Published: 19th June 2020
Would you hire Precious Jigglypuff? How HackerEarth is giving aliases to job seekers to eliminate bias in recruitment
HackerEarth's platform masks the personal details of candidates from the hiring managers so that the candidate is selected on the basis of nothing but their skill, which is the focus of companies
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, unconscious bias creeps in and influences our decision-making. But the recruitment process cannot have this happen because, now more than ever, there is a need for hiring on the basis of skill alone — because companies can't afford to take on an employee who might serve as a liability in today's economic situation. This is where HackerEarth steps in. Founded in 2012 and with offices in San Francisco and Bengaluru, it is a platform that helps with assessments and gauging the technical skills of candidates.
They have gone one step ahead and introduced bias-free hiring just three weeks ago. The candidates' Personal Identifiable Information (PII) like names, gender, religion and so on are masked for the hiring managers — who are the decision-makers — when it comes to hiring a person. For example, instead of the names of the candidates, they will see gender-neutral aliases which combine a positive adjective with the name of a superhero or Pokémon like Precious Jigglypuff or Revered Ghost Rider. From the assessment to the technical round, HackerEarth ensures that this bias-free process is followed. So how exactly does it work and when is the company allowed to view all the details of the candidates? Alfred Alexander, Vice-President of Marketing and Anand Hariharan, Senior Product Manager give us all the details. Excerpts:
Alfred Alexander and Anand Hariharan | (Pic: HackerEarth)
When and why did you feel the need to develop a bias-free hiring process?
Alfred Alexander: Bias is one of the most pressing challenges in the recruitment industry. It has various forms, it's even unconscious. Because the processes aren’t robust enough to account for it, we thought we have to ensure that biases don’t creep into the process and only those who deserve it make the cut. When it comes to the solution we offer, usually, during recruitments, candidates’ PII is visible to the recruiter and hiring manager. We thought why don’t we try and remove the bias that creeps in at the assessment and interview levels. That’s why we decided to mask the PII, you are not going to see the name, instead, we have programmer-friendly terms we use as an alias. Now, we have taken it a step further and adopted it at an interview level, wherein, the candidate details are masked while you are having the one-to-one interview over FaceCode, our online interview platform. The tool also gives you a warning if you ask for PII details.
Anand Hariharan: One of the interesting bits of feedback put forth by one of the candidates was that sometimes even though they are hired, they have self-doubt. They wonder if they are hired to fill a diversity quota or because of their skills. That was a trigger point for us. There’s a great request for a lot of diversity and equal opportunity compliance in India as well. We already have a significant base in the US and we started getting requests from India as well and that was also the driving factor.
So what details are hidden and what is given to the recruiter?
AH: There are equal opportunity options we have. What we do under that is we do not block anyone from asking those questions because there are some roles which are demanding and easier for a person with a certain background. So our platform does allow you to ask the question but at the same time warns you, ‘Are you sure you want to ask this question?’ And if you still go ahead, it is fine. Also, even if asked, this information is available only to recruiters, not for hiring managers who actually make the decision.
Hire via HackerEarth | (Pic: HackerEarth)
What about the need for certain companies to still conduct a face-to face-interview?
AH: Some companies still want a face-to-face interview which is technically beyond the purview of HackerEarth. From assessment to technical interview, we take care of that entire spectrum. HR rounds after that are beyond our ecosystem. But here’s the thing, if we have eliminated biases till the interview stage, the folks who have made it through to that stage have qualified only on the basis of their skill.
The scenario of recruitment is changing, so do you think this change too will be welcomed with open arms?
AA: Because of COVID everything is going remote. So the whole concept of spending money and bringing candidates all over the world to one office is not going to happen because it is not safe and the focus right now is on saving costs because of the economic situation. So we believe that remote hiring is here to stay. Also, it is not something brought about by the pandemic, the latter just acted as a catalyst. If you break down the hiring process to sourcing, screening, interviewing and hiring, your sourcing process is already remote because it is happening to job postings, not physical scouting. Assessments are online for technical jobs and non-technical jobs as well. Interviews are the only bit of the recruiting process that is still offline, but folks are realising that costing, time and other factors are involved when it comes to bringing candidates to office. Platforms like Skype and FaceCode are facilitating this.
Now, anti-bias in hiring has been a hot topic in the recruiting circles and has been talked about on every forum and every panel. COVID has now thrust us into doing this and there is very little room to make an error in hiring. They are also trying to be more objective because otherwise, it affects the company negatively. In the content of the killing of George Floyd, one thing is certain that bias exists in every form. Now there is a double focus on who is going to do bias-free hiring. So there is a need for this.
What else is unique about HackerEarth?
AH: Interviews also offer live transcripts, where a person with hearing-disability can look at live transcripts and participate and this is important to us from an inclusion standpoint. We will soon be launching a test-taking interface for visually-challenged candidates as well. Diversity, bias-free and inclusion, these points we are taking very seriously.
For more on them, check out hackerearth.com