5 Best Practices to Remove Bias in Your Sales Hiring

April 26, 2016

It’s not you, it’s your unconscious psychological biases

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. By definition, my sales hiring practices used to be insane. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, most of our past hiring practices were flimsy at best. I know this first hand. At my last company we had to scale our sales team very quickly. The year is 2010. We have no benchmark, no structured interview process and quite honestly, no idea how to hire for our team. We would actually hire two reps at once, praying one would work out. We were using pure “gut feel” to hire.

Today, I could write a book about everything wrong with that approach. The biases that slip through, the lack of standardization, the “educated” guessing… the list goes on. Fast forward to 2016. We have more tools and knowledge about sales hiring than ever before.

It’s no longer OK to rely on gut feel, especially since there are so many companies out there to help businesses bring objectivity to their hiring practices.

These 5 Best Practices will allow you to remove bias in your sales hiring, in a sane way.

1. Use structured interviews

As fun as an unstructured interview may be, evidence from thousands of interviews tell us that a structured interview is more reliable, valid, and less discriminatory. What is the difference?

An unstructured interview may ask “soft” questions, with very little standardization from candidate to candidate. Examples: What’s your biggest weakness? If you could have one superpower, what would it be?

A structured interview asks questions specifically designed to assess job-related skills, is the same for each candidate and rates every answer using a quantitative rating scale. Examples: Describe a situation where you’ve encouraged someone to advocate for themselves. Describe a situation in the past where you’ve participated in a team assessment process. What was your role?

Structured interviews reduce error by reducing both interviewer bias and the likelihood of fake answers from candidates.

2. Blind sourcing and interviewing

Unconscious biases in hiring have gotten a lot of press lately, and for good reason. Companies are trying to tackle internal biases any way they can.

The most common blind sourcing method being tested is to remove the candidate’s name from their resume. This is basically blind hiring 101. The theory behind removing the candidate’s name from his or her application is that it encourages decisions free from unconscious biases of the candidate’s race and gender.

Blind hiring 102 extends the “blind resume” concept into the interview. Companies are implementing blind interviews by removing the candidate’s name, graduation year, college, and even address from their application and getting them to anonymously answer job-related questions.

Blind interviewing makes a lot of sense in sales, especially inside sales. Since so much of the inside sales process is conducted through email and over the phone, judging sales candidates’ on their ability to verbally communicate is top priority.

3. Use an assessment

An assessment uses objective data provided by you. Instead of relying on someone’s subjective judgment, the data used to match candidates to jobs is statistically correlated with future job performance. How do you collect this data? There are a few ways.You can find out a lot by assessing self-rated characteristics such as a candidates personality traits, interests, and company cultural fit (Barrick & Mount, 1991; Kristof-Brown, Zimmerman, & Johnson, 2005; Schmidt & Hunter, 1998); as well as other relevant information from your public social profiles like LinkedIn, Facebook or Klout.

Companies that use an assessment for their sales hiring enjoy on average, a 20.7% increase sales productivity per candidate. This number is absolutely huge and shows just how quickly an assessment process can pay for itself.

4. Use a job-matching algorithm

Put the statistical odds in your favor. Instead of using a keyword count search (which is easy to game), more companies are opting to use a job-matching algorithm. This technology combines human insights with algorithmic technology. Staggering research featured in the Harvard Business Review demonstrated that this combination results in a 50% higher accuracy rate for identifying productive employees.

SAP has a very interesting case study on the topic:

“After SAP opened up their university recruitment, they received more than 50,000 applications for sales positions. Even if a recruiter spent only 6 seconds per resume, that’s still more than 83 hours spent just on resume pre-screening. Yet SAP saved more than $370,000 in costs a year with their new recruitment system. How? By replacing manual pre-screening of resumes with automated online assessments and saving their recruiters hundreds of wasted hours. Before you think eliminating manual pre-screening of resumes is a bad thing, consider that Google – a company that receives 50,000+ resumes a week – admits that a person’s resume doesn’t predict his or her future job performance.”

– Ji-A Min, How An Algorithm Can Replace a Recruiter (And How It Can’t)

If SAP’s case study wasn’t proof enough, research featured in the Harvard Business Review found that compared to using “expert” human judgment, an algorithm increased the accuracy of choosing successful job candidates by more than 50%.

5. Practice collaborative interviewing

After using a job-matching algorithm and assessment, collaborative interviewing is something we really like to emphasize at Ideal. A collaborative hiring process checks our biases and blind spots.

Collaborative hiring requires using multiple people to hire from different levels and departments within a company. This helps to safeguard employers from two things, unconscious biases and human error.

Some of these biases include:

  • Confirmation bias: The tendency for people to seek out information that aligns with their views.
  • Selective perception: The process of perceiving what we want to while intaking information, ignoring certain stimuli.
  • Similarity bias: When we select people that are more similar to us, as opposed to people who appear more different.

Changing the Way We Hire

It is not a trivial task to change the way you hire. Especially within companies with long-running hiring processes. However, I believe that we as business owners, sales managers and HR representatives have an obligation to improve our sales hiring. Talking about biases is not anyone’s favorite thing to do; but by taking small, calculated steps we can get the ball rolling. Wherever you stand within your organization I hope you are able to bring the topic to the table. Most people can learn a lot from just a few explanations of the concept, I know I have.

Are you looking to prevent hiring bias? Using Ideal.com‘s AI technology can eliminate bias and increase diversity on your team! Learn more.

Co-founder & CEO

Somen is the Co-Founder & CEO of <a href="https://ideal.com/">Ideal.com</a>. Prior to Ideal.com, Somen served as Co-Founder & CEO of Field ID until it was successfully acquired by Master Lock LLC in 2012. Somen’s leadership has helped earn Field ID a spot on the Profit Hot 50 and Deloitte Fast 50. In 2012, Somen was named winner of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. Today Somen and his team are helping match talented salespeople with top employers, <a href="https://ideal.com/for-employers/?utm_medium=openview-guest-blog&utm_source=openview-blog&utm_campaign=openview-guest-blog-5-ways">learn more here.</a></em>