A recruiter’s dilemma: confronting bias in hiring

Helena Djen
The Qonto Way
Published in
6 min readApr 6, 2023

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It’s so hard to find the perfect fit between candidates and their future teams, their compensation and their roles.

It’s even more difficult to reach individuals who are not actively seeking new job opportunities, especially when the pool of potential candidates for the role you’re hiring for is limited to a few hundred. Regardless of whether you’re part of a large corporation or a small start-up, the same difficulties often arise.

What’s the root cause of these challenges? Scaling teams is never easy, especially during times of worldwide turbulence. As employers, it’s important that we keep our promises and maintain steady growth while avoiding costly churn.

Qonto and so many other Tech & Product driven companies are scaling today. If we were to hire the same individuals as every other scaling company, we would miss out on a plethora of potential candidates. This is where the Talent War breaks out.

At Qonto, we’ve identified major obstacles hindering our ability to hire individuals from diverse groups and backgrounds, and it’s time to tackle this issue head-on. As our teams continue to expand, we need to focus on how we can increase the number of diverse profiles that we hire.

I might be stating the obvious here when I say that diversity doesn’t only offer a wider range of candidates but also leads to better decision-making and a smarter organization. Studies have shown that you can make better decisions up to 87% of the time when your team is more diverse, i.e with more gender, age and social diversity, greater accessibility.

Building a diverse team is not only about bringing different perspectives and experiences to the table, although that is already a good start; it’s more to do with creating a more innovative and dynamic environment.

In addition, our social responsibility is also at stake. Qonto needs to be committed to providing a workplace free from discrimination of any kind, and that starts with our hiring policy.

Knowing our own limits as recruiters

Interviewing and assessing humans is a delicate business. Interpersonal relations can be tricky but in our recruiter’s world, a candidate has two opportunities to interact: first, a CV screening, and secondly a call. Those two moments are so very short, focused and, most of all, driven by the recruiter.

I have no doubt we’ve all asked ourselves at least once the ultimate question of “Am I making a decision that discriminates against this candidate?” We’re not machines and even if automation and Artificial Intelligence are a growing force in the recruitment industry, it’s clear that as humans we need to be fully aware of our own limits.

Recruiter’s guilt is the feeling of guilt or shame that can arise when we recognize our own biases and their impact not just on our hiring practices, but more importantly on the candidates. On the human beings that we do or don’t hire.

Everyone has biases; it’s not about being perfect, but rather striving to do better. To combat recruiter’s guilt, I feel it’s important to acknowledge my biases and actively work to overcome them. So let’s take a moment to focus on a few that are especially relevant to our job:

  • Affinity bias: it occurs when we favor candidates who are similar to us in some way, whether it’s based on shared interests, backgrounds, or experiences. This bias can prevent us from considering candidates who would bring value to the team.
  • The halo effect: it’s where we let one positive attribute of a candidate overshadow other factors, leading to a biased decision.
  • Confirmation bias: we tend to look for information that confirms our existing beliefs while ignoring evidence that contradicts them. For example, if we believe that a certain college produces the best candidates, we may only consider graduates from that school and overlook equally qualified candidates from other institutions.

Implementing countermeasures and learning from our mistakes

At Qonto, the team has implemented several countermeasures to help us surpass our pre-identified limits and overcome our own biases. I’ve listed a few, representing our team’s learning curve and how much we’ve grown so far.

  • Starting the search properly without losing sight of diversity

Both Talent Acquisition Managers & hiring managers at Qonto take the time to thoroughly understand the necessity and context of the search.

We begin with kickoff sessions with the hiring manager, which should last at least an hour or more if necessary. During these sessions, we address the team’s organization, its different roles, ideal profiles, and we list both compulsory and nice-to-have criteria. We even have a dedicated Notion page template that each Talent Acquisition Manager follows, making sure all searches start in the same conditions.

We also ask our hiring managers during the kickoff how we can increase diversity in their teams through the search. Our aim is to encourage them to think critically, question themselves and ultimately step out of their comfort zones and grow.

Part of our culture at Qonto is to encourage thinking first, and our hiring process is no exception to it.

  • A structured & clear hiring process

We have a structured hiring process that is the same for each role and each candidate, ensuring that all candidates are assessed fairly and equally. Exactly the same stages, all described clearly in our interview guide, are shared in advance with all our candidates.

We try as far as possible to use an interview panel that consists of individuals with diverse profiles (e.g. 50/50 men and women) to ensure that we’re considering a variety of perspectives during the hiring process. This approach also helps candidates envision themselves as part of a diverse team.

We’ve also created a scorecard to assess candidates equally and fairly. We seek to evaluate each candidate objectively, as we want to base hiring decisions on skills, experience and fitness for the role, rather than on any potential biases or subjective opinions. It’s not always that simple, but we have all the necessary tools to strive for this ideal.

  • Our words matter

Since I joined the team, we’ve been using the gender decoder tool to help eliminate subtle gender biases in our language. It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of using gender-coded wording, which can create barriers and lead to self-censorship. Our goal is to create job ads our applicants can easily identify with, without experiencing impostor syndrome.

The same goes for the short footer we’ve added to all our job ads, which can really make the difference: Qonto is an open-minded company. Don’t tick all the boxes? Apply and we’ll let you know if we think you could fit the role. You never know!

  • Increase empathy and open-mindedness through shadowing

Shadowing interviews help our teams fight biases and understand the technical depth of the role. By sharing feedback on what went well or what could be improved, we continuously learn about the role and also prevent discriminatory interview questions and behaviors.

  • Diversify the talent pool with dedicated sourcing strategies

We target sources where diverse candidates are concentrated and use intentional sourcing through LinkedIn and Boolean searches to target underrepresented populations.

Peer sourcing is another valuable tool that we use to work closely with hiring managers who scroll through profiles on LinkedIn or any other sourcing platforms and realize that there may not be as many fitting profiles as hoped.

  • Organize & promote eye-opening training

The team also organizes training and workshops dedicated to diversity. For example, the Diversity Fresco, co-created by ESSEC and Belugames, is about to become mandatory for our Talent Acquisition team. The goal is to raise awareness of the cognitive mechanisms involved in discrimination, while also acquiring a common vocabulary to facilitate constructive dialogue and promote a more inclusive society.

  • Forming ties with a diverse community of candidates

We’ve formed solid partnerships with many organizations, like Ada Tech school, WomenHack or Social Builder, with the aim of positioning Qonto as an employer open to candidates from diverse backgrounds, striving to learn from their own voices and experiences.

By understanding and combatting our biases, setting clear diversity goals and creating an inclusive hiring process, we can build diverse and innovative teams that drive business success.

One important thing to note is that while it’s crucial to have diversity in hiring, it’s equally vital to ensure that diversity is present not only in the recruitment process but throughout the entire organization. Diversity should be a top-down priority, and companies should strive to create a culture that values diversity and inclusion. At Qonto, we’ve made it part of our objectives for 2023 to take on our responsibility and build a sustainable and inclusive company.

As recruiters, we have the power to make a positive impact on our companies and the communities we serve. Let’s use that power to create a more inclusive and equitable future.

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