particularly true for organizations that rely heavily on referrals to source candidates. If your employee population, particularly the level at which you tend to get referrals, is homogenous, more often than not, your referral-based candidate pool will be as well. According to a study conducted by Payscale, all else equal, referral hiring programs tend to benefit Caucasian men more than any other demographic. Women of color fare the worst— being 35 percent less likely to receive a referral. They also found that men of color are 26 percent less likely to receive a referral and Caucasian women are 12% less likely to receive one.

Forbes article “Employers Beware: The Unintended Consequences of Employee Referrals” puts these numbers in context:

If you have 100 referred employees, 44 of them will be white men, 22 will be white women, 18 will be men of color and only 16 will be women of color, holding constant industry, location, and other relevant variables. By comparison, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, white men are only 34 percent of the U.S. labor market. This means that white men are 129 percent more likely to be in your pool of 100 referred employees than what demographics suggest they should be.

So, what are the sources of your talent pool? Where does the bulk of your hires come from? Do you have a diversity recruitment strategy? Are folks held accountable for that? Do you have hiring targets or interview targets? Who is making the final hiring decision?

If you haven’t personally and organizationally done the hard work to mitigate bias and isms from infiltrating these processes, then how can we say with any degree of certainty that we are hiring THE “best candidate”?


A Few Things You Can Do NOW

If you and/or your organization have not done these things, you have likely not been hiring THE best candidate after all, but rather the best easily accessible candidate. What can you do from here to ensure the answer to these questions changes in the affirmative?  

Audit your job descriptions for bias

Engage an external professional (or internal DEI professional + HR professional) to conduct an equitable audit of the job description itself to ensure it is inclusive and free from bias, exclusionary language, inequity, and subjectivity. Katrina Kibben, CEO of Three Ears Media and a recognized expert in writing effective job posts, encourages:

  • Establishing a clear connection between job postings and inclusiveness
  • Using gender-neutral and inclusive language  
  • Setting realistic and fair diversity baselines and goals 
  • Measure the impact of job postings


Seek talent from new sources 

In order to post job descriptions with the same degree of access or positioning for all groups, you must begin meeting candidates where they currently exist. Consider professional organizations serving underrepresented populations. To truly move the needle in diversity and your candidate pools, consider setting interview targets for recruiters and/or hiring managers. For example, we want to interview at least two women or two people of color (or at least one person from each generation, etc.) before we make a hiring decision. “Diversity interview targets” help ensure that the team and organization have done due diligence in giving candidates of all identities a fair chance. Non-traditional areas, such as local Black, Hispanic, Asian, and other diverse chambers, can significantly open doors to and for some of the ‘best’ candidates.


Require hiring managers, recruiters, and all talent acquisition professionals to actively attend diversity, equity, and inclusion training

Every single one of us has biases—and they ultimately impact our decision-making, amongst many other things, perpetuating inequity. It is, therefore, essential that anyone making hiring or promotability decisions be made aware of said bias, and trained to properly mitigate the risk thereof. The DEI training I am suggesting should go well beyond solely unconscious bias training, and should also include empathy training, inclusive leadership training, training on power and privilege, identity training, and more. It is worth noting that training is not the be-all and end-all. There must also be accountability for behavior change after such training. 


Ensure diversity exists amongst the group of interviewers and decision-makers

This one is pretty straightforward. Ensuring that there is diversity along the interview journey allows for different cultural perspectives to be considered when engaging with interviews from a myriad of backgrounds. What might be assumed as a flaw by one interview might merely be a cultural difference seen and understood by another interviewer. 


Reduce the influence of peers’ opinions  

Groupthink or the bandwagon effect is real. As humans, we can often be persuaded by the thoughts and opinions of others, particularly when we are alone in thinking differently. For these reasons, Microsoft has made its feedback loop private to address the impact of peer pressure and influence on hiring decisions. A hiring manager can no longer log into their recruitment tool and see their colleagues’ feedback until they’ve entered their own assessment of a candidate first. This has ensured hiring managers form their own opinions without influencing or being influenced by their peers or bosses.


Use objective and measurable job qualifications

What is “professional”? How do we define and measure “good communication skills”? Are personality characteristics like “go-getter” and “assertive” removed? Using objective and measurable qualifications allows for less subjective interpretation, leaving room for less bias and isms to impact decision-making.  


The next time you’re writing and posting a job description, interviewing, or making hiring decisions, take it upon yourself to answer these questions honestly to see if you’re letting bias, isms, and inequities impact selecting the ‘best’ candidate. You might just be selecting the best easily available one. 

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Raven Solomon


Raven is a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Speaker, Author, & Strategist who helps organizations understand generations, racial equity, and their intersection.

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