What is blind recruitment – and does it work?



Read time
8 mins

Discover why hiding personal details from candidates’ applications helps to improve the diversity of new hires, and how to introduce it to your organisation using a recruitment software

Blind recruitment is gaining traction as an effective way to recruit more diverse staff. But how does it work in practice? Is it actually an effective tool? And how can you introduce it to your organisation? Read on to find out the answers to all these questions and more.

In this article

What is blind recruitment?

A blind recruitment process involves removing the candidate’s name and other identifying factors from their application, such as:

  • Age
  • Address or location
  • Years of work experience
  • School or university names

The idea is that removing such information makes it easier for hiring managers, recruiters and HR professionals to make objective decisions about a candidate’s skills, experience and suitability for a role, and to lessen the risk of bias (whether conscious or unconscious bias) affecting the decision-making process. The CBI has described name-blind recruitment as a way of removing “criteria that could unintentionally bias managers, and give under-represented groups confidence that their application will be fairly considered”.

Candidates’ names, for example, may give signals about their socio-economic background, ethnicity and immigration status that might influence a hiring manager’s decision about whether or not to progress their application.

Because many organisations focus on removing candidates’ names from applications, this process is often referred to as ‘name-blind recruitment’.

How significant is the problem of bias in recruitment?

Academic studies and research surveys suggest that bias and discrimination are rife in the hiring process. For example:

  • A 2017 UK study found that just a third (32%) of HR managers felt confident that they are not prejudiced when hiring new staff. Nearly half (48%) admitted that bias affects their candidate choice, while 20% said they couldn’t be sure if bias affected their decisions
  • Research by the UK government published in 2009 found that employers were much more likely to offer interviews to candidates with white-sounding names than those with non-white-sounding ones, even though their applications were identical
  • Muslim women are three times as likely as women in other social groups in the UK to be unemployed, according to a 2016 report by the Women and Equalities Committee
  • In one US study, universities seeking a laboratory manager were randomly given CVs with male or female names. Those with ‘male’ names were rated as “significantly more competent and hireable”
  • Research published in 2003 found that people with ethnic-sounding names needed to send out 50% more CVs than people with white-sounding names to get a call back from recruiters
  • Disabled candidates have to apply for 60% more vacancies than non-disabled candidates before securing a job
  • A study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research – which involved sending out 40,000 fictional job applications – found that the fictional workers aged 49-51 received 19% fewer responses than those aged 29-31. Those aged 64-66 received 35% more interview invitations than those aged 29-31

Which organisations already carry out blind-recruitment?

One of the most commonly cited examples of the benefits of blind recruitment is the case of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In the 1970s, it was comprised of almost all white, male musicians, so in 1980, it decided to change its auditioning processes. Instead of doing the auditions face-to-face, they put up a screen between the musicians and those hearing the music. The result? A more even gender balance of new recruits.

Fast-forward to the more recent past, and name-blind recruitment was one of the key recommendations of the 2016 Bridge Report, which outlined ways to improve equality and diversity in the UK public sector. Following the report, the NHS and Civil Service are set to roll out name-blind recruitment by 2020. Writing in 2015, John Manzoni, chief executive of the Civil Service and permanent secretary for the Cabinet Office, said: “By removing the candidate’s name and other personal information, such as their nationality or the university they attended, we aim to ensure that people will be judged on merit and not on their background, race or gender.”

Other organisations that have announced they will use name-blind recruitment include the BBC, HSBC, Deloitte, Virgin Money and KPMG.

How does a blind recruitment process actually work?

Because every organisation is different, each will need to decide exactly how the concept of blind recruitment fits with its hiring practices. You will need to:

  • Decide what personally identifiable information you might want to omit from applications. This may include name (first name and surname), age, address, names of educational institutions, number of years of experience, gender, sexual orientation, and hobbies or personal interests. You may want to omit all of this information, or only the information that is relevant to any bias problem you have specifically identified
  • Create processes that support hiring in this way. You might want to use an applicant tracking system (ATS) that can automatically hide identifying information from hiring managers, or ask someone who is not involved in the hiring process to manually do that for you. You may also want to use practical online tests – related to the job that the candidate would be doing – to help gauge their skills objectively before inviting them in for a face-to-face meeting
  • Educate staff, especially managers, about how to recognise and overcome their unconscious bias. In May 2018, coffee-shop giant Starbucks held racial bias training for all its US staff; these learning materials are free-to-access online and are a useful introduction to bias-awareness training

What are the advantages of blind recruitment?

There are many advantages to having a more diverse workforce, including gaining a better understanding of your customers, better team performance, and an improved ability to retain top talent. Read more in our article: five reasons why diversity and inclusion at work matters.

Being publicly committed to diversity – such as through using blind recruitment practices – can also boost your employer brand. According to a study by PwC, 86% of female millennials and 74% of male millennials consider employers’ diversity policies when deciding which company to work for.

What are the disadvantages of blind recruitment?

While there are numerous benefits to hiding identifiable information from candidates’ applications, the impact of blind recruitment on an organisation’s diversity can only go so far. Its drawbacks and limitations include:

  • If you have specific quotas, such as around gender or ethnicity, the results of blind hiring may not be in line with these goals
  • It may take lengthen your hiring process – if you don’t use HR recruitment software that can hide applicants’ personal information automatically, someone will need to do this manually. This could be problematic if you are handling a significant number of applications each month
  • You may find it harder to assess someone’s cultural fit, because you can’t assess things such as personal interests. However, some experts argue that the concept of ‘cultural fit’ is a way for managers to validate their reliance on bias when it comes to making hiring decisions
  • Blind recruitment only makes a difference at the first stage of the hiring process: bias can still creep in during face-to-face interviews, in particular
  • It fails to address equality and diversity in the workplace and bias problems elsewhere in the organisation, nor those around reward and promotion decisions. Writing in 2015, Sandra Kerr, race equality director at Business in the Community, noted: “Whilst name-blind applications are a positive first step in building a more diverse workforce, we need focus on tackling barriers to BAME candidates at each stage of the process through to selection and appointment. Employers must also ensure that their workplaces are fair and inclusive by addressing issues facing their BAME employees, such as a lack of role models, increasing access to fast-track programmes to grow top talent and increasing support from managers and leaders as mentors and sponsors. Only then will we create workforces that reflect the rich diversity of clients, customers and communities they serve.”

How Ciphr’s recruitment software can help with blind recruitment

Looking for recruitment screening software that takes the hassle out of inclusive hiring processes? Then look no further than Ciphr. Download our brochure or arrange a callback from our friendly team to find out how our ATS can help your organisation.

This article was first published in April 2018. It was updated in May 2023 for freshness, clarity, and accuracy.