The search process can often become unintentionally infected by bias. This section is intended to reduce that bias and eliminate barriers that may exist that unintentionally screen out certain potential applicants. In this section, you will find guidelines on screening applicants for minimum and preferred qualifications, establishing interview questions, conducting interviews, and evaluating applicants' performance.
When screening applicants, it is important that you apply the same criteria to all applicants, and that you apply those criteria in the same way to all applicants. Define terms used in minimum and preferred qualifications before you start reviewing applicants. For example, if a qualification is "a record of scholarship" in a particular area, decide as a search committee what that means. Are you looking for a specific number of publications? Are you looking for publications in particular journals? Similarly, if you ask for a master's degree in education or a related field, what fields do you consider to be "related"? It is important for all members of the search committee to be applying the same standards to all applicants, because interpretation of potentially vague terms is an area where bias can easily enter the process. As you think through how you will evaluate specific qualifications, make sure that you are not setting expectations that will unintentionally screen out particular groups of people.
To assist you in the process of determining which applicants meet the minimum and preferred qualifications, Human Resources has created an Application Review Matrix.
Another way to mitigate bias is to reduce the amount of non-job-related information search committee members know about a candidate during the initial screening process. Research has repeatedly shown that even a candidate’s name, if traditionally associated with a particular race, can have a significant impact on their success in the job application process. The use of “blind” auditions for symphonies, where candidates performed behind a screen, drastically increased the number of women hired. When the evaluators didn’t have access to identity information about a candidate, they instead judged the candidate solely on their musical ability. The same principle applies to our hiring processes. We want search committee members to be focused on a candidate’s ability to perform the relevant job rather than extraneous information that is unrelated to the candidate’s job qualifications. You might consider redacting information from resumes before distributing them to the search committee, or even asking applicants not to include specific information on their resumes so you won’t have to redact it. Consider redacting the following types of information from resumes and cover letters: name, email address, address, college/university attended, graduation year, hobbies, and identity-based professional organization membership. Each situation is unique, and some applicants may reveal identity-based information (or information that would lead a reviewer to assume an identity) in other ways. For example, if a candidate previously worked for a religious organization, you may want to redact the name of the organization. Throughout the process, remember that the goal is to reduce the impact of bias – implicit or explicit – in the review process. To that end, consider the types of information candidates are providing in their application materials, and think about redacting anything that might cause search committee members to make decisions based on their own biases rather than the candidate’s qualifications. In doing so, though, be careful not to redact any information that establishes that a candidate is qualified for the position. This can be a fine line, and if you would like to discuss a particular situation you’re facing as you attempt to implement a process like this, please contact the Office of Equity at firstname.lastname@example.org.
At some point in the interview process, each candidate is asked at least one question related to their commitment to diversity and inclusion (DI). The Council on Diversity in Equity in Human Resources has put together a list of suggested DI interview questions to get you started. Feel free to ask any of these questions to your candidates, and also feel free to create your own questions in this area. If you would like assistance with formulating a diversity and inclusion question, please contact the Office of Equity at email@example.com.
Once you have decided which D&I-related question(s) you will ask each candidate, you may seek some guidance regarding how to evaluate the candidates' answers to such questions. The Council on Diversity and Equity in Human Resources has put together a rubric to help you evaluate candidates' answers to the DI interview questions.
For any question you ask candidates (DI related or otherwise), everyone on the search committee should be clear on why you are asking the question and how it is related to legitimate job qualifications. To assist in that process, you may want to use this interview question formulation template. The question formulation template also provides you with space to document what substantive skills you hope the candidate's answer to the question will reveal, and what level of those skills you hope to see. Finally, the question formulation template provides space for you to document what you want to see in a good answer, once you have agreed as a group what that is.
Some questions are not appropriate to ask during an interview. Questions that require an applicant to reveal any protected characteristics are inappropriate and should not be asked. Characteristics protected by University policy include race, color, national origin, pregnancy, sex, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation, and political philosophy. You should avoid asking applicants questions that would require them to disclose information about any of these protected characteristics. Here are a few examples of questions you may be tempted to ask that would be inappropriate:
If you are considering including an interview question that you think may result in the disclosure of a protected characteristic, do not include the question. If you would like to discuss whether a particular question is permissible, contact the Office of Equity at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is critical to ensure that all applicants invited to interview have equal opportunity to succeed in the interview process. This includes applicants with disabilities, who may need accommodations during the interview process. When you invite any applicant for an interview, be sure to include language regarding accommodations - regardless of whether the applicant has given you any indication that they may need a disability accommodation. Here is some sample language you can use:
The University provides reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees with disabilities. If you need an accommodation during the interview process, please let us know at your earliest convenience so that we may make arrangements in advance of your interview. Please contact the HR ADA Coordinator via email at email@example.com with any ADA request you may have.
If you are conducting an interview on campus, consider providing parking for your candidates. Requiring a candidates to pay for their own parking may constitute a barrier for many candidates. Of course, if you pay for parking for one candidates, you must pay parking for all candidates.
When you are conducting interviews, you should follow a structured process uniformly for all candidates. Give all candidates information about the structure of the interview. You should ask all candidates the same set of interview questions, though you may have varying follow-up questions based on a candidate's answers. Develop a tolerance for silence - some candidates will take time to develop thoughtful answers to your questions, so avoid the instinct you may have to break the silence. Consider asking one final question to all candidates: "Is there anything we haven't asked that you'd like to tell us?" This gives the candidate the opportunity to share information that is relevant to their qualifications that you may not have considered. Allow each candidate the opportunity to ask you questions after you have completed your questioning. Keep in mind that some candidates may have been socialized not to ask questions, or may not have been taught that it is important to ask questions at the end of an interview. To that end, if a candidate does not have any questions for you, do not assume that means that they are not interested in the position. They would not have applied and accepted your interview offer if they weren't interested.
With any question you plan to ask your candidates, it is important for the entire search committee to understand why you are asking the question, how it ties to the job qualifications, and what you will consider to be a "good" answer to the question. It is critical for the entire search committee to be on the same page when evaluating a candidate's answers, because bias can easily slip in when everyone has their own idea of what they hope the candidate will say.
You may find this interview question evaluation template useful in this process. The form can help you evaluate a candidate's answers while you are interviewing them. Each question should have its own evaluation form, and before you begin your interviews, you should prepare each form to include the question and what you decided you want to see in a good answer to that question. Each interviewer should have a copy of the evaluation form for each question you plan to ask. This helps ensure that you are all looking for the same objective criteria when you are interviewing candidates, and it is a tool to avoid allowing bias to impact your evaluation of a candidate.
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