Name blind hiring: what it is and how it works

By: Manaal Chaudhary, Career Peer Advisor

Have you ever wondered about the hiring process? What goes on behind the scenes and how an applicant is selected for an interview?

A resume is one of the most important tools used during the hiring process and for most individuals applying for a job, a resume gives them a chance to highlight their skills and experiences. Traditionally, information in a resume apart from relevant skills and experiences, can include your name, location, contact information, and sometimes interests and hobbies. Now, what if I tell you that there is a recruitment strategy called “Name Blind Hiring” which removes an applicant’s name from their resume/application, making them anonymous? This is an attempt to prevent unconscious bias in the hiring process. Although the intentions of this process may be pure, it is argued that this strategy does not actually achieve its intended goal.                                    

An individual’s name on their resume can hold a lot of information about them such as their gender, race, ethnic origin, and religious beliefs. This information can lead an employer who is reviewing a resume to adopt unconscious or implicit bias against or in favour of particular applicants. Vanderbilt University describes unconscious or implicit bias as “unsupported judgments in favour of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.” Additionally, research states that “unconscious bias occurs automatically as the brain makes quick judgments based on past experiences and background.”

This concept of unconscious or implicit bias in the initial hiring process may cause employers to make decisions about which candidates to call in for an interview based on their names. This is detrimental for many individuals who have “unique” or different names that employers may not be familiar with.

You may be thinking: does this actually happen? Do employers purposely not call candidates in for an interview based on their names? It may be hard to believe, but studies have found that applicants with names that are common in Muslim communities are three times more likely to be passed over for a role. Another study found that candidates with an African-American (or Black) name would need eight more years of experience to get the same number of callbacks as someone who has a Causcasian (or White) name. In my own experience, I have had a manager at a previous workplace disclose to me that when they are reviewing resumes and calling applicants for interviews, they do not call applicants whose names they cannot pronounce.

With all the research conducted about unconscious or implicit bias in the hiring process, bringing in a strategy such as name blind hiring may seem like an appropriate response. You are not successful in getting job interviews because of your name? Simply remove your name from your resume. This may seem easy; however, it is not the most effective response. When removing information such as an applicant’s name from their resume, the information that is left such as education and experience is still grounds for bias. The question is whether name blind hiring strategies are helping to diversify industries dominated by white people.

Eddy Ng, a Dalhousie University professor in economics and business, speaks about how name blind hiring did not work for the federal government. “...concealing personal information on job applications — name, citizenship, phone number, address, languages spoken, religious references, and educational institution — found fewer people of colour actually made it through the first screening round than when that information was front and centre.” If name blind hiring is not the most appropriate response to eliminating implicit bias, then what approach can companies use to combat this issue?

Lenczner Slaght, a law firm in Toronto, has started implicit bias training and is also changing their interview model in order to ask more standardized questions.

There are also HR resources and tools such as “Blendoor” and “Textio” that companies can implement that will help with blind hiring. Blendoor obscures the names and photos of candidates to combat unconscious bias and facilitate diversity recruiting. Textio assesses job descriptions, highlights problematic phrasing, and offers recommendations to help attract diverse and qualified candidates.

Another tool that has been found to be the most predictive assessment is a work sample test. Work sample tests are interview-style questions designed to simulate a role. The questions would include a situation or task such as event planning or drafting emails and the candidates would be asked to demonstrate how they would approach the particular task. The idea is to test skills acquired through experience, as opposed to testing for experience itself.

To implement name blind hiring strategies, removing personal information on applicant’s resumes is not the only approach that should be taken. As an individual applying to jobs, it is okay to include your name on your resume. Don’t be afraid to be your authentic self!

--Published March 13, 2023