Five Steps to Achieve Diversity Through Merit-Based Hiring

by David Barrett, Chief Operating Officer of global assessment specialist cut-e.

Irish employers recognise the need to be diverse and inclusive. This isn’t just for legal compliance or to fulfil a moral obligation, studies show that diverse organisations perform better. If you restrict yourself to recruiting people from similar backgrounds, and with similar experiences, you risk narrowing your appeal in your customer base and ultimately you are less adaptable in the market. A fundamental challenge for today’s employers is therefore to recruit a broad range of talented people based on their potential, regardless of their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, culture, past personal circumstances, age or religion.

Merit-based hiring involves implementing measures that are fair and which focus on someone’s ability to do the job. Here’s how to achieve that:

1. Be clear about what you want. The necessary first step to merit-based hiring is to understand what you’re really looking for in people. How does your organisation define ‘talent’? What do you mean by ‘potential’? Employers often try to uncover what ‘good’ looks like in the role (they should also consider what ‘bad’ looks like, as that can be just as revealing). But unless you undertake very effective and objective profiling, you risk bringing unconscious bias into the process. For example, a recruiter or business stakeholder may decide that to be successful in the role, a candidate will need to be a ‘confident team player’ without giving further thought to what that actually means and why it is important in respect of the job objectives.

So, identify and specify the behaviours, skills and knowledge that are actually required in the role, and work out the relative importance of these different elements. Think about what is easy to develop, versus hard to develop, and compare your ‘predictors of success’ against external competency models to ‘cross-validate’ them. If you set the right criteria at the outset, you can tackle unconscious bias at source.

2. Widen your reach. Don’t restrict yourself to the same schools, universities or qualifications. Your attraction strategy should encourage applicants with different educational and socio-economic backgrounds. Reach out to target audiences that will bring balance to your applicant pool.

3. Use psychometric assessments. Good assessments can accurately predict a person’s potential to perform in a role. They’re also fair and objective. Assessments will help you to find what you’re looking for, so ensure that you’re assessing for the right things! A broad range of assessments – including ability, personality, motivation, values, integrity and creativity – are available to suit specific needs. Situational Judgement Questionnaires and simulations can also be developed to better understand how candidates will respond in real workplace scenarios. Another benefit is that assessment data can be integrated with HR information systems to create ‘predictive analytics’ that can help you make better talent decisions for the future.

It’s important to give all candidates an opportunity to practise your assessments beforehand (see sites such as and to support them throughout the process. Used effectively, either for individual candidates or as part of an assessment centre, these tests can help you to hire on merit.

4. Remove bias from the interview process. Interviews are inherently subjective and line managers are sometimes accused of recruiting ‘in their own image’, in other words they choose people who are similar to themselves. To overcome this, hiring managers (and assessors in assessment centres) should be trained to understand and avoid unconscious bias – and to spot ‘potential’ rather than ‘actual’ skills. Interviewers should ask structured interview questions that probe for the desired attitudes and behaviours.

5. Monitor your selection process. Recruiters should continually review their selection process to ensure that a diverse mix of candidates is successfully progressing through each stage. If this isn’t the case, questions should be asked to understand why not and whether bias is to blame.

These five steps can help you achieve the business benefits of diversity and inclusion, by making entrance to, and progression within, your organisation genuinely meritocratic.

Categories: HR Tech

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