Why Bosses Are Turning to ‘Blind Hiring’


Compose Inc. asks a lot of job applicants. Anyone who wants to be hired at the San Mateo, Calif., cloud-storage firm must write a short story about data, spend a day working on a mock project and complete an assignment.

There is one thing the company doesn’t ask for: a résumé.

Compose is among a handful of companies trying to judge potential hires by their abilities, not their résumés. So-called “blind hiring” redacts information like a person’s name or alma mater, so that hiring managers form opinions based only on that person’s work.

In other cases, companies invite job candidates to perform a challenge—writing a software program, say—and bring the top performers in for interviews or, eventually, job offers.

Bosses say blind hiring reveals true talents and results in more diverse hires. And the notion that career success could stem from what you know, and not who you know, is a tantalizing one. But it can be tough to conceal a person’s identity for long.

Kurt Mackey, Compose’s chief executive, realized his managers tended to pick hires based on whom they connected with personally, or those with name-brand employers like Google Inc. on their résumés—factors that had little bearing on job performance, he says.

“We were hiring people who were more fun for us to talk to,” says Mr. Mackey. Trouble was, they were often a poor fit for the job, accord- ing to the CEO.

So the company, which was acquired by International Business Machines Corp. last year, added an anonymous sample project to the hiring process. Prospective hires spend about four to six hours performing a task similar to what they would do at Compose—writing a marketing blog post for a technical product, for example.

There have been some hiccups. Candidates couldn’t resist writing their names on their work, so employees had to program the test’s software to strip them out. And the samples are time-consuming for both applicants and employees. Some candidates have refused to apply, saying they are unwilling to work for free. People still send over résumés, but Mr. Mackey says he doesn’t look at them.

The sample projects have unearthed hires who have turned out to be top performers, says Mr. Mackey.

An IBM spokesman says its managers are also experimenting with similar approaches.

Rising interest in anonymous hiring reflects the growing awareness of unconscious bias, attitudes or stereotypes that affect decisions. Research on unconscious bias has shown that information like a person’s name can affect how they’re viewed and subtly prompt managers to make unfair decisions.

A 2012 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that faculty members rating lab manager applications deemed a male candidate more worthy of being hired than a woman with identical credentials.

Many kinds of biases can derail careers. During her years as a tech-industry recruiter, Aline Lerner found firms ignored talented technologists if they lacked degrees from elite schools or experience with tech giants like Facebook Inc. She struggled to persuade startups to consider candidates who had gained skills through alternative routes, like online courses.

“The fact that they had these doors closed in their faces before they could show what they could do was extremely frustrating,” says Ms. Lerner. She quit recruiting to build Interviewing.io Inc., a website that pairs interviewers and interviewees in chat rooms where they are encouraged to talk but not share names. She is considering adding a voice-masking feature for an extra layer of anonymity. So far, some startups and individuals at large companies are using the program, she says.

Paul McEnany, the chief product officer at Dallas based advertising firm Levenson Group, worked with the company GapJumpers Inc. to design a blind audition process for hiring a junior copywriter last summer.

Levenson asked candidates to create an Instagram campaign for a Texas vodka brand. Out of some 50 applicants, the company found Kendall Madden, a recent college graduate who had neither studied marketing nor interned at major ad agencies. Her campaign, which featured hands stretched out toward drinks and took some 12 to 16 hours to create, stood out.

Had the company just looked at her résumé, “I’m not even certain we would have interviewed her in the first place,” Mr. McEnany says.

To be sure, personal connections remain a powerful force in hiring. Referrals comprise the single largest source of hires for lots of companies, many of which offer cash or perks for employees who refer friends.

Deloitte LLP’s U.K. arm recently started redacting applicants’ schools for about 1,500 entry-level hires.

Instead, applicants take a battery of tests to measure skills like numerical reasoning and critical thinking, says Emma Codd, managing partner for talent there. Deloitte does review applicants’ school exam results, but those results are put into context by a company called Rare Recruitment Ltd. that can show, for example, whether a student with an average score overall outshone peers at her school.

“We’re making sure the playing field is truly level,” says Ms. Codd.

Later this year, Deloitte, along with other organizations in the U.K. like HSBC Bank PLC, KPMG UK LLP and the British Broadcasting Corp., will remove candidates’ names from some job applications, though Deloitte hasn’t yet figured out how it will work.

“It’s going to be very difficult,” Ms. Codd says, acknowledging that a person’s gender and ethnicity will become obvious after initial interviews and screens. “I can’t imagine how you’re going to do the interview without referring to someone’s name.”

Some are trying to judge potential hires by their abilities, not their résumés.