5 informed blind hiring tips to learn from symphony orchestra

Assisted by recruitment technology, informed blind hiring is an increasingly popular way to reduce the impacts of bias on your hiring processes and improve diversity and inclusion. Today, companies including Deloitte, Virgin and HSBC use blind hiring to help level the playing field for all candidates.

In this article, we explore some informed blind hiring tips from organizations that have been hiring blind for decades: symphony orchestras.

How informed blind hiring works in symphony orchestras

Screened auditions have been used by orchestras since at least the 1950s. They can be a nerve-racking experience, particularly for players of specialized instruments where jobs only come up once in a generation.

Blind screening is seen as valuable for several reasons:

  • The elite classical music world is very small and it is common for examiners to know (or know of) the players auditioning.
  • Concerningly, orchestras in America are some of the nation’s least racially diverse organizations with historically alarming gender disparities. In Europe, the Vienna Philharmonic didn’t hire its first female player until 1997.
  • Finally, screened auditions remove all visual distractions to allow the examiners to concentrate on one thing only – the player’s ability.

Typically, the player is hidden from a panel of examiners by a screen. They are careful not to say anything that could reveal their identity and play through a set of orchestral excerpts nominated by the examiners. The whole process is anonymized, meaning the examiners know nothing about who is playing apart from the number they have been assigned.

The best player is then invited to join the orchestra for a trial period, which is the musical equivalent of the workplace cultural-fit assessment. The new hire is literally judged on whether or not they are a good team player.

What we can learn from orchestral recruitment

Here are five things hiring organizations can learn from symphony orchestra auditions.

1. Focus on ability

Use an anonymized capability assessment to pare down your decision-making to the essentials – does the candidate inherently possess what you’ve identified as necessary to the role? If so, everything else – their age, race, gender, physical ability and so on – is irrelevant. Removing these distractions will help decision-makers focus on ability and ultimately lead to better hiring outcomes.

2. Recognize your biases and take action

The first step to tackling bias is to recognize that it exists and is extremely difficult to combat. There’s no arguing with the fact that hiring bias is endemic: Fast Company reported that American applicants with “white-sounding” names get 50% more call-backs than applicants with Black-sounding names, even if their resumes were otherwise identical. Although employees can be trained in methods for recognizing and reducing bias, a more effective approach is to remove the opportunity for bias to take place – with the help of technology.

While orchestras use a very low-tech solution – a screen – organizations have access to dozens of technology solutions that can remove identifying information from resumes. For example, an ATI may obscure a candidate’s photo, name, date of birth, zip code, education, and hobbies, leaving only skills and experience for the human reviewer to consider.

3. Don’t let a lack of technology hold you back

It’s easy to fall into the trap of delaying blind hiring until you’ve found the right technology solution, but don’t let this stop you from getting started. Employ someone who isn’t involved in the hiring decision to go through the reviews and remove any information that may trigger unconscious bias.

4. Standardize your interview questions

An important factor in orchestral auditions is that every musician plays the same repertoire. This allows the examiners to compare apples with apples, and avoid giving one player a more difficult task than others.

When hiring for your business, interviewers should take care to standardize interview questions and (importantly) stick to the script. Repeating the same questions multiple times may feel tedious, but doing so levels the playing field and allows fairer scoring.

5. Decide which parts of the process should be blind

Blind hiring doesn’t necessarily need to be end-to-end. In orchestras, for example, the screen may be removed for second-round auditions once a shortlist has been created.

You may choose to run a blind resume review followed by an anonymised capability test, then have a live, face-to-face job interview. Some organizations take this even further by conducting anonymous text-based interviews via instant messaging, chatbots or by using voice-altering technology.

Even if you only manage to make one stage of your hiring process blind, this will be a win for D&I. So, to truly level the playing field and reduce hiring bias in your organization, consider conducting (get it?) a blind hiring process in 2022.

Looking for an objective, quantitative capability evaluation of candidates or current staff? Use AbilityMap’s next-generation human workforce planning solution platform to evaluate candidates solely on their ability to do what the job actually requires, tackling the risk of inherent bias head-on. Contact us today.

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