Every part of the recruitment process is open to bias. Evidence from No more tick boxes highlights that the use of a structured, methodical process, essential criteria and 'success profile' (model answers) are key to mitigating biases at the shortlisting stage.

Required competencies will vary depending on the level or nature of the role. For healthcare roles, this might include providing evidence of how you look at a candidate's:

  • ability to bring about improvement
  • ability to problem solve
  • ability to develop team cohesion and contribute to inclusion
  • ability to demonstrate compassion and understanding how to act on it
  • ability to speak truth to power
  • understanding of NHS values and principles, and behaving inclusively
  • specific technical/professional skills where it is necessary or cannot be taught.

Employers should also take a wide lens on experiential knowledge so as not to exclude those with carer responsibilities, or those who have not progressed in previous roles (due to a lack of flexible working practices).

For any role that involves management, whether of a workstream or people, evidence of understanding and behaving inclusively should be an essential competency, assessed during the recruitment process and those involved in shortlisting should look for evidence of emotional intelligence. For each competency it is crucial that a success profile should be developed which includes what you would expect candidates to provide for each level of scoring. Additionally, for each competency, the questions asked should be designed to give candidates the opportunity to provide those sorts of points.

Panels should have a matrix which, comparing the answers provided with the success profile of expected answers, enables the panel to decide whether the candidate failed to meet some of the essential criteria.

Whether the shortlisted candidates meet those criteria can be explored in greater depth and with some assurance of consistency and fairness at the interview stage. This approach should be applied throughout the organisation, not just to senior and middle ranking posts.

Where essential criteria are agreed and fair then there is no obvious reason to assess any other skills or abilities and doing so may introduce an inherent risk of bias. Where employers expect large numbers of applications or have essential criteria (e.g. maths) that they need to have confidence in, then it may be necessary to introduce tests which in effect 'screen in' or 'screen out' applicants.

Research by Valian and Johnson, Hekman and Chan suggests that longer shortlists where there is more than one candidate of a protected characteristic may significantly improve the likelihood of a diverse appointment.

Shortlisting panels should be strongly reminded of this evidence immediately before acting as a panel at the recruitment stage. All panels should have undertaken training on bias in recruitment within the previous 12-month period. Although the training alone will not bring about a step-change, it may assist in understanding and implementing the process changes.

Employers are able, and should be encouraged, if they wish to flex their recruitment processes, to increase the numbers of under-represented groups who are shortlisted using different positive action approaches as discussed in positive action, job description and advertising and shortlisting sections of this guide.