What is Bias in Sales Hiring?
Bias is not always a bad thing; we form a bias based on personal experience or interactions, and tend to use that information to form decisions and make assumptions.
Bias can come in many forms, and when it affects the recruitment process it can be very problematic. Overt bias is the obvious discrimination against protected characteristics like gender, religion or sexual orientation.
However, in any type of recruitment, unconscious bias can not only affect the diversity of the workplace, but might also mean overlooking a perfect candidate because they don't fit the 'people like me' bias that a hiring manager might have.
Removing bias in the sales hiring process is important to make sure that you are not missing out on an ideal potential employee. It can improve the diversity of the workforce and even the bottom line.
With that being said, however, customer-facing positions and sales especially are more likely to face bias from prospects and customers than from within the workforce. That can make it challenging to change the status quo and branch out in terms of diversity.
As top level executives are overwhelmingly white men, it can be difficult for a company to work on diversity when the bias of the customer means that they want to do business with someone who is 'just like them', whether that means having mutual friends, a hobby in common, or simply attending the same school.
The more 'normal' a diverse workforce is – in any industry – the easier it is to change the narrative and make diverse, inclusive and bias-free hiring decisions based on the suitability of the candidate through their experience, qualifications or skills.
Types of Sales Hiring Bias
There are many types of sales hiring bias that could impinge on hiring decisions:
- Protected characteristics like gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation
- Educational background, eg which university or college they attended
- Things in common, such as hobbies or mutual friends
- Political preferences
These bias factors can be used for or against certain candidates during the recruitment process, but there is also bias in the customer base and prospects that might be a consideration when hiring for face to face sales positions.
While you can promote diversity in the workplace, you cannot control the way prospects think. The upshot of this is that their unconscious (or overt) bias might affect the bottom line when it comes to doing business.
Best Practises to Remove Bias in Your Sales Hiring
1. Blind Hiring and Sourcing
Anonymisation of CVs and application forms involves taking all identifying details out. In some cases, just removing the name is one of the things that can work, but other details can be removed that might make it almost impossible to get any sense of who the individual is behind the experience and the qualifications.
By ignoring demographics, the hiring team can focus on looking for the right qualifications and talents; effectively levelling the playing field.
2. Pre-Employment Tests
There are a number of tests and assessments that could be used as part of an automated recruitment process. With the right combination of aptitude tests, skills screenings, and personality assessments, hiring managers can get quantifiable, objective data points about the suitability of a candidate rather than relying on subjective information.
This objective data can be provided as a ranked list of potential candidates based solely on their suitability according to a pre-decided 'perfect candidate persona'.
3. Use a Structured Interview Process
With the right software in play, the best candidates can be taken from application right through to interview solely using automation, taking unconscious bias out of the equation completely. It makes sense, therefore, to ensure that bringing the human element into the process does not introduce bias.
This can be achieved by making sure that the interview is structured, with the same questions asked of every candidate, avoiding allowing the interview to turn into a conversation.
A scoring system might be appropriate, including details on how best to score the answers given to competency-based questions. Defined questions give predictable and easily scored answers.
The interview process could also benefit from having more than one interviewer or even a panel to ensure that there is consistency across the process.
4. Set Diversity Goals
Diversity goals give the business something to aim for in terms of inclusivity. Setting these goals is something that needs to be considered, as there might be some issues around the potential of undermining those hired and bad feeling from the traditionally advantaged group.
While a diverse workforce should be a desired end product of a good recruitment process, finding the right people doesn't need to mean actively searching for them or choosing people because they fit a certain demographic.
With the right steps in place during the recruitment process, choosing the best person for the role you have advertised will happen - and the natural outcome is likely to be a more diverse workforce.
Setting goals for diversity in the workplace will give the business something to aim for - and allow for an additional data point to track the performance of the recruitment team.
5. Promote and Educate
As an additional point to setting diversity goals for the business, promoting policies that encourage an inclusive and diverse workforce can only improve the reputation of the business.
This also helps the candidates to understand why the recruitment process is structured in this way, helping them to realise that in the early stages especially there will be no special considerations given to applicants that are from the right schools, have the right appearance, or know the right people.
This promotion of diversity outside the business needs to be strongly reinforced within the business too, to ensure that every employee knows and understands why inclusivity is important. This might need to be combined with extra training and education on diversity. All hiring managers and recruitment staff should already be well versed in avoiding bias, but a company-wide understanding and excitement about the need for diversity will have a better impact.