With limited professional experience, it’s hard to know how to act when an employer is considering you for a role at their organization. We believe strongly in fair hiring practices. While employers can find plenty of advice for reducing bias in their hiring practices, job seekers should also be prepared to fight bias. Here we provide six tips for entry level job seekers who are nervous that their chances at job openings might be lower, due to bias against their gender, race, ethnicity, ability or other dimension of their identity.
1. “They’ll see me for my skills, right?” Um, yes… But realize that bias exists.
You are going to enter the real world. Some of you are already keenly aware of bias because you’ve lived it your whole lives. In that case, skip to number 2. But if you’re not sure if you’ve personally felt bias against you, and you are a woman or fall into another “protected class”, pause here and please do a reality check.
Reading the news may be enough to realize that we have work to do before all individuals have an equal shot at economic opportunities. If you need more, there are plenty of studies and resources that explain the pay gap and other biases. For example:
McKinsey Report: “Women in the Workplace”
HBR: How Subtle Class Cues Can Backfire on your Resume
Lauren Rivera: “Hiring as Cultural Matching”
The point is not to scare you, but when you enter the professional world, much of your professional growth will be your responsibility. Some of us have to work harder to get a seat at the table, so the sooner you figure out how to advocate for yourself, the more quickly you can grow and find success.
2. When submitting resumes, some candidates take not-so-fun measures to get a foot in the door
For the record, we don’t endorse these measures. Masking your identity is not a long-term solution. That said, here are some things that some job seekers do just to get their resume noticed. You may choose to consider them for when submitting your own resume, especially if you’re getting passed up for job openings you know you’re very qualified for. You might reject all of these, believing that even if it takes longer to find a job, that organization will be a better fit because you didn’t have to hide parts of your identity. It is your choice.
- Altering their names. For example, some job seekers write their first initial and last name instead of their full name, if they believe that their name triggers any bias with recruiters.
- Removing religious organizations or student groups, depending on the organization the job seeker is interested in. Some group names signal a religious belief that may trigger a belief that a job seeker wouldn’t get along with others.
- Removing certain scholarships. This one makes me cringe because you should be proud to display the awards you’ve earned. However, some job seekers feel that because of certain scholarships’ demographic criteria for selection, it may trigger bias with recruiters
3. During an interview, make sure your likability is off the charts
Toni Newborn, J.D., is Diversity and Consulting Services Manager at the City of St. Paul. She thinks it is important to be very likable during the interview. Like all humans, recruiters and hiring managers are drawn to people who are friendly, positive and likable. She suggests “forming a relationship with the interview panel.”
Likable does not mean happy-go-lucky or being a jokester who makes them laugh. “A candidate can be likable by being a little vulnerable and being open,” says Newborn. Try hard right away to find some level of commonality with your interviewers. People appreciate others “who are genuine and who do not present themselves as fake. Try to be relatable to the interview panel.”
Another trick you can use is to request to meet any team members who are not in the interview room. If they give you a tour, make sure you are smiling, friendly and ask good questions. Don’t linger to have a long conversation with each person you meet—they’re busy and you should respect their time. You can ask, however, what they like about their jobs, or how long they’ve worked there. If you go through the tour simply saying “Hi, nice to meet you,” you are instantly forgettable. You want the staff to like you. They may not be on the interview committee, but the hiring manager is definitely watching your behavior as you interact with them. If their staff are engaging with you in a positive way, your likability score goes up.
4. During the whole process, gather names and build a network
When you meet anyone who works at the organization, remember their names or titles. When you go home, look them up on LinkedIn and ask to connect. When they accept, you have just unlocked a very important door. Send them a couple questions about their organization, signaling that you want to get to know their culture. When they engage, gently inquire whether they’re willing to drop a word to the hiring manager. You can say, “I am really interested in this opportunity and I am so excited to hear more. Would it be too much to ask you to remind Mr. So-and-So about me? I haven’t heard anything from him yet.”
I can’t underestimate the importance of these networking actions. Employers rely heavily on their networks to hire new people. Especially as you climb the ladder, those networks are filled with lots of white, middle class males. If that doesn’t describe you, you need to work hard from day one to build a network of people who can vouch for you.
Related: Expert recruiters weigh in on how students can network and build their personal brand
5. Get a true sense of an organization’s culture—do you really want to work there?
You wouldn’t want to work at an organization where you don’t feel respected. So get a sense of the organizational culture. First, engage with people who work there and know who you are talking to. The recruiter may be your main contact, but you’re unlikely to work with that person if you get hired. When you meet the hiring manager or anyone on your potential team, place more value on their comments and attitudes, as they would more directly affect your sense of belonging.
Newborn’s advice is to ask for an informational interview with the staff, ideally people who would be on your team. She suggests reaching out to them via LinkedIn and asking for a job shadowing opportunity. In addition, “look at the organization’s website for training and development opportunities,” and especially keep an eye out for their statements on diversity and inclusion. Some organizations do a good job posting diverse employee testimonials, and list the employee resource groups they have at work (e.g. LGBTQ, Women, African-American or other groups that meet regularly).
Another great tip from Newborn is to see if the organization offers an employee engagement survey. Ask your HR contact if you may see the results of the employee engagement survey. That would be very interesting insight into an organization’s culture.
If you’re invited to an interview, arrive early enough that you can talk to the front desk person. They can tell you a lot about the office culture. Be respectful of their time, but it’s fine to ask a few questions. Another tip from Newborn is to “look at the office environment. Is it messy, organized, welcoming?”
At any point during the selection process, if you feel disrespected, pay close attention to that. Don’t necessarily think they must treat everyone that way, or brush it off as them having a bad day. That is certainly possible, but your goal is to find a job where you will be respected and valued. All you have are little clues here and there to paint a picture of the organization, so pay attention to those little clues. Share the details of your interactions with your advisor, a parent or a mentor to see their reactions.
6. Know the kinds of bias that affects the hiring process
- Affinity bias means recruiters tend to gravitate toward people who they perceive as similar to themselves. This is why it’s important to find some point of commonality with your recruiter or hiring manager. Hobbies, school, major, clubs or groups, etc.—these are things you may be able to find in their LinkedIn profile.
- Confirmation bias is when recruiters magnify things that confirm what they already believe, or minimize things that contradict their beliefs. This is a basic building block of prejudice. It is critical that you describe how your skills and accomplishments relate to the job opening, leaving no room to deny your qualifications.
- Attribution bias is when recruiters give a more favorable assessment to somebody that is in their ‘in-group’. Like anybody, a recruiter has multiple identities or in-groups, so again, try to find a commonality so you can wiggle into one of their in-groups. Look on their LinkedIn profile to see how they describe themselves—what do you see that you might also use to describe yourself?
- Availability bias describes how recruiters prefer the quick and easy. When we mine for information in our brains, we grab what is readily available. Imagine a software engineer. It’s unlikely you had the image of a woman in your head. Your image was probably a male, because that’s what we typically see. If a woman applies for a software engineer job, she’ll be fighting the assumption that she doesn’t fit the role. It’s critical for her to present her skills and accomplishments in a confident way. When you’re confident in yourself, you leave less room for the recruiter to brush you off.
- Groupthink is the notion where people are not willing to go against the grain of the group. You can fight this by networking with as many people in the organization as possible. When you boost your likability and ask them to put in a good word for you, that can chip away at groupthink.
About Toni Newborn, J.D. Toni is the Diversity and Consulting Services Manager at City of St. Paul. She is currently serving as the Diversity and Consulting Services Manager for the City. In this role, she manages the consulting services division as well as create strategic plans to diversify the city’s work force from a racial equity lens. Toni is part of College Recruiter’s Panel of Experts, which brings together expert voices from around the country with insight around entry-level talent acquisition–both from the employer’s perspective and the job seeker’s.