Field Notes

Casting a Wider Candidate Net

November 15, 2014 | In 30 days

Here's an interesting talk on unconscious bias by Dr. Brian Welles. Welles is director of Google's People Analytics team - "the software engineers behind HR".

He begins with a deliciously nerdy rundown of recent studies on bias. Turns out that everyone's perceptions are skewed by the culture they live in, even when we don't subscribe to those biases. The research methodology is fascinating.

The video includes ways to counteract unconscious bias. One technique is for interviewers to analyze the essential qualities for success in a position before looking at résumés. Evaluations will be driven more by candidate qualifications than superficial traits.

Welles says to examine what subtle messages we send about belonging. "Let's make sure the messages we send about who's welcome here, whose contributions we value, and who we want to stay in the long run is as open and inclusive as you think it is". (See around minute 38.)

I was delighted by the not-at-all subtle message in this job posting at Azavea in Philadelphia:

"You’ll notice that we don’t say “X-Y years of experience” or “M.S. in Computer Science.” Formal credentials like these are not irrelevant, but we are primarily looking for people who have had experience successfully building sophisticated web applications. You might have had these kinds of experiences without a college degree. Or you may be just out of school but worked your way through school and had some great co-op experiences. Or you might have a math or humanities background but a have a great head for software development. These are all potentially great backgrounds, and we’d be interested in hearing from you."

Many programmers take a roundabout route to their career, and don't see ads for rockstar ninajas as speaking to them. I bet Azavea attracts a bigger applicant pool. Smart move in a tight hiring market.